Hia­tus House forced to turn hun­dreds away

De­mand by women, kids flee­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence over­whelm­ing

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - TREVOR WIL­HELM

Hia­tus House has turned away 223 vul­ner­a­ble women and chil­dren this year as the crisis shel­ter faces a sharp in­crease in de­mand for beds, spurred by in­tense me­dia fo­cus on sex­ual as­sault in Hol­ly­wood and Wash­ing­ton.

Thom Rolfe, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the shel­ter for women and chil­dren flee­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, said he doesn’t be­lieve the in­creased re­quests for beds means there are sud­denly more vic­tims out there.

“I think some of it has to do with in­creased cov­er­age of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence against women in general,” he said. “My sus­pi­cion is prob­a­bly what’s hap­pen­ing is women are tak­ing a chance that peo­ple will be­lieve them more and so they’re mak­ing more re­quests for ser­vice.”

Rolfe said Wed­nes­day the shel­ter has had to turn away 118 women and 105 chil­dren since Jan­uary. Hia­tus House has 42 beds. They were all full Wed­nes­day, said Rolfe, as they have been most of the year.

A sim­i­lar bed short­age struck over the sum­mer with shel­ters across Wind­sor un­able to keep up with de­mand. Hia­tus House was at ca­pac­ity. So was the House of Sophrosyne, which shel­ters women seek­ing help with drug or al­co­hol ad­dic­tion. Women were also sleep­ing on the floor at the Wel­come Cen­tre home­less shel­ter.

“It’s pretty much al­ways that way,” said Kristin Dou­glas, di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment at the Wel­come Cen­tre. “I would say that noth­ing has changed.

“It’s pretty steady. It’s still pretty busy. I would say we’re al­ways busy when it comes to fam­i­lies as well. Fam­i­lies we help off-site but that’s al­ways keep­ing us busy.”

Well aware of the on­go­ing bed short­ages long be­fore the sum­mer, Rolfe said Hia­tus House of­fi­cials made an ex­pan­sion pro­posal to the provin­cial gov­ern­ment in April.

The pro­posal is for the con­struc­tion of a 40-bed shel­ter in Leam­ing­ton that would be con­nected to the hos­pi­tal.

“But that’s not a so­lu­tion that’s go­ing to help this cur­rent prob­lem,” said Rolfe. Peo­ple who need help now can’t wait, he added.

“When we reach 42, what we do if a woman is in a high-risk sit­u­a­tion and we’re wor­ried that she could be killed or some­thing se­ri­ous could hap­pen, we’ll still bring her in,” he said. “Then we’ll work in terms of trans­fer­ring her to an­other shel­ter in an­other com­mu­nity. So any­one in a high-risk sit­u­a­tion, we would make sure that we pro­vide safety even if we don’t have a bed.”

But sending a woman to a shel­ter some­where else in On­tario might not al­ways be an op­tion ei­ther.

“The prob­lem is we’re not the only shel­ter fac­ing this is­sue in the prov­ince,” said Rolfe. “Some com­mu­ni­ties are in the same po­si­tion we are where they don’t have enough ca­pac­ity.”

If Hia­tus House work­ers can’t find a woman a bed, they re­fer her to the shel­ter’s non-res­i­den­tial ser­vices so some­one can stay in con­tact with her. That way they know as soon as pos­si­ble if her sit­u­a­tion changes for the worse.

But even with that, said Rolfe, there is a risk.

“What we know is the high-risk sit­u­a­tions change very quickly,” he said. “It could be a sit­u­a­tion that we don’t con­sider high-risk to­day but by to­mor­row it could be high­risk. So what we do is ask women to keep in con­tact with us.

“We know there is a sig­nif­i­cant level of dan­ger in all these sit­u­a­tions.”

DAN JANISSE

Thom Rolfe of Hia­tus House says if the shel­ter is at ca­pac­ity, women deemed at high risk will be found ac­com­mo­da­tion at a shel­ter in an­other com­mu­nity.

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