Snugged away in an unnamed neighbourhood a home offers women and children a chance at healing.
Since 1975, several thousand women have reached out to Victoria Women’s Transition House looking for help, seeking a brighter future for themselves and their children.
“The existence of our charity is a response to a sad statistic. In our lifetime, one in three Canadian women will experience domestic abuse,” says Susan Howard, development director. “We’ve been delivering services and shelter for 43 years and our mission is to offer emergency shelter, counselling, support and services to women of all ages … who are fleeing domestic abuse.”
The Oak Bay News highlights the cause during the Women in Business event March 1 at Victoria Golf Club.
Domestic abuse can be physical, financial, psychological, elder abuse and neglect. The 18 bed emergency shelter is “a secure, warm home located in a quiet residential neighbourhood in a confidential location” where women and children can stay for up to 30 days.
“Knowing the situation Victoria has, similar to other communities, with housing it’s a real challenge but we are looking at that,” Howard says.
While there, they can access crisis counselling and other resources such as referrals for legal, financial assistance and childcare.
“Our services are provided without judgment. A woman can come to our shelter multiple times provided we have room,” Howard says. “A woman may go back to her partner a number of times before she finally does leave. For some women it does take time for them to be prepared, to be ready to leave.”
Women can access the shelter by calling the crisis information line, that takes calls from those in direct crises, as well as worried relatives, neighbours, friends, colleagues.
“That is absolutely fine. Any time of the day we will answer that line and provide information and resources,” Howard says. “It is a crisis line, but that’s why we call it a crisis and information line.”
Where the organization has grown is beyond the four walls of that house with community programs.
“Women can make appointments to come for one-on-one or group counselling. We also offer counselling out in the community,” Howard says. There are programs for women, specialized programs for older women and programs, counselling and support for children and youth who witness abuse.
“It can move from one generation to the next,” Howard says.
Abuse and violent behaviour can be seen as routine or normal if exposed young, and so in a bid to defeat the generational aspect, Transition House offers two free two-week sessions of summer camp for children and youth who have witnessed abuse.
“It’s not just the counselling that is provided as the children go through their fun recreation activities throughout the community. It’s also the cohort of other children with that child.”
Sometimes children feel isolated and can’t imagine anyone else in their peer group having a similar experience, she explained. Then they’re in this fun environment with other kids, just like them.
“Our counsellors often find the kids are so supportive of each other, not just in conversation … but just a child that has never zipline before and is terrified but is strapped in and safe. For them to be supported by the caring counsellors and peers is an amazing experience,” Howard says.
The program is such a success they plan to add a one-week camp for spring break. Those are in addition to ongoing Girls Group for preteen girls who have witnessed domestic abuse and a similar Boys Group that runs periodically.
“As a result of the success and popularity of the summer camp we launched a one week camp at spring break.”
Transition House also works closely with, and Howard credits the skills of, the Regional Domestic Violence Unit.
“This is the unit that deals with the life threatening situations,” Howard says. “That is a skilled, highly trained, amazing group.”
Through all those channels, Victoria Women’s Transition House works with and supports more than 2,000 women a year. They help about 150 children and youth. All free of charge.
“I am so sad that we are here, but I am so glad we are here because the services are still needed. This is an ongoing issue,” Howard says, adding it’s hard to know if the problem is more pervasive or people are simply more aware and seek help. “We need to understand treating women and children in this manner is unacceptable. In some cases it’s criminal.”
About 56 per cent of its $2.8 million budget is provided by the province, small portion comes from rental revenue from Third Stage Transitional Housing (22 units for older women) and the balance comes from fundraising. They raise more than $800,000 every year to maintain services.
“We’re only able to do that through the generosity of the community, donations, third party events,” Howard says. “Our donors live across the city, really from Sooke to Sidney. It is folks across the region and we are so grateful for that. We could not operate without that. It’s just really heartwarming. It really resonates for us as staff and certainly as volunteers.”
Learn more at transitionhouse.net.