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Realtor climbs mountains for Greater Victoria women facing violence

Women fleeing violence face ‘perfect storm’ of compounded challenges
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Greater Victoria training doesn’t get quite the elevation Sarah Williamson needs to train for her November hike in Ecuador, but the view is nice. (Courtesy of Sarah Williamson)

Sarah Williamson expects to start every day of her Ecuador hiking adventure with tears.

That was the case two years ago when the Greater Victoria real estate agent embarked on her first Royal Lepage Trek for Shelter in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains.

Both gruelling and amazing, each day of that adventure started with a briefing outlining hike details and a reminder of why they were there.

“We had letters sent to us from women or families in shelters,” Williamson recalled.

Every morning a member of the group was nominated to read. The one she recalled most vividly was from a young girl whose mom was killed by her partner.

“It’s just a reminder, it makes everything real,” said Williamson, a member of the South Island Home Team, Royal Lepage Coast Capital Realty.

In a year, the Cridge Centre for the Family supports more than 400 women and children impacted by violence and poverty. The Victoria agency hosts a suite of programs, ranging from supportive and transition housing to the crisis hotline to housing for seniors and a traumatic brain injury support group.

Williamson’s Trek for Shelter in Ecuador serves as a fundraiser, with 80 per cent of her personal proceeds supporting the critical Victoria support. The other 20 per cent goes to an equally important national fund.

READ ALSO: Safe homes open in Victoria for women, children leaving violent situations

“The thing I love about this organization is 100 per cent of the money goes directly to the shelters,” said Williamson, noting fees paid by agents run the foundation, freeing up all money raised to go to charities. “It was an easy choice to get behind that one.”

She’s close to hitting the $10,000 mark.

It’s hard to quantify the impact of that, said Marlene Goley manager of the Cridge Transition House for Women.

There are the predictable costs associated with women fleeing violence and going into a temporary shelter. The temporary nature means they work hard and when they prevail and find housing there are known costs – moving, first grocery shop, hydro hookup, and tenants insurance.

“It can cost $1,000 just out of the gate for a woman to really launch with just the basics,” Goley said. “The list is long and it is all important to help women launch safe lives.”

There’s also the unpredictable. For example, a woman with children finds a job and needs childcare, which requires a sudden deposit. A sadly frequent occurrence is someone in need of immediate help who has found a place to stay the next week but needs a few days’ accommodation. Having shelter foundation funds helps pay for nights in a hostel or other safe place to sleep.

“I always say that these funds make the impossible possible,” Goley said.

“The kind of funds that Sarah is raising not only helps women in this very practical way but it also gives women a very powerful message that there is a community supporting the effort to stop the violence in their lives. That’s huge … it really is such an important message for women to hear especially when they’re feeling their most vulnerable,” Goley said.

Williamson’s contribution comes at a time when the numbers are trending upward – for a variety of reasons.

“The numbers have always been too high,” Goley noted. They could be higher because of awareness, rise in prevalence, or people are feeling more empowered. Likely all compounded by the housing crisis and high cost of living leaving women staying longer because it’s harder to find a home, Goley said. There have been times this year when Cridge has had to put a hold on adding names to the waitlist because it was just too unrealistic to hope beds would be available.

“The fact remains we’ve had a longer wait list for a longer period of time than we’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s just a perfect storm.”

READ ALSO: Elves needed for Cridge Centre Christmas Hamper campaign

The physical and mental challenges of the Royal Lepage trips are one reason Williamson chooses to raise funds and awareness that way.

“I’m motivated by being able to be part of a small change we can all work towards,” she said. “It’s not meant to be a beach holiday, it’s hard.”

The Ecuador trek to the top of a mountain with strangers for five days – with its added elevation issues – provides just an inkling of what women fleeing violence might feel.

“They’re just stepping out into who knows what’s going to happen. It’s got to be terrifying,” Williamson said.

“I could cut a cheque but it’s just not the same thing. We’re pushed out of our comfort zone for four or five days, but imagine doing this with three or four kids and a death threat over your head.”

Donate online at royallepage.myetap.org/fundraiser/ecuador/search.do from now until Nov. 10. Royal LePage Shelter Foundation issues tax receipts in February for all donations of $20 or more.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 250-479-3963 at any time. Visit cridge.org referral for help creating a safety plan.

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Sarah Williamson expects to start every day of her second Royal Lepage Trek for Shelter with tears and purpose, much like she did in the Purcells in 2021 (pictured). (Courtesy of Sarah Williamson)


Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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