Northern Haven is #wheretoturn to escape family violence

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

“We’re open, and you don’t have to come into the shelter,” says Shelly Ferguson, executive director of Northern Haven Support Society in Slave Lake. In Slave Lake area, the answer to Family Violence Prevention Month’s hash tag #wheretoturn is Northern Haven.

The Northern Haven crisis line is answered 24-7, 365 days a year, says Ferguson. Trained intervention workers are ready to talk, assess the situation, and get people out as quickly as possible.

“It’s not just a bed,” Ferguson says, of the shelter. The staff provide many supports. The clients at the shelter are women escaping abuse, and their children.

Recently, the shelter has also opened up to pets, she adds, “especially if it is a support animal.” This is because people are starting to understand the connection between people and their pets.

Northern Haven community services and outreach, supports women, children, and men who are victims of abuse, says Ferguson. This is done within the community, not at the shelter. People helped are 95 per cent women and children, but there are also some men. Women with addictions can’t be in the shelter, but can be helped by community services. The same goes for men. Also, women will often get support from community services after they leave the shelter for up to two-and-a-half years.

When a person first leaves the abusive situation, says Ferguson, much of what happens is crisis management. However, Northern Haven takes a “holistic approach.”

This “holistic approach” includes many supports, which the person who was abused can choose. The childcare worker is trained to help kids who were exposed to abuse and their mothers improve their parenting skills. The support varies but can include things like potty training, setting a bedtime routine, and homework. The life skills worker helps with grocery and budget planning, getting a bank account, or CRA account.

“There’s always some element of financial abuse,” says Ferguson. “One of the best resources you can have is good credit.”

Northern Haven staff also help with understanding the court system and figuring out issues related to custody of children.

This December marks the 24th year that Northern Haven has been working in Slave Lake to address family violence. It took a while to get an emergency shelter. In the 11 years, that the shelter has been open it has helped 1,086 women and children. It has received 2,600 crisis calls.

Since last November, 24 women and 17 children stayed at the shelter, says Ferguson. “Most of that was before COVID,” so in the first three months of the year. For much of lockdown, it was eerily quiet. The number of calls are getting back to normal. The outreach service has remained busy.

In the last 12 months, community services helped 68 women, men and their families. Since outreach started in 2016, it has helped over 150 clients.

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