The number of women and children fleeing domestic abuse continues to rise but provincial funding to the Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie has been flatlined.
“We refer out 500 women and children to other shelters in Simcoe County every year,” says Teresa MacLennan, executive director. “That’s not okay with us.”
The shelter is partially funded for 27 beds but most times there are 35 women and children staying there, which means doubling up in rooms. While it’s not favourable, MacLennan says they don’t want women to have to make that difficult decision of going back to the person that is abusing them.
“We also have two dedicated beds for women who are experiencing human trafficking. The sexual exploitation of women is the most common form of human trafficking. Barrie is a gateway to the north and south, and there is a lot of women who are being trafficked through Barrie.” according to MacLennan.
The shelter receives no funding for those extra beds.
Fundraising is key to keeping the lights on and the doors open. MacLennan says they need to raise at least $350,000 a year, and that’s minimum. She says they provide everything to every women and child that comes to the shelter, including every meal, every school snack and every school supply.
There is no timeline for a woman to leave the shelter once she arrives. Staff work with each person to find housing, apply for financial assistance, and when an individual does leave, the services continue with ongoing counselling, court support and other outreach programs. Women can use those services as long as they need to.
“We know it takes, on average, a woman seven years to leave the abuser until she is truly able to move on with her life.” says MacLennan.
She pulls no punches about their financial situation.
“We are completely underfunded. Our sector has always been drastically underfunded and the need and requests for services continues to grow.”
The Barrie shelter is 30 years old and money is often being put into repairs. In fact, an elevator needs to be replaced at a cost of $100,000 and MacLennan says to do that is virtually impossible, yet they need to have an accessible building.
Looking five years down the road, MacLennan says they need to expand services and add more shelter beds because so many women are being turned away. There is also a need for transitional housing, which MacLennan says would allow women to leave the shelter and still receive the support they need and free up bed space for other women.
“We are very creative in how we manage our finances. We don’t take services away from women.”