Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis is one of hundreds of shelters and sexual assault centres to get financial assistance from the Federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. The money is meant to give these essential services a boost, and to get the resources they need to keep working through the pandemic, and according to the executive director of Women in Crisis, the money will be put to immediate use.
“When the directive to stay at home came down it didn’t take long for violence against women organizations to note that those orders were a bit counter-intuitive for those who are in abusive or violent relationships,” said Sly Castaldi by phone on Wednesday. “It was really, really helpful that the Federal government recognized this quite early on and did what they could to support organizations.”
The Government of Canada is investing $50 million to support 420 shelters and sexual assaults centres in Canada, plus an additional $10 million from Indigenous Services Canada for shelters on First Nations Reserves and in the Yukon. For Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis that means $32,000 for Marianne’s Place, and $25,000 for the local sexual assault centre.
“The safety and security of survivors of gender-based violence remains the utmost priority for the Government of Canada,” said Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield in a statement. “These funds ensure swift action to address gaps in resources and services in Guelph. By going directly to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres, these funds support the continuation of timely and compassionate care for survivors.”
“The quick flow of these emergency funds will help ensure that these organizations have the resources they need to continue their lifesaving work,” added Maryam Monsef, the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development. “The first phase of our emergency COVID-19 measures has enabled over 420 shelters and 89 sexual assault organizations to stay open and operate with new COVID-safe measures in place.
The federal funds to assist with operations is a first for Women in Crisis, who have only ever received Federal money for specific projects or programming, but not for the day-to-day running of the centre, its shelters or their counselling services. With added expenses from the pandemic, and limited options to raise the funds on their own right now, the extra money is both needed and appreciated by Women in Crisis.
“Our big fundraiser was supposed to be on April 18, and it was our big gala signature event where we would bring in $100,00 and that’s gone,” Castaldi said. “I think for all of the nonprofits and the amazing organizations in our community, everybody’s going to be struggling for this next year, and fundraising is going to be a challenge for all of us.”
For now, the $57,000 for Women in Crisis from the Federal government will continue the work of ensuring that they can deliver their important services in the midst of the pandemic. Castaldi said that Women in Crisis is moving into their second phase of pandemic response, which involves making sure that their outreach efforts can operate remotely. Phase one was making sure that people were able to socially distance in shelters.
“The first priority was to ensure that the shelter had everything it needed to continue to operate,” Castaldi explained. “We had to purchase a lot of things in that first month. We had to ensure that people had their own rooms, which meant we had to limit the amount of intakes we could have. We also had to install fridges in the rooms because we had to close the kitchen off to the residents, and we were delivering meals to their rooms to keep everybody safe.”
Now Castaldi said that she and her staff are looking at their offices to figure out the best ways to create social distancing when they’re allowed to re-open their space to the public, and that presents its own unique challenges.
“As you can imagine, trying to get your hands on certain PPE is nearly impossible,” she said. “We’re also looking at installing plexiglass barriers to ensure that physical distancing can take place, we’re doing measurements and planning the space in the office, and then we’re putting together our re-entry plan on how to move forward.”
Moving forward at the end of the immediate emergency is also top of mind. In April, it was reported that the rate of gender-based violence and domestic violence in some regions in Canada has gone up by 20 to 30 per cent since the start of the pandemic lockdown. Locally, Castaldi has noted that while Women in Crisis has seen some increase in people looking for support through their outreach programs, their numbers have stayed pretty consistent through the pandemic.
“Some people might not be able to reach out at all, and we have no way of knowing that, and then others might be riding it out because they think that they can maintain their safety where they are, and as long as things don’t go completely sideways, they’re able to manage,” Castaldi said.
“What we’re concerned about now is what we will see in terms of an increase when restrictions are lifted,” she added. “Some of our programs have a six to eight week wait to see a counsellor, and we’ve been getting new referrals throughout the last nine weeks. When people are able to come back to do the face-to-face counselling, we’re concerned about how we’re going to manage current clients, plus the new ones.”
Despite the hard work and unexpected challenges, Castaldi expressed gratitude for ongoing community support for Women in Crisis including volunteers who’ve made face masks, people who have donated gift cards for food and groceries, and local companies that delivered much needed supplies like hand sanitizer. Her message to the community is that she and her staff are still working hard for vulnerable people in Guelph and Wellington County.
“If you know a woman or child who is struggling, reach out, continue to reach out in a safe way, and let them know that there is support,” Castaldi said. “We’re here, we never left, we’ve been doing our work, and we will continue to provide all the services that we can.”