By Laura Keil

Being in close proximity to your family may be a positive thing for some during this period of social distancing, but for some families, home is not a safe place.

Lina Thompson, Executive Director of Robson Valley Community Services (RVCS), said conditions of isolation can put a strain on any relationship, even healthy ones. But for families already experiencing the effects of substance abuse and violence, it will be an especially tough time.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think even the most functional well-established relationships can only be together in an enclosed space with these kinds of pressures for so long before marriages or relationships suffer. And that’s (for) healthy people. So, you know, it’s really scary.”

She said a key principle in child protection is to keep kids visible in the community: in school, preschool or daycare for instance.

“I always refer to that as having eyes on kids. And they’re now at home with people that they can’t escape and they don’t have access to media because they’re too little. That concerns me.”

A large number of people have been laid off and that is a huge stress, she said. She is concerned about the risk of violence in the home going up.

She said they have already seen a slight increase in reports of elder abuse. She said the abuse ranges from physical, emotional and financial.

“It’s a pressure cooker,” Thompson said. “I think we really need to be mindful to be kind and ask people how they’re doing.”

She said they definitely want people to contact RVCS if they are concerned about elder abuse.

“We can do the best support we can, check on them. If we need to, we can ask for a safety call with the RCMP. Most often we’ll connect with Sophia from Northern Health, she’s the social worker there.”

RVCS has launched a special call line for anyone to use if they need someone to talk to – and the caller doesn’t need to reveal their name, keeping it relatively anonymous. Call 1-844-324-2004.

Where will they go?
Mitzi Dean, BC’s Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, acknowledged that home is not a safe place for some.

“BC Housing is already working with our partner organizations to support women and children who would otherwise be trapped at home in dangerous situations,” Dean said.

While RVCS runs a Safe Shelter program, COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines have made the organization re-think how it handles placements.

Thompson said they are trying not to move women or families fleeing violence between McBride and Valemount to reduce the chance of spreading the virus from one community to the other. They are also not doing new placements in private homes. That presents a challenge: if placed into hotels, they face being housed with dozens of male workers.

“I am in no way saying the workers are putting women at risk; my concern is the lack of trauma-informed practice,” she said. “Can you imagine being a woman and child fleeing violence and being put into a hotel with 50 guys?”

She said her Safe Shelter workers are also having a hard time sourcing masks and gloves to protect themselves. Some women who call Safe Shelter come in off the highway, increasing the chance of inter-community spread.

That said, Thompson said they are finding ways to work around the challenges, and her staff has taken on new roles to help.

“We’re all kind of working outside of our mandates just to make sure people are safe.”

The Stats
A Statistics Canada survey released Apr. 8th found that a third of Canadians are anxious or very anxious about family stress from confinement.
The same survey, which questioned people between March 29th and April 3rd, found that 20 per cent of Canadians were drinking more alcohol.

Important Numbers
Robson Valley Community Service Helpline (if you or someone else needs non-emergency help, support or a well-being check-in): 1-844-324-2004
If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, you can contact VictimLinkBC at 1 800 563-0808 24/7 or by email at: [email protected]

More info
– Robson Valley COVID-19 Community Outreach & Aid facebook page (you do not need to have a facebook account to view this page).
– Ending Violence Association of British Columbia
– BC Society of Transition Houses