Hiatus House forced to turn hundreds away
Demand by women, kids fleeing domestic violence overwhelming
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.”
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.