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Connecting in the Chaos

By | News

In difficult times we see the resilience and creativity of the human spirit in action. In the face of COVID-19, much of the world has been pushed into the confines of homes and shelters to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. The sudden change in routine due to social isolation has been jarring. Distance from others can cause a great deal of loneliness and despair. Fortunately, people are natural problem solvers. It has been heartening to see over the past couple of weeks a whole new world of connection. It’s unlike what existed before this global pandemic. People are taking to the internet to fulfill their social needs.

Entertainers, promoters, content creators, and community members have stepped up to fill the gap that mass social distancing has created. There have been so many options for connecting with friends and strangers alike in virtual communities. Informal coffee dates, 15-minute dance breaks for people working from home, exercise classes, costume parties, book clubs, movie and television viewing socials, group meditations, online courses, cyber game nights — these are just some of the gatherings and events that have popped up. And as the call for social distancing persists, people are only coming up with more interesting ways to connect.

Clients in the Building Economic Self-Sufficiency Program (BESS) are also getting into the spirit of creating the virtual reality they want to see in the world. With in-person workshops suspended for the time being, the BESS Program has gone online. While program staff have been sure to keep the online group for BESS active and engaging, clients themselves have been adding their own value, looking out for their friends in the program. Program staff are thrilled to see clients coming together in this way.

“They’ve been connecting around ways to stay healthy and sane while indoors, they’ve been sharing Zumba and Yoga workouts that they can do at home, tips and resources for those who have mental health and isolation challenges, articles on different topics related to social distancing and social isolation,” Says Chantel Nelson, Housing Partnership Coordinator at Interval House. Clients have also been sharing podcast recommendations and arranging their own cyber-hangouts to keep themselves entertained. What’s happening really highlights the deeper power BESS has to facilitate community and friendship.

With no clear picture of how long the pandemic will last, social distancing is difficult. But the good news is that with today’s technology, it’s possible to get together with others. Whether you’re a host at heart or a party person with no place to go, there’s something out there for you. Just a quick scroll through your emails or social media feeds will yield options for entertaining or educational virtual events. Even NOW Magazine’s events listing page is featuring online events these days!

Humans are wired for connection — our survival depends on it. During these strange times, finding ways to stay in touch with others is more important than ever. Call your friends to check-in. Email a daily update to your family. Invite your friends to that cool virtual dance you heard about. Send reading recommendations to your neighbours. There are countless ways to stay close to those you care about. Get creative! Hard times sometimes present the best opportunities. And we now all have an opportunity to pull through and support each other in meaningful ways. Take this time to cultivate love, friendship, and caring relationships, and remember to take that spirit with you when the world returns to normal.

COVID-19 — A Burden Felt by Women

By | News

As the world hunkers down in an attempt to curb the transmission of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, most everyone is feeling the burden on some level. There’s no doubt that burden will weigh heavily in women’s lives.

For starters, it is largely women who are at the front lines of this crisis. Comprising 82% of health workers in Canada, women are the ones caring for the sick as coronavirus spreads at an exponential rate. These healthcare workers have the highest risk of exposure to coronavirus. And working in gruelling conditions with little time for rest and recuperation renders them even more vulnerable, as rest is essential for a strong immune system. These workers are going home to their families exhausted, while still having to manage the impact the virus is having on their children and loved ones.

The majority of single-parent households in Canada are helmed by women. And even in dual-parent homes, women still take on the majority of unpaid labour to facilitate their families’ lives. With children home from school for the foreseeable future, women will have their hands full at home — even more so than usual. This will be particularly challenging for mothers who are trying to work and maintain their livelihood while their kids are out of classes.

We are also seeing how this worldwide health crisis is impacting workers with low job security. As it turns out, women are over-represented in precarious jobs. Contract workers, freelancers, food industry professionals, part-time employees — these are people who work hard for their money with no benefits or sick pay. They may also be ineligible for regular employment insurance benefits in lean times. Many of these workers are reporting loss of jobs and income amid the measures being taken in response to the novel coronavirus, and this is going to have long-term effects for them and their families.

With loss of income comes concern over potential loss of housing too. The housing crisis in Canada’s major cities is already hurting low income Canadians across the country — particularly women.  And as we are being directed to self-isolate in our homes, we are seeing more than ever why lack of housing is such a huge barrier to well-being. For those without homes, the potential for harm caused by coronavirus is all the more stressful and frightening.

