Fort McMurray women fast for new emergency shelter

FORT MCMURRAY— A group of Alberta women are giving up food for 21 days to shine a spotlight on the sorry state of housing for battered women in Fort McMurray.

FORT MCMURRAY— A group of Alberta women are giving up food for 21 days to shine a spotlight on the sorry state of housing for battered women in Fort McMurray.

Mary-Ellen Proctor, the director the Fort McMurray Family Crisis society, has been the first to take up the fast, but there are many prepared to follow her lead.

Proctor says the fast’s length is the same amount of time a woman can stay at the shelter before she must be re-evaluated to determine whether a newcomer can bump her out.

If her situation is dire enough or no other accommodation can be found, the woman can stay. But that isn’t exactly good news.

“We had to turn away over 400 women last year that were high-risk,” says Proctor. “We need a new facility,” .

The 50-year-old consumed nothing but water for the first week of her fast, but then her doctor advised her to at least have a spoonful of molasses and lemon juice each day. She says that eased her dizzy spells.

When she ends her fast on Sunday evening, another woman will take over and begin fasting. More may take over after that.

The emergency women’s shelter in the heart of Alberta’s oilsands was built 30 years ago and was originally meant to be a nine-bed facility. Currently, there are 35 beds crammed into the space.

The population of the city has ballooned in the past ten years with the development of the oilsands, but the shelter remains in a water-damaged building that’s freezing in the harsh Fort McMurray winters.

“Most communities, they grow slowly and the infrastructure keeps up. If you go to Calgary or Edmonton or any of the big communities, they have all of these facilities. And as the need has come they’ve added on and added on,” Proctor explains.

“But Fort McMurray has grown so fast.”

The shelter also faces additional demand because many of the city’s residents come from other places, and don’t have families nearby to turn to for help.

The new facility the shelter wants will cost approximately $50 million. Proctor says they’re submitting plans for funding to the province next month, but anticipate they’ll have to raise $15 million themselves.

Joanne Roberts, who will begin fasting Sunday night, also hopes to last 21 days without food. But she says she’ll have to take her doctor’s advice into consideration, as well as her ability to concentrate on her office job with an oil company.

Roberts, 51, says she went for a Rolo ice-cream Sunday afternoon because she figured it would be her last for a while.

“I’ll be honest. When we started this, when Mary-Ellen talked about it, I don’t think for one second we thought either of us would make the full 21 days. If I can do half of what Mary-Ellen did I’ll be happy,” Roberts says.

Proctor explains that she won’t be gorging on Sunday night. Eating normally again takes several days — juice first, then broth, and eventually solid food.

She said she tried to keep her suffering during her fast in perspective.

“When I was going through all this pain, I just kept thinking this is what these women (in the shelter) are experiencing. This is what they have every day. Mine is temporary.”