Manitoba women’s shelters preparing for increase in calls as province begins to reopen

As Manitoba slowly begins to reopen select services next week, women’s shelters in the province are expecting to see a rise in calls for services.

In the weeks since the COVID-19 virus shut down the country, shelters in the province saw a drastic decrease in crisis calls.

This is because isolation posed a risk for women needing help, according to Deena Brock, provincial coordinator for the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters.

“When they’re isolated in their own home presumably with the abuser… he has control over everything she does and who she talks to,” Brock told APTN News.

“Sometimes women rely on being able to go to the library or a resource centre to get help. Those options are not there right now. Everything they do or say is controlled by the abuser.”

Kim Fontaine, the executive director for Ikwe Widdjiitiwin, Winnipeg’s only Indigenous women’s shelter, said the decrease in calls had service providers worried.

“It was quite frightening because [we] knew people were experiencing it. We all see it in the media but people just did not have the opportunity to make that call,” said Fontaine.

The city saw the tragic outcome of domestic violence with the death of Julie Racette last month.

The mother of three and member of Ebb and Flow First Nation was transported to hospital on Apr. 11.

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Family previously told APTN they were told Racette died of a medical issue.

On Apr. 20, police announced they suspect Racette’s husband is responsible for her death.

Wayne Melnychuk is facing charges of manslaughter and is considered a missing person.

He is described as Caucasian in appearance, 5’7” tall and has a medium build with brown hair and brown eyes.

The latest annual police statistics from 2018 show domestic calls made up 16,873 for the year with checks for well-being coming in a close second at 16,168 calls.

In light of this Winnipeg police created a new webpage launched this week to share information and resources.

“A domestic incident is extremely overwhelming for people that are going through it and a lot of information can be thrown at them at once when we’re trying to deal with an incident,” said Det. Sgt. Shane Wepruk, a domestic violence intervention coordinator with Winnipeg Police Service.

Wepruk said police have not seen an uptick in domestic calls during the pandemic.

He hopes the new tool will encourage those living in violent situations to reach out so they don’t have to “suffer in silence.”

This week the province announced some services such as retail stores, hair salons and restaurants who offer patio service can begin to reopen starting May 4 – meaning some people may be heading back to work.

Brock believes this could allow those who were trapped at home a chance to see help.

“I do expect a little bit of an uptick. We’re really not sure what’s going to happen and since Manitoba is one of the early [provinces] to make this change we can’t look at other provinces to see what actually happened,” she said.

“So, we’re taking it day by day.”

Fontaine adds the shelter is not ready to go back to normal operations but has been working diligently to implement alternative tools for women who may not be able to make that initial call.

There are emergency family shelters in 10 Manitoba communities and federal shelters on five First Nations. Call toll-free 1-877-977-0007.


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