By Laura Keil
As machines broke ground at the site of Valemount’s future daycare and women and children’s housing complex, Lina Thompson gathered members of the Robson Valley Community Services (RVCS) leadership team, as well as her daughter, to the building site for a photo.
For Thompson, the Executive Director of RVCS, it has been a labour of love, one that is deeply personal. The building the first of its kind will provide 14 housing units of short and long-term housing for women and children escaping violence or at risk of violence, as well as a trauma-informed daycare. For her, it’s the answer to dilemmas that face many women, dilemmas she herself faced in 1998 when, newly pregnant, she fled her husband with her 1-year-old in tow and less than $100 to her name.
“If it wasn’t for several people along the way who gave me a hand up, we wouldn’t have survived,” Thompson said. “I promised myself that one day I would contribute to women’s safety, and most important to me, the safety of their children.”
The $11.3M project came together with a number of partners, and will offer a 72-space daycare, child and infant development programming, classrooms and food security programming on the main floor with housing on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
The 14-unit apartment will provide both second-stage (short-term) housing with on-site supports, as well as long-term affordable rental housing for women in need. The Province said the 3-storey building will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom homes, a laundry room and shared amenity space. Thompson said the units have a separate entrance from the services on the main floor. The units are available for people who identify as female who may or may not have children.
The homes are being funded through the Province’s Building BC: Women’s Transition Housing Fund via BC Housing, with financial and in-kind support from Columbia Basin Trust and the Village of Valemount and the daycare spots are funded through the BC New Spaces fund.
Construction is anticipated to be completed in spring 2023.
Thompson said when the project was paused this summer for reasons beyond RVCS’ control, Valemount Mayor Owen Torgerson went to bat for it.
“He has been an example of what allyship means,” she said. “He has done an excellent job at raising alarm at a much higher level than I could.”
“Everyone has a right to feel safe in their home and community,” said Mayor Torgerson. “Having safe and inclusive housing available for women escaping violence or who have experienced domestic abuse is absolutely integral.”
The anti-violence team with RVCS served 52 women in the past year and Thompson said the number one barrier this year was housing.
“We had nowhere to put them after 10 days of temporary safe home,” she said.
“If women don’t have a place to bring their kids for childcare, they can’t work. And if you can’t work, you can’t find a place to live. It’s a systemic problem.”
Studies show women in rural areas are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence, and researchers say that outcome is likely due to a mix of greater isolation, fear of community reputation for getting help, and fewer local resources to help women.
Thompson said this is an opportunity to support our most vulnerable people.
“If you support them, they will stay and contribute to community. I’m a survivor, right?”
A Personal Connection
(Trigger warning for violence)
Thompson opened up to the Goat about her own ordeal with a violent partner and the struggle to leave. It’s the first time she has shared her story publicly.
In 1998, her husband moved their family to Alberta away from Thompson’s family and then drove them into poverty with his addiction. He frequently threatened to kill their infant son. As a practising Jehovah’s Witness at the time, she listened to the church that told her she should simply try harder.
The breaking point came after she found out she was pregnant again and had left her eight-month-old son at home with her husband while she went to work. During the day she was unable to get a hold of her husband. When she got home after her shift, her husband was gone.
“I went home and my son was sitting in his bed at eight months old, just sobbing. He (her ex) had left him first thing in the morning and left him there for eight hours—no food, no change of clothes. And the look on his eight-month-old face—that he felt he had done something wrong. That, if I ever think about it, will be the thing that always brings me to tears.”
A friend drove her and her son to the airport and she got on a flight with less than $100 in her pocket.
She went to her church and they wouldn’t speak to her, said they needed to speak to her Head (her husband). Leaving the church seemed unthinkable—she was 23 years old with a Grade 10 education, an infant son, another on the way, no vehicle and her entire support network was in the church. Despite all this, she chose to leave. When she did, her parents told her she was dead to them.
Thompson said despite all the hurdles and bad things that happened, she experienced kindness along the way, often from perfect strangers.
A couple she met at a Mennonite Church service invited her over for Christmas dinner and showered her and her boys with gifts. Another time she got a knock on the door of her basement suite and outside the door was a food hamper, a Christmas tree and tricycles for her sons.
“I don’t even know who those people were,” she said. “As a community, I don’t know that we realize the impact.”
Still, life was far from easy. She went back to work full-time when her second son was just 8-weeks old. One day, while working at London Drugs, she knew she had no diapers.
