Slave Lake women’s shelter fielded 500 crisis calls in 2019

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Northern Haven Support Society runs a women’s emergency shelter and community service program for victims of domestic violence in Slave Lake. In 2019, the shelter received 500 crisis calls. These were divided into 329 calls requesting admission to the shelter, 93 crisis support calls, 72 seeking information and six other. The majority of callers were female, with 473 calls from women and 23 from men.

In 2019, 36 women and 30 children stayed at the shelter.

The same women often call to ask for admission more than once, says Northern Haven executive-director Shelly Ferguson. The room is booked for 24 hours, but sometimes they don’t come. When this happens, women might find another safe option, such as staying with a relative. At other times, they stay with the abuser. If absentee women don’t call, the staff gets very worried.

“Every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by a current or former intimate partner, and Alberta has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country,” says Ferguson, citing the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) 2019 data report.

It’s unfortunate how big of a problem domestic violence is in Alberta, she says.

ACWS has 39 shelters, which collect data from each woman who enters. They also do a danger assessment, to determine the likelihood she’ll be killed by her abuser.

“Nearly two-thirds of women entering shelters are at a severe or extreme risk of being killed,” says the report. “This is higher than at any time in the past seven years.”

In Alberta, 96 per cent of women and seniors who stayed in a shelter didn’t return to their abusers.

In Slave Lake, Northern Haven Community Service worked with 51 adults and their families, says Ferguson. This number includes male victims of abuse. Many of the people helped by the community service are women and children who leave the shelter and stay in the community. Since community services started, the number of re-admissions to the shelter has gone down.

For victims of domestic violence to be able to start over, “it takes a couple of years (of support), depending on how intense their case is,” says Ferguson.

Across the province 10,128 women, children and seniors stayed in a shelter in 2018/2019. This number includes 45 men, says the ACWS report. In all regions, people were turned away, because the shelter couldn’t support them. The northern region starts south of Jasper, Westlock, and Cold Lake. In this region, 2,346 women and children were turned away in 2019.

In Slave Lake, it’s possible some of the ‘other’ calls were abusers trying to find women and children at the shelter, says Ferguson.

On a more positive note, some of the information calls were community members asking how to donate.

“It was a good year for us,” says Ferguson. “Community Services is doing really well, and we have community support. We got a lot of donations over Christmas.”

Victim Services, Shoppers Drug Mart, the Medicine Shoppe, the Slave Lake Alliance Church, Whitecap Chev, and many others donated to the shelter.

For the second year, St. Francis of Assisi School held a sock drive. Men’s socks received are passed on to the Mat Program, which provides a place to sleep for homeless people in Slave Lake.

Jill Gongos, from Whitecap Chev in Slave Lake started ‘Baskets of Love’ four years ago.

“We started it, because Whitecap likes to give back,” Gongos says. Whitecap has supported the shelter for years, as a pet project of Gongos’ mother-in-law.

When Gongos took over the charitable projects, she continued this work, and “put a new spin on it.”

At Christmas, she continues, a mom who’s starting over isn’t likely to do something special for herself. She will likely use everything she has toward survival or for her kids.

Starting in November, Whitecap collected beauty products and other special things. At Christmas, they dropped them off at Northern Haven. In 2019, they donated 25 baskets.

“We love doing it, because who doesn’t like to get a gift basket at Christmas?” says Gongos.

The shelter can always use new towels, bedding, indoor toys, puzzles, books, baby sleepers, and baby blankets. The shelter has two double beds and eight twin beds. For babies, it uses playpens.

Often clients who come don’t bring towels and sheets, etc., so when the shelter finds them a safe home outside, they take them with them, says Ferguson.

Some local quilters have donated lovely homemade quilts, says Ferguson. These stay at the shelter.

Northern Haven Outreach Worker, Tracy (left), accepts ‘baskets of love’ from three people from Whitecap Chev in Slave Lake.

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