A safe haven in a time of crisis

3 MIN READ

This video was produced in January 2020, prior to COVID-19. The pandemic has impacted community programs in ways both big and small, meaning this program may look a bit different right now. This story is an example of how United Way works with our community partners to make a difference 365 days a year—no matter what challenges our community faces.

Sara* and her young children arrived at Lanark County Interval House (LCIH), alone and afraid after fleeing a violent situation at home. 

Isolated and unsure of who to depend on, the staff at LCIH welcomed her with open arms until she could get back on her feet.

LCIH ensures that women fleeing dangerous situations have somewhere safe to go to find the support they need. This includes services like a 24 hour crisis line, individual and group counselling, and diverse supports to help survivors regain their independence.

Sara found her safe haven at LCIH’s Second Stage Housing: a place to call home while she works to overcome the challenges that come with surviving abuse.

"You know that you’re safe at the Interval House. Nothing can get you and nobody can get you."

Sara, Lanark County Interval House client

When faced with violence or aggression from a partner or spouse, survivors may often fear the consequences of leaving more than the situations they face at home. The lack of affordable housing in Lanark County also serves as a deterrent to women who may want to leave a violent situation, but simply can’t afford a place to stay.

Second Stage Housing aims to remove that barrier for women, to ensure they and their families can recover and build a fresh start without the financial stress. For Sara, leaving was the only choice she had to ensure her children had the chance to grow up safe and protected.

"The mission and mandate of Lanark County Interval House is to eradicate violence against women and girls."

Erin Lee, Executive Director of Lanark County Interval House.

Unexpected Challenges

When COVID-19 hit, Erin knew her team would have to be adaptable and sensitive to the needs of each client when it came to safety planning. Staff at LCIH and other frontline agencies that support survivors have seen violence in the home escalate during the pandemic.

Many women had no choice but to stay in close quarters with their abusers when public health authorities implemented stay-at-home orders in March. Cut off from daily social interactions like school drop-offs and errands, many women didn’t have anyone to alert about the danger they were facing.

While many women were suffering in silence, many others were reaching out in need of urgent support: calls to LCIH’s crisis line were up 75 per cent in April 2020 compared to the year before.

A helping hand

Thanks to an ongoing partnership with United Way, Interval House was able to keep their Second Stage Housing option open through the pandemic. With added precautions like physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE), women like Sara knew they had a safe place to stay.

LCIH had to adapt much of its programming to respond to the pressures of the pandemic, but Erin says that having United Way’s support through it all was “an immense relief of stress for us.” By extending funding and helping agencies evolve based on their unique circumstances, United Way ensured community services stayed stable when so many things were uncertain. 

"I think my children are happier and they’re not worried about me being hurt."

— Sara

Using the United Way-led COVID-19 Community Response Table meetings as a resource, LCIH was able to connect with other frontline agencies to discuss opportunities, challenges, and solutions for the sector across East Ontario. This included finding technology like cellphones and tablets through United Way’s partnership with Ruckify and with an investment from Women United, which removed barriers to connectivity for many of LCIH’s clients in rural areas. 

Local response to local issues

United Way understands the importance of letting local organizations lead the solutions to community issues. Erin stresses the importance of having vital resources in rural communities, so survivors don’t have to travel far and leave their networks and lifestyles behind. 

No matter when they decide to seek help, United Way and Lanark County Interval House make sure women have a place to turn when they need it. While challenges will still arise in the months to come, Erin and her team are glad to be serving their community in its time of need.

Their goal for moving forward?

“Trying to balance healing and safety with the health and safety of everyone else.”

— Erin Lee
Support women fleeing violence. 

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

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