The idea behind self-isolating at home is to protect ourselves and each other from contracting and spreading COVID-19.
For some women in our community, however, being at home more means more time with their abuser.
Unlike before the pandemic, the usual safety valves of being able to go and stay with a friend or relative, get out for a coffee, or seek help during the workday are no longer available due to pandemic restrictions.
In the last three weeks, Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services staff told Glacier Media they have seen a 300% increase in calls from women in distress. Local organizations also say they have seen an uptick in calls.
Squamish service providers want women in the Sea to Sky Corridor to know that support is available 24/7 during the pandemic.
"There is no barrier we cannot overcome," said Ashley Oakes, executive director at Howe Sound Women's Centre Society. She said her organization is already seeing call volumes increase and staff anticipates a local surge in domestic violence.
"And the longer this goes on, the worse that is going to get. So we are really committed to finding a way to connect to the community and let them know that we are adapting and ensuring that we can meet the growing needs in our community and we are pivoting programs as necessary to incidents of domestic violence and the increase we anticipate."
The organization is working with BC Housing and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation to be able to house women fleeing violence at this time.
Blocks of rooms in hotels within Squamish and Whistler have been secured to accept women and children.
"So that we can house women after capacity is reached at our transition and safe homes," Oakes said, adding that families of all sizes can be accommodated.
Pearl’s Place Transition House and Pearl’s Safe Home are still being staffed fully around the clock.
"[Staff is] available to provide intake over the phone through the crisis line and we will be able to even take clients who are presenting with symptoms, through the arrangements we are making with hotels," said Oakes.
"If someone is experiencing symptoms, while we are waiting for confirmation of whether they have a diagnosis or not, we can support them in isolation in a hotel and provide groceries and any resources... for the necessary quarantine period."
The crisis line (24-hour crisis line – 1-877-890-5711) is staffed 24 hours a day.
Text and email options are also available (604-815-8596).
"A woman in isolation in an unsafe home environment... sometimes making a phone call is not an option," Oakes said, explaining the texting option.
The organization's Squamish and Whistler drop-in centres are also maintaining normal hours for phone, video and email support. Staff can also provide women with toiletries and feminine hygiene products as well as fulfill any urgent clothing needs.
In Squamish, in-person support is also still available for anyone in crisis.
"We have set up the ability to do that through our back window," Oakes said.
Squamish and Whistler PEACE Programs, which support children and youth experiencing violence, are still operating via phone and online.
"As we anticipate having more women in our shelter services, we anticipate the needs of those children, so we will be mobilizing our children's counselling team to offer support," Oakes added.
Also still operating is the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program. Thus, it is still possible to "third-party" report sexual violence without having to go directly to the police.
[A list of Women's Centre programs and contacts can be found at the end of this story.]
April 12 to 18 marks the annual Prevention of Violence Against Women Week in B.C.
Sea to Sky Community Services Society
Sea to Sky Community Services staff are also seeing an increase in the number of women in distress.
"Isolation around COVID-19 is making it harder for women to try and leave unsafe situations. All the physical and movement restrictions aimed to stop the spread of the virus... may be making violence in the home more frequent, more severe and more dangerous," said Jaye Russell, executive director of Sea to Sky Community Services.
"We are anecdotally hearing from our counsellors that women are feeling unsafe more than ever. They are feeling trapped within the home with their abuser and really have very few alternatives for safety planning."
The organization runs free Stopping the Violence (STV) Counselling Programs to help.
These programs include individual and group counselling as well as outreach services to women who are being, or have been, abused or assaulted.
"It means that through a self or community-based referral women can seek assistance to identify either a current or past trauma or abusive situation that is hindering their independence and growth."
Even during the pandemic, these services remain available in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton and outreach services are available in Whistler, Pemberton and First Nation communities North of Pemberton.
Sea to Sky Community Services counselling contacts:
Whistler/Pemberton Jane Walser - 604-698-6909.
Squamish counsellors: 604-389-8106.
Howe Sound Women Centre programs and contacts:
Pearl’s Place Transition House and Pearl’s Safe Home
24 hours a day, 7 days a week
24-hour crisis line – 1-877-890-5711
Text option available 604-815-8596
Squamish Drop-in Centre
Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — staff onsite and available for phone/video/email support, toiletries and feminine products available onsite during open hours and urgent clothing items upon request
Text option available 604-815-8596
Squamish PEACE Program
Counsellor contact: email@example.com
Multicultural Outreach Program
Homeless Prevention Outreach Services
Squamish contact - firstname.lastname@example.org
Whistler/Pemberton contact – email@example.com
Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program
Sexual Assault Support and Third Party Reporting
Whistler Drop-in Centre
Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – phone/video/email support available and toiletries available upon request
Whistler/Pemberton PEACE Program
Pearl’s Value and Vintage
Closed until further notice