COVID-19 pandemic putting pressure on women’s shelters

Women’s shelters across Canada are seeing greater demand during the COVID-19 pandemic at a time they are being forced to turn needy clients away.

Public pandemic protocols mean only one person can occupy a room now instead of the usual sharing.

It’s putting a squeeze on their services when police say added stress and conflict are bound to increase domestic violence.

The Awo Taan Healing Lodge in Calgary, with only has seven rooms and 32 beds, already has limited space.

“Families are not only in crisis with added risk of homelessness and increased poverty but there are many unknowns about this COVID-19 so my staff has spent time with them on the telephone,” Josie Nepinak, executive director at the lodge.

Nepinak says the shelter has already seen an increase in the number of crisis calls – but mainly from single women without children who need a safe place to stay.

In other times, single women often share a room but that isn’t possible with the social distancing protocols in place.

“We have been, for the most part been able to accommodate those calls but because of COVID-19 we’ve also had to increase our screening in terms of asking questions about travel, have they been sick, have they been exposed, those kinds of questions,” says Nepinak.

“Which means we’re not only putting a little bit more stress on them but also with us as well.”

In Winnipeg, Willow Place women’s shelter accepts women from all over the province and often has to turn families away – even if there isn’t a pandemic.

“Unfortunately that’s something we have to deal with regularly,” said Marcie Wood, Exec utive Director of Willow Place Inc.

“Being a Winnipeg shelter and we provide 25 per cent of the service in the province in our shelter alone. The Winnipeg shelters feel this in a sense that we are quite often in a situation where we’re having to turn away people. What we try to do is is offer another viable resource.”

Paul Wozney, Staff Sergeant with The Calgary police say they’re expecting an increase in family violence calls.

“We do know from past experiences that major events that happen in the world, when people are held up in their residence there is an increase in domestic violence,” said Wozney. “Where we see a little bit more conflict, more stress on the whole family unit and we are anticipating that in this instance.”

In Awo Taan there are currently two families in quarantine.

“Those families are required to stay in their rooms and we attempt to entertain them as much as possible through books and games and that kind of thing as well as delivering their meals at the door,” said Nepinak. “It’s very isolating for them.

“Not only are they not in their homes, but they’re also in a new environment that has quite a few restrictions.”

Restrictions that are adding even more stress to families in care.

“It hasn’t been pleasant. I wouldn’t say that they’re enjoying their time here but non the less we do what we need to do to keep the protocol in place,” she said.



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