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Airdrie domestic violence resources under pressure

“We need somewhere for these women to go,” said Dana Gable, operations manager at Airdrie P.O.W.E.R
RCMP report the number of domestic violence calls in Airdrie is rising. Domestic violence can be physical, verbal, emotional or mental.
Women's shelters taxed across the province as domestic violence numbers increase, says the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.

Airdrie domestic violence resources are feeling the pressure as domestic abuse indicators across Alberta continue to rise.

According to new data released by Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) on Nov. 27, 12.5 per cent more calls for help were answered by shelters compared to last year.

Women and children in Airdrie do not have access to an overnight shelter within the City, but there is a women’s day shelter available provided by Airdrie P.O.W.E.R., Airdrie’s domestic violence resource.

Airdrie P.O.W.E.R. also refers callers to shelters in neighbouring cities, but they said Airdrie is in great need of an overnight shelter.

“We need somewhere for these women to go,” said Dana Gable, operations manager at Airdrie P.O.W.E.R., adding the waitlists for other shelters are too long.

Survivors with children now spend an average of three months waiting for shelter, while those without children wait an average of seven months, according to ACWS’ report.

“Our day shelter does provide a lot of resources and a lot of help for women who are not able to access an overnight shelter,” Gable said. “It is a really great resource in step, but we definitely need overnight services here as well.”

Gable said calls have increased every year since the day shelter opened in 2021.

Airdrie P.O.W.E.R. provides support to women on their journey, helping them move forward and educating them in any way they need.

Gable asked the public to consider donating to Airdrie P.O.W.E.R. or volunteering as a way to give back this December.

“The only way we can do what we do is through the generosity of our community,” she said. “We desperately need more funding because we have more demand than we can handle and we need to keep our doors open.”

With 59,215 calls for help in Alberta, the 2022/23 year had the highest number of calls recorded in the past 10 years by the ACWS.

At the tail end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month this November, ACWS said shelters need more resources for the increasing number of survivors facing more danger and barriers to safety.

ACWS reported shelters could not grant almost 30,000 requests for shelter from Albertans of all ages fleeing violence due to shelters being overfull and under-resourced.

“This is the highest number of people recorded in the past decade,” stated the executive summary of ACWS’ report. “These numbers show not only that instances of domestic abuse are trending up, but also that shelter staff and facilities are stretched.”

Almost half of all stays in shelters last year were by children, but an additional 8,020 children were not sheltered due to lack of space and 2,955 children were not sheltered due to lack of resources.

Between April 2022 and March 2023, 4,852 women and seniors, 3,561 children, 53 men, and  17 who identified as gender diverse were sheltered across Alberta.


Provincial funding


The last provincial funding for shelters came in 2015 to provide more resources and staff, but by 2017 shelters could not keep up with the increased calls, ACWS’ report states.

Calls then dropped in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with other services shutting down, shelters remained busy, the report said.

Airdrie P.O.W.E.R. also noticed a dip in calls whenever pandemic restrictions were more strict, with calls jumping up immediately after.

“When people aren't calling, it's not because there isn't a problem,” Gable said. “It's because they're not safe to call.”

Calls have increased since the end of the pandemic, and Alberta’s shelters today are experiencing unprecedented and multiple pressure points, the report said.

“Calls for help continue to outpace population growth,” the report states. “Since 2012/13, the Alberta population has grown by 16.9 per cent, while calls for help have increased by 23.7 per cent. Over the past three years, calls for help have increased 27.8 per cent per capita.”

Since the one-time funding injection in 2015, inflation has risen by almost 25 per cent, according to the report. That means shelters are now answering 46 per cent more calls for help than they did in 2015, but with only three quarters of the spending power.

ACWS stated an immediate funding increase is necessary to enable them to hire and retain staff, which the Government of Alberta has committed to doing as well as developing support systems for domestic violence survivors, according to the report.


A look at abuse in Alberta


Almost all forms of abuse have increased over the past 10 years, according to ACWS.

Data from ACWS shows that not only is abuse rising, but leaving a partner has become more complex.

Gable noted the reality of leaving an abuser is complicated because they’re often financially dependent, have children together, have custody issues, don’t have jobs, have transportation issues, or family issues.

“The list goes on,” Gable said. “There are so many reasons why it is difficult to leave when your lives are intertwined so intensely with somebody else.”

According to the report, 75 per cent of the survivors who accessed shelter services needed increased support meeting their basic needs.

Survivors are also staying in shelters longer because they can’t find or afford housing.

“Besides housing, survivors also reported experiencing the greatest barriers navigating the legal system, securing economic stability, accessing mental, emotional, and physical health care, securing employment or education, securing childcare, and meeting their basic needs,” the report stated.

Rural Alberta has its own unique challenges, which makes up almost half of the calls for help. The report stated that survivors living in smaller towns and rural areas experienced the greatest risk of being killed.

“Some of this year’s numbers also tell a sobering story,” stated the executive summary of ACWS’ report. “This past year, domestic violence and abuse increased in frequency and severity.”

  • 65 per cent of survivors were at severe or extreme risk of being killed by a current or former partner
  • 51 per cent of survivors felt their partner was capable of killing them.
  • 42 per cent were strangled by their partner or former partner
  • 40 per cent had been forced by their partner to have sex
  • 76 per cent experienced verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse
  • 51 per cent experienced physical abuse.
  • 57 per cent reported the physical abuse had gotten worse over the past year.

Almost half of survivors who left domestic violence shelters in 2022/23 successfully completed the shelter program and met their goals, and 81 per cent made progress.

Alberta also has more shelters than anywhere in Canada offering support programs to men.

Abuse prevention programs and activities are part of every shelter in Alberta, but most shelters note funding for their prevention programs to be a challenge.

Over half don’t receive any funding for prevention programs, and even more expect this funding to be cut.


Masha Scheele

About the Author: Masha Scheele

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