The Howe Sound Women’s Centre saw an uptick in families supported by the holiday hamper program but continues to grapple with weather and COVID-19 barriers.
The Centre's annual holiday hamper program saw generous donors support up to 60 families in 2021 compared to 49 families in 2020, according to a news release from the centre. The centre also helped about 40 clients through the fill-a-bag program in December.
“The family size can range from a mother and one child to large families of eight to 10 and the donors come through every year. They take that family's wish list and they make it happen and those contributions from donors could range anywhere from $300 to $1,000 a season, and they do that on top of their own holiday spending. And it just shows the power of this community to support one another,” said Ashley Oakes, executive director of the centre, about the holiday hamper program.
While Oakes was thankful for these donations, she said there is an expected increase in support for clients due to COVID-19.
“We anticipated back in March 2020 that we would begin to see a significant increase in need around a year into the pandemic, anticipating increased family tension due to restrictive lockdown measures and the economic impact on folks,” said Oakes.
“We didn't want to see an increase in demand,” said Oakes. “Our vision is to eliminate violence and the pandemic has really created a situation where there's significantly more.”
Oakes said that while she’s seen an increase in intimate partner violence there’s also been an increase in homelessness or precarious housing situations and “significant” mental health needs for clients. All of these factors, said Oakes, is overwhelming the housing and shelter systems.
Fortunately, Oakes said the centre has been able to utilize hotel accommodations for clients moving to and from transitional housing.
“We're also trying to manage as best we can to prevent any kind of spread of COVID in our transitional housing spaces. And so we do have access to hotel accommodations that we have used for isolation spaces in order to ensure if there's any exposures in our congregate housing setting that we're able to mitigate that risk on other vulnerable folks by utilizing hotel accommodations or vice versa if someone is symptomatic, when they come through our intake process, then we can utilize hotel accommodations to support and isolate them before moving them into the congregate setting,” said Oakes.
When it comes to the cold and wintry weather, Oakes said she thinks people in need of the centre’s services may have held off.
“People who come to us for support more so...hunkered down and stayed in more dangerous situations... The weather kind of kept things sort of status quo for us. However, I don't think that that paints the true picture.”
Recently, the centre has gone through some renovations, which are helping to reach more clients, about six or seven at a time compared to three or four before, said Oakes.
“We were able to move sort of non-client facing office space to the second level, which freed up a substantial amount of space on that main floor of the drop-in centre, allowing us to add additional crisis support room and then additional children's counselling room, as well as to establish like a community kitchen group workspace,” said Oakes.
“Prior to the renovation, we only had one crisis support room and we would often have multiple clients in crisis in the space at any one time. By having more space for those people to meet with somebody privately rather than in the general drop-in space, we've been able to better support clients.”
With the renovated space, Oakes said they would like to offer group support programming and, hopefully, co-ordinate a 24-hour service to be able to meet a survivor of domestic violence at any time. Right now, the centre co-ordinates a 24-hour transitional housing service and crisis line. A service like that, said Oakes, comes down to funding and getting the resources and contract from the provincial government, which they are actively seeking.
Finally, Oakes recognized that the staff at the centre have been incredibly valuable for the clients in the Sea to Sky area.
“Our team is so passionate about helping survivors of violence in the Sea to Sky Corridor. They're unbelievable. The team is unbelievable. They show up every day, committed to making a difference in survivors’ lives, committed to advocating for change.”
For more information about the Howe Sound Women’s Centre, including programs and services or how to get involved, please visit hswc.ca.