Give me shelter

Community COVID-19 Featured Shine On

When home isn’t the safest place to be…

Home is the safest place to be. Stay home. Self-isolate and help #flattenthecurve during these days of COVID-19 chaos.

Sounds idyllic. The opportunity to work comfortably from home yet still be connected with family sounds like a dream come true for many women.

But what if home actually isn’t the safest place for women to be?

“For women in particular, this is just more that’s been piled on their plate,” says Shelley Curtis-Thompson, executive director of the Pictou County Women’s Resource and Sexual Assault Centre in New Glasgow.

“When it comes to COVID-19, I think women are disproportionately affected because of the responsibilities that women are seen as taking on. When you look at work-life balance for women, women have less hours normally that are free for leisure because they’re responsible for their work in the workforce as well as their unpaid labour at home. And those unpaid labours have just become a lot more complicated.”

It is an extraordinary time of stress for people. And when domestic violence enters the picture, it becomes even more stressful.

That’s why the women’s centre and other support systems are remaining open during the province-wide state of emergency and the COVID-19 panic.

“It’s really critical for me that we be able to keep our phone lines open so that people can have that connection. From the centre’s perspective, we are doing our best to be accessible to people.”

For people reaching out by phone, internet or Facebook messenger, there is also a change in their level of privacy while they are at home. “People are doing the best they can do as they did before the day COVID-10 became a situation. They are trying to figure out ways to cope and get through this crazy situation until they can get out the other end.”

If this is the case, Curtis-Thompson would like women to know one thing: “We’re there for them.”

While staff can no longer meet women face to face because of Public Health restrictions, they are still available to provide service through video and telephone.

In an emergency unsafe situation, 9-1-1 will help. “They will help you get to a shelter and Tearmann House’s doors are still open, they’re still taking in people to support them and they’re doing the heroic work of supporting women and children who are unsafe as a result of domestic violence.”

In many ways, it seems as if COVID-19 has changed everything but Curtis-Thompson says in reality, nothing has changed.

“Not for profits like ourselves at the women’s centre and Tearmann and others in the community remain that social safety net for people and we’re still there to support people. COVID-19 putting people together in isolation certainly can be stressful and is magnified when those situations aren’t safe in the first place.”

Tearmann’s Donna Smith confirms, “Tearmann House is still operating as a shelter and we have our 24-hour crisis line available to anyone who is in need of support. We are able to take women in who are experiencing intimate partner violence. So we want to assure women there is a place to go.”

The executive director agrees that home may not be the safest place for women to self-isolate during the COVID-19 crisis, and can become particularly less safe for women with an abusive partner. “In those cases, our 24-hour crisis line is available. And if home is not a safe place then we certainly support women in finding a safe place, whether that be the shelter or alternate arrangements. We just want to make sure that women have the message that they are not alone and they can reach out.”

Smith stresses her organization is available 24/7 for all women — regardless of geographic location — particularly for those in rural communities where transportation is an issue. “Wherever they are, we will figure something out; we will find a way to make it happen.”

In unprecedented times like these, organizations like the women’s centre and other shelters continue to provide a valuable service to vulnerable groups while thinking outside the box.

“If women are self-isolating due to COVID-19 I wouldn’t want them to think that they can’t call because they are self-isolating. If they call we can figure something out. So our message is: You are not alone, please do reach out, please do call and we will work through a plan together,” Smith encourages.

“As a community we all need to reach out and check in with people, neighbours. Maybe there’s a support that can happen that way. We all have to take care of each other. If you’re a woman and you’re safety planning, that plan can be established that includes neighbours and people checking in and friends and contacts and that kind of thing. Now, more than ever, we need to be more open to supporting our neighbours and being willing to step up sometimes where you might not have done that.”

Safety planning is something Stacey Dlamini, executive director or Roots House, advocates.

“It’s more important than ever that women or youth in abusive situations have their own safety plan. Is there a safe relative or neighbour or friend that would take you in if home is not a safe place? As always, if you feel like you or your children are in imminent danger, call the police,” she encourages.

There is limited funding at Roots for Youth through the Atlantic Compassion Fund, administered through the United Way of Pictou County, to book a hotel room for a couple of nights to give someone time to make arrangements for their safety. Anybody needing to access this can phone PC Roots for Youth at 902-695 3241.

“I really think that women are incredible in terms of their resilience and inventive in finding ways to step up. But no matter how inventive we all are as women I really think it’s important to remember that we are human and human beings need each other, and there are many not-for profits that are still there,” Curtis-Thompson says.

  • • Tearmann House Crisis Line (902) 752-1633 (24/7)
  • • Tearmann House main line 902-752-0132
  • • Pictou County Women’s Resource and Sexual Health Centre, email pcwc@womenscentre.ca or call 902-755-4647
  • • PC Roots for Youth at 902-695-3241
  • • Kids Help Phone (24/7) at 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868
  • • Emergencies 9-1-1