“I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to put diapers on this 10-week-old baby. And I was standing there. I’ve never stolen a thing in my life. I’m probably one of the most moral people you’ll meet. And I remember thinking, if I steal these diapers, I’m going to get fired. But if I don’t, I’m not going to be able to put anything on my kid—he’s going to get taken away from me.”
Her work manager called her to the back, and she immediately felt nervous.
“I didn’t even do anything but I started to feel guilty. He said, ‘You know, we have this policy that if something’s damaged, we just donate it. And so he took an exacto knife and he cut the pack of diapers, and he handed it to me. He goes, ‘Yeah, I don’t know if you could use these or not.’ And he damn well knew. He maintained my dignity.’”
For a decade, her ex-husband was allowed shared custody of the boys, but she finally went to the police after he threatened to pin her son’s head to the door with a crossbow.
During the trial, her mother went against her in court.
“She’d printed every email I’ve ever sent, and went in support of him. So we talk about why women don’t leave. Yeah, these are the reasons.”
During that proceeding, a row of plain-clothes police officers sat down behind her in the courtroom, in support.
“What a difference it made for me to feel protected by these men,” she said. “My biggest allies have actually been men in community. Men have such a cool role to play in standing up to it, at least in my journey.”
Her current husband Shawn has been a lifeline for her, even before they were a couple. He was and is her safe person and spent many hours helping her learn math, when she was struggling in university.
It was her sons that really pushed her to make a better life.
“I could not have them go back to a cult.”
It frustrates her when people say there’s no violence, that it’s “just threats.”
“I’d take the hit 10 times over the trauma of somebody threatening to kill your kid. Going to work and trying to stay focused on your job and wondering if your child is dead. (But) you have to go to work because you have no other way to feed your family … It’s threats of violence. It’s the financial control. It’s not just hitting somebody.”
She said the recent Netflix series The Maid really hit home, and it’s uncanny how similar her story is.
“I think that’s an eye opener for people. I think they did a great job of it. It’s the threats, the manipulation, the control and the use of children or pets against women.”
The housing complex will also serve local women who find themselves with no place to live, due to Valemount’s housing crunch. She said if you lose your house and you’ve got little kids, the Ministry of Children and Family Development gets involved.
“Where are you supposed to live in Valemount? Do you have to leave your entire social circle because you don’t have a place to rent? To me, that’s risk of violence.”
She asked BC Housing to think outside the box when it came to the housing.
“I said ‘Look, we can’t just offer short term stay for women. Where are they going to go after 10 days? And women are saying, ‘Forget it. I’m not going to come to you, because what am I supposed to do after that?’”
She suggested having affordable housing units attached to the temporary housing.
“They said ‘It’s never been done’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, well. Make it be done!’”
Thompson said BC Housing went above and beyond to find a creative solution.
One of the challenges women escaping violence face is having to prove their income to get accommodations. Without a job, they can’t find a place to live. And without childcare, they can’t get a job.
“What I carry with me, which causes me a lot of pain, is that I continued to take them back (to her ex). And the reason for that is I was in poverty, and I didn’t have anywhere to live that was safe. If I had been able to phone a place like this and say, ‘I don’t know what to do. I have nothing.’ And for them to say, ‘We can help you, come here. Here’s some food.
Here’s a way to go. We have adult literacy now attached so you can get your upgrading right there. Your children are eligible for daycare … you can live here, and it’s long term, and the hospital’s right next door, and there’s RCMP and you can walk to school, I would never have gone back. And so all the harm that happened after trying to leave 15 times, what it did to my eldest in particular, that wouldn’t have happened. He would have had a different life.”
Thompson said the childcare on the main floor will be trauma-informed care, and ECE’s will have additional training for those children who need it.
“I think the reason I’m sharing this is because it’s so easy to look down on people and be like, ‘Well, why didn’t you leave?’ We don’t know the background. Like I didn’t even know that was a possibility. And how do you leave when you’re going to lose everything?”
She said she’s excited for the resources on the main floor, such as a therapeutic room for children with different sensory needs, a kitchen to provide healthy food, and classrooms to, among other things, train Early Childhood Educators in Valemount.
“I want moms or dads or families to come in and instead of being like, ‘You don’t have healthy food for your kids, say, ‘I see you’re struggling. Can I help you?”
For her, it’s the kindness and compassion along her journey that she still marvels about.
It helped her get her GED and then her university degree.
“Here I am, Grade 10 education. I’m doing my Masters in April.”
She hopes this project will pay forward that kindness many times over.