The World Health Organization classifies violence against women as a global epidemic. While figures on the alarmingly high rates of such violence in Lanark County were shared with the Carleton Place town council Oct. 10, there was also good news with the announcement of a new second-stage housing project for those fleeing abuse.
Lanark County Interval House (LCIH) Executive Director Erin Lee told councillors that a site for the new housing has been secured after eight years of discussion, research, and planning.
With the support of local philanthropist Duncan McNaughton, who serves as president of the management consulting and professional services company Tiree, that goal will hopefully come to full fruition by next June
“The first 30 days after a woman flees a violent situation is the most lethal time in terms of volatile response to her having taken some of her power back,” Lee said. “When you escape that, the person who had the power and control is not pleased.” Lee explained that second-stage housing is for “those who find it unsafe to be able to live independently. It could mean they are still tied up in court or their abuser is still at large and looking for them. Perhaps some of the impacts of the trauma and the violence have not been adequately resolved and the healing process has just begun.”
Because space is so tight at the first-stage – the physical shelter – and affordable, safe housing options are limited in Lanark County, any extended stay in the shelter means having to turn away others needing crisis support.
Lee said that while those needing LCIH services may not find a space in Carleton Place, they are not left without resources. Often, she said, they are referred to services elsewhere, in the same manner that LCIH sometimes takes in women and children from Ottawa and Quebec as well.
While that works as a temporary solution, it does not address the need of many survivors to stay in their home community.
Since 1979, LCIH has been the only dedicated violence against women service in the county, responding to more than 2,000 annual crisis calls – an average of more than five per day. With 15 beds, LCIH provides direct services to more than 400 women and children per year, and with their facility is often at capacity, Lee said that the second stage housing will provide the shelter more flexibility and space. Notably, Lee said that almost half of women fleeing violence have been forced to return to their abuser because of a lack of housing options.
OPP Statistics from 2010-14 show an average of 333.4 incidents of violence against women per year, with a 23 per cent increase between the bookend years. Figures for 2015 revealed a 54 per cent increase in violence against women.
The location for the second-stage housing cannot be revealed for issues of confidentiality and safety, Lee was able to report that the new facility will host four single units that could each house an adult woman and one to two small children, as well as two family units. The housing will be staffed during regular business hours, with access to LCIH’s shelter staff through a 24/7 crisis line.
The length of stays in second-stage housing will be up to a year, with the availability of counselling, rent geared to income, and an emphasis on providing the supports needed to get back into the community.
Town councillors were asked to support the project by waiving, forgiving or reducing annual taxes on the new property, as well as related fees and construction permit costs. “We can’t do this on our own,” Lee said.
“I hope we can do whatever we can to make this project work,” said deputy mayor Jerry Flynn. Council will explore ways of supporting the new housing at upcoming meetings.