Women’s shelter still feeling aftershocks of COVID pandemic

November is Family Violence Prevention Month, so this is part of a series of articles on family violence.

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

“The effects of the pandemic will certainly be felt for years to come,” says Shelly Ferguson, Northern Haven Support Society (NHSS) executive director, in her annual report. “The inflating cost of living impacts our clients greatly. We are seeing increasing demand for help with basic needs. More of our clients are living below the line of poverty and are struggling to make ends meet.”

Northern Haven has three branches to support people impacted by family violence. It runs an emergency women’s shelter in Slave Lake. It provides support in the community for women and men (and their children) escaping family violence. It also has outreach, which does prevention work in the schools and community and raises awareness about family violence.

From October 2021 to October 2022, the Northern Haven shelter admitted 17 women and 21 children, says Ferguson. The 24-hour crisis line received 435 calls looking for admission or crisis support. The community service program worked with 30 clients and their families.

Northern Haven started in 1996. It has run a shelter since 2008.

Over the last 14 years, the shelter has helped over 1,156 women and children, says Ferguson’s report. It is one of 40 emergency women’s shelters in Alberta. Community services was launched in 2016, it has served 180 clients.

Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate or former intimate partner, says Ferguson. The statistics haven’t changed for years.

The report says, “The domestic abuse specific services offered through Northern Haven’s Shelter and Community Services teams include administering the Danger Assessment, a tool that is used to measure a women’s risk of being murdered by her intimate partner or ex-intimate partner. NHSS staff are trained to assist clients with safety planning, stalking, tech safety, applying for emergency protection orders, informing clients of their rights under the Protection Against Family Violence Act and preparing for family and criminal court.”

The shelter receives provincial funding.

“This year we’ve moved ministries,” says Ferguson.

In the past, all women’s emergency shelters were under housing and homelessness. However, now they are under the family violence prevention branch.

“Violence is preventable,” says Ferguson.

When it comes to outreach, there’s also a new focus this year.

“We’ve been really busy supporting our VIP Program,” says Nikki, Northern Haven outreach worked.

VIP stands for Violence is Preventable. Nikki will be teaching it in Slave Lake schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Nikki is also going into seniors homes to talk about elder abuse. She’s been in Vanderwell Heritage Place a few times and will be going to Sweetgrass.

“They seem to enjoy it,” says Nikki.

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