A family support centre based in Greater Victoria has reported a 40 per cent increase in women expressing interest in moving into supportive housing for women fleeing family violence.
Candace Stretch, manager of supportive housing and family services for the Cridge Centre for the Family, says that the centre typically sees between 30 and 40 expressions of interest in a quarter for women wanting to move into one of the 46 housing units. This quarter there were more than 60 expressions of interest — with most of the requests coming in March.
“This suggests to me that there are women who are feeling the strain, maybe they’re in a situation that they were able to manage with a spouse but this crisis may have turned up the heat in the situation and now they’re more desperate,” says Stretch.
According to the Ending Violence Association of Canada, research has shown that isolation, economic and employment uncertainty, crowded or precarious housing and social disorder and disruption are all risk factors for sexual violence, intimate partner violence, elder and child abuse.
“Many of the measures necessary to responding to COVID-19 – isolation; closures of daycares and schools; the potential impact on employment and income; and general uncertainty, stress and disruption – are also likely to exacerbate these known risk factors for violence,” reads a statement from the Association.
Stretch says the Cridge Centre has been able to support every woman who called the crisis line seeking immediate help, but not all through the Cridge Transition House. Some cases were referred to other organizations. One of the positive aspects to the pandemic, says Stretch is the level of communication and collaboration between those in the sector.
Stretch adds that the Cridge’s outreach worker, who meets women in their communities, has had a “huge increase in the number of calls.”
“[The outreach worker] is hearing a lot of women who have left relationships but COVID-19 is putting a big strain on them financially and emotionally because they’ve lost jobs, they’ve got kids at home and they’re just trying to manage everything,” she says.
Elijah Zimmerman, executive director of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, says the centre has yet to see an increase in the use of their clinic as of yet. He says they believe this is due to the reduction of “opportunity assaults” that could take place at bars, parties or events.
“We do have concerns that people may be living with an abuser and are reluctant to seek support for fear of jeopardizing housing in a time of physical distancing,” Zimmerman says.
Stretch echos those concerns and says women who need help now should not hesitate to call.
“We’re going to do everything we can,” she says. “We’re going to work with you on this and make sure you’re not stuck in a situation that’s not safe.”