Kelowna Women’s Shelter continues to struggle to meet demand post-COVID | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna Women’s Shelter continues to struggle to meet demand post-COVID

Image Credit: PEXELS/Timur Weber

The stress of the COVID pandemic didn’t cause people to abuse their spouses but it did increase the frequency and severity of abusive behaviour by those already so inclined.

Even though COVID is pretty much over, the demand on shelters remains high as they struggle to find staff, and cope with the high inflation rate gripping the country.

“We certainly are feeling the pain of the staffing crisis in Kelowna,” Allison McLauchlan, executive director of Kelowna Women’s Shelter, told “We have the highest cost of living since the 1980s. The housing market here and the cost of living is making it tough to find staff.”

Their eight-bed shelter has enough staff but it’s the outreach workers who are in short supply.

“They support women who don’t need or want to leave a relationship, who may even say they’re not in an abusive relationship,” McLauchlan said. “They’re just reaching out for information and support and for someone to listen to them. They (outreach workers) fill a huge gap. You can be out of a relationship for a long time and still experience trauma.”

In the early days of COVID there was certainly a drop-off in calls for help but as the pandemic continued and restrictions eased the calls went back to normal levels while the intensity of the abuse increased.

READ MORE: Domestic violence reports surge as COVID-19 stay-at-home directive drags on

Women were no longer getting out of the house to do simple things like taking kids to school or going to a doctor’s appointment. Abusers were home more because they were not going to work, which meant fewer opportunities to get a break from the tension and allow for some cooling down time.

McLauchlan can’t say whether the abuse is continuing to be as severe now that virtually all COVID restrictions have been removed but she still can’t accommodate all those in need.

READ MORE: Why rise in hate and domestic crimes during COVID are expected to continue

In 2021, the shelter had to turn away 131 women despite funding from B.C. Housing for 10 hotel rooms to allow for self-isolation.

The sad reality is spousal abuse continues to be all too common.

“It does seem weird we’re still talking about this in 2022,” McLauchlan said, pointing out that if she had 30 or 60 or 100 beds, she would still be able to fill them with victims of abuse.

She traces the core of the problem back to the old English law that designated women as property where they had fewer rights than animals and a man could not be punished for damaging his own property.

Those laws are gone from the books but the attitude still remains strongly entrenched for many.

“It’s not getting any better because society hasn’t shifted its views,” McLauchlan said. “The systems needs to hold perpetrators accountable. We need to have stronger laws, stronger repercussions and consequences for abusers.”

Sexual and spousal assault are the only crimes where the victim is looked upon as being, at least, partially responsible, she said.

Changes will only come if people are more willing to talk about the reality of abuse.

“That idea that people don’t want to talk about this issue because it’s too difficult, too sad, too triggering – that’s not what I’ve heard from the women I’ve supported over the last 20 years,” McLauchlan said. “They get so frustrated or angry. They feel invisible. They live among us but people are too afraid to ask them: ‘Are you OK? I’m worried about you.' Why is no one talking about this?"

She’s optimistic that more open discussion will lead to laws being changed and the abuse will finally stop.

“The day I’m out of a job will be the happiest day of my life,” McLauchlan said.

In the meantime, she’s struggling to find staff and the money to keep up the struggle.

From now through Oct. 10, every dollar donated in Kelowna through the Shoppers Drug Mart’s Love You campaign goes directly to the Kelowna Women’s Shelter. The Love You program is nationwide.

Donations can also be made online here.

For more information or to donate directly to the Kelowna Women’s Shelter go here.

For listings and links to women’s shelters throughout the province go here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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