The Robson Valley Support Society is looking for more homes in Valemount to support women needing shelter from family violence.
There is currently only one shelter available in the village; six shelters are available in the Robson Valley. Shelly Battensby, who co-ordinates the Safe Shelter program in Valemount, says entering shelter is often the first step for a woman in crisis who is escaping abuse. To help those women, the Safe Shelter program involves a network of private safe homes operated by volunteers.
“They open their homes to women who are in crisis and need a place to stay.”
She says they support around 100 women in the valley each year, though the number using a shelter varies dramatically each month. Sometimes it is half the women who come through, other times very few.
If the offender is taken into custody, support can often occur through outreach while the woman and children stay in their home. Sometimes the woman is looking for counselling or support, but does not want to leave.
“It’s not critical proportions,” she says. “But it means that one home is the only one we call.”
While the woman is in shelter, the agency helps her to look at her options and how she can execute a plan to be safe – whether that means a permanent move or returning to the relationship. If the woman has been controlled financially, she may not have the funds to travel or get new accommodations.
“It can be a scramble. You have to look at some pretty fast logistical issues.”
She says violence often involves control: whether it be control of self-esteem, finances or personal movement. It may also mean indirect violence such as hitting the wall next to the person or kicking the dog. If a shelter isn’t available, she says they would likely set her up in a hotel, but they don’t have a budget to sustain that. As it is, women can only use a home shelter for five days. Often it’s for a weekend.
Sometimes women use the shelter before they go to a transition house in a larger centre, where they can get better in-house health and legal supports. The support society also offers counselling for women and children who have encountered violence in the home, as well as outreach services.
She says having more than one safe house in a location is not just for the women who use the shelters, but also for the shelter operators to support one another.
“They know who one another is, so they can reach one another,” she says. “It’s an isolating thing. They can’t talk about it.”
A good host understands the dynamics of domestic violence, is a good listener, and has space in their home, she says. They must also have a life that supports the confidentiality, meaning they don’t have a lot of company or live in the busiest area of town.
“You see some pretty sad stories,” she says. “A shelter operator may be really impacted by that and you need a place to put that so you need good self-care.”
“A lot of it is just being that sympathetic ear, you know, put the cup of tea down and just say ‘You’re safe now.’”
She says men are an important part of that. All the shelters have men. She says the women need to see that men can be respectful and supportive.
More services such as group counselling sessions would also help men who are violent. No such services exist in the Valley, however, which Battensby says is a big gap.
“We all fall in love for good reasons and that’s the real challenge with living with abuse is you love this person but they’re hurting you. It’s such a contradiction and you kind of battle it out inside yourself.”
Battensby says doing a presentation at the Valemount women’s conference was a way of putting out a call without doing a public recruitment.
“We did get some interest there so hopefully we’ll have some potential for new shelters, but we’re always looking for people who are interested in getting involved,” she says.
Often children are part of the mix. Elizabeth de Vries, who works out of McBride does counselling for children and youth who have witnessed violence in their home.
“I help them learn healthy ways to express their feelings because they’ve learned unhealthy ways growing up around someone who uses violence.”
“It’s breaking that cycle and teaching them more appropriate ways of handling their feelings especially their anger.”