By Anna Smith
November is Domestic Violence Prevention Month, and with it comes a glimpse into the work being done with the Medicine Hat Women’s Shelter Society at the November 14 Redcliff Town Council meeting.
It’s important for the organization to be as visible as possible this month, said Natasha Carvalho, Executive Director, “just to let people know why it’s important to talk about family violence, help end some of the stigma around it, and to help people be aware of the programs and services that we offer.”
The MHWSS is a non-profit, and despite the name, is a gender-neutral service for those in need of assistance fleeing family violence. They offer 24/7 assistance, and towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, also opened a text and webchat line to help those who may not be able to call.
The number of people reaching out for help in Medicine Hat and the surrounding area is up 42 per cent, said Carvalho, with over 2,000 calls last year.
“These aren’t always about coming into shelter; sometimes it’s just needing information, maybe about what we offer; we do offer safety planning as well,” said Carvalho.
The main shelter the MHWSS offers is the Phoenix Shelter, a 30-bed emergency shelter. The average stay for someone fleeing family violence is currently about 21 days, which Carvalho notes has become longer, likely due to a lack of available housing.
Last year, the facility saw approximately 200 adults and 100 children stay with them in the emergency shelter.
Musasa House, the second-stage shelter, is likewise consistently full; currently housing about nine mothers and 20 children, the house is the only second-stage shelter south of Calgary, and is an invaluable resource for those who may feel they need to escape the town they’re in for their own safety.
MHWSS also offers various outreach services, seeing over 700 people accessing these services last year.
The organization is currently looking into some upgrades for their facilities, such as adding a small bathroom to each room in the shelter, as well as removing some barriers, such as moving their daycare out of the basement of the space.
“We see a lot of people coming into shelter with injuries,” said Carvalho, explaining that many of these people have limited access, and moving the daycare or laundry upstairs will help with accessibility in the coming years.
The MHWSS knows this project won’t be a quick one, but they hope they will be able to work steadily towards even better service for people in the region in need of support.