The need in town has outgrown the space at the Howe Sound Women Centre's drop-in location in Squamish.
"Over the last several years, as the community has grown, we've noticed an ever-increasing flow of traffic into our Squamish women's centre space," said Ashley Oakes, Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society’s executive director. "And that, in general, is survivors of gender-based violence looking for support, resources, and referrals as they navigate their options ahead."
The Squamish Drop-In Centre offers a sexual assault response program, a PEACE (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling, and Empowerment) program for children and youth experiencing violence, and a multi-cultural outreach program.
"All of those programs have grown over the last several years," Oakes told The Chief, adding that the programs couldn't be expanded the way they need to, due to the lack of space.
"We had only one crisis support room. We only had one children's counselling space. The crisis support room was being shared by our sexual response program, our frontline support workers [and] our multi-cultural outreach program. So, we could really do only one private crisis support program at a time, and then other clients would be met in makeshift places as needed."
With the pandemic, more and more people have been seeking support from the centre.
"Survivors of gender-based violence already face isolation on a regular basis when they are being victimized in their homes, and then when they are forced to shelter in place, in an unsafe environment, that creates ever-worsening conditions," said Oakes. "As the summer emerged and people were able to leave their homes a bit more, we have begun to see the impact that these 10 months have had on the incidents of violence in the Sea to Sky Corridor and that has led to increased traffic to the drop-in centre in Squamish."
The pandemic has also increased demand for transition house space.
Oakes said that staff have "regularly" had to set up transitional housing in local hotels for people fleeing violence as corridor transition houses are full.
"We have almost seen a 40% increase in calls to our 24-hour crisis line and it hasn't begun to slow down," she said, adding the longer the pandemic drags on, the more demand the centre's services will see.
"When people are vaccinated and happy and able to go out again, that doesn't end things for people who have been in violent relationships or for people whose relationships become violent throughout this pandemic."
Oakes said the economic pressure, along with other tensions in the community, have created a perfect storm out of which violence can increase.
"So we see that continuing, unfortunately, for quite some time while we navigate the fall out [of the pandemic.]"
The increasing need of late has also meant more staff was brought on, further exacerbating the space issue at the drop-in centre, which opened its doors at the current location about 15 years ago.
Last year, an unfortunate sewage flood sparked a conversation within the organization about what needed to be done at the centre to meet local needs. Over the last year, the leaky roof added to that conversation.
It was decided it was time for a $480,000 expansion of the centre to meet the need in the community.
The expansion includes taking over two previously rented out apartments on the second floor of the building.
Staff and programs at the centre have temporarily moved out of the 38021 Third Ave. facility while massive renovation gets underway.
Those in need of the organization's services can still find them just a few blocks away.
The Squamish Drop-In Centre has been relocated for the duration of the renovation to #2 — 37749 Second Ave.
When the renovation is complete this summer, Oakes said they hope to have two crisis support workers there every day they are open.
"So that we are able to meet all the needs [that] are presented to us on a daily basis."
Oakes says she hopes the community will continue to support the work of the centre by donating to the renovation project.
The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation has thrown in $70,000 and until Jan. 31, all donations received toward the renovation project will be matched dollar to dollar, up to $70,000 by the foundation.
The project has also received funding from the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust, which is the foundation of Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts.
About $250,000, half of the funding for the reno, is coming from the revenue from Pearl's Value & Vintage this year.
"We remain really grateful for the community support over the last 10 months and it seems ambitious to launch into a renovation in the midst of a pandemic, but it is because of the support of the community and the support of people shopping at Pearl's that has made it possible for us," Oakes said. "So just continuing to share our gratitude for the support Squamish has shown the Howe Sound Women's Centre."
Go here to donate: https://hswc.ca/donate/