While self-isolation is the best thing to do during this time, it may have a negative impact on abuse survivors who are still living with their abusers. Times of stress often lead to an escalation in abuse, especially when that stress in financial. Some women are living a nightmare, locked up at home with their abusers, not a moment of reprieve. Even if they want to leave, being holed up constantly will make it near impossible for some women to escape until the threat of the virus has passed and life can return to normal. In China, activists say cases of domestic violence have risen, as many have been isolating and quarantined. We have to assume that cases are rising here in Canada too, and that women who might have been ready to leave an abuser behind may now have to wait until a safer time to do so. Shelters like Interval House will see the results of this when everyone is cleared to return to work and activities as usual. There will likely be heavier demand for services.

So, you might be asking, what can you do to support women during this difficult time? We have a few ideas:

  • If you know someone who is being abused, share Interval House’s crisis line with her if it is safe to do so. We continue to monitor our crisis line around the clock.
  • Reach out to your loved ones, friends and family regularly to check-in and stay connected while we are in social isolation.
  • Connect with single parents and offer whatever support you can while their kids are off school.
  • Check in with your friends who have precarious employment and ask if you can help them. Whether you can help with finances, send supplies, or just provide moral support, your care and concern will go a long way.
  • Set up chat groups and video conferences to keep everyone you love connected for the duration of isolation.
  • Reach out to health workers and other essential workers you know and say thank you! They are keeping this ship upright in a storm and we owe them a great deal of praise and appreciation for the hard work they are doing.
  • Donate to Interval House to help ensure we have the resources we need to help women escaping abuse after the threat of coronavirus has passed.

We are all dealing with an unprecedented threat on public health. Now is the time to come together (virtually) to make sure our most vulnerable don’t fall through the cracks. We have the power to help each other out. That’s a responsibility each of us bears.

The Power of Setting Goals

By | News

 

Have you made a New Year’s resolution? Whether you have or not, this is a great time of year to consider and set goals.

The quiet aftermath of the holidays lends itself well to reflecting on the past and setting intentions for the future. It’s an easy time to remember to check in with yourself. January is a still time of year that you can spend sowing the seeds of your future. When you visualize the life you want, it leads to finding the steppingstones that will get you there.

Start by looking back at the past year. Consider what goals or intentions you had. Did you accomplish them? If so, how does that make you feel? Does this accomplishment lead naturally into a new goal for the year ahead? If you didn’t accomplish them, consider why not. Perhaps the intention is no longer relevant to your desired future or maybe you lost track of time and want to try again this year. Understanding the obstacles that kept you from achieving a past goal can help you clear a path for anything you want to accomplish going forward.

Next, think about your future. What does the life you want look like? How is it the same or different from your present circumstances? What needs to change to get you from here to there? Be realistic with yourself in this process. If you get ahead of yourself, you may become frustrated and give up. For example, if you hope to be a leader in your field of expertise and are currently in an entry-level position, aiming to be a CEO by next year is not a practical ambition. But there are things that can get you closer to that coveted role—taking a course, meeting with industry leaders for advice and mentorship, or volunteering in a relevant capacity for more experience are all pragmatic ways to move towards your desired end point.

Keep the SMART goal method in mind to ensure your aspirations are manageable. Goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Putting parameters around your aspirations helps you keep track of them and follow through. And taking time to reflect on past goals helps you take stock of what’s really important to you. If you look back and realize you didn’t do what you set out to, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s okay if you didn’t make as much progress as you hoped to. Life gets busy. Just take that as a prompt to review and recalibrate. Carry forward goals that still matter to you. Figure out what you require to make them more achievable this year. Would it help to schedule time specifically for your goals? Should you find an accountability buddy to help you stay on top of what you plan to do? Create an environment for yourself that supports your ambition.

Whether you plan to learn a new skill, read more, do more creative projects, or focus on fitness, the plans you make shape the life you will lead. When you plan for your future, you take control of it. This is especially empowering for survivors of intimate partner violence, who have experienced powerlessness and diminished agency. Checking in with yourself each year helps you see your progress. It shows you how much you can achieve on your own. It gives you permission to envision and go after the life you want.

You don’t have to call it a resolution. But if you take the time to plan the landscape of your life while the ground is frozen and the nights are long, you will be amazed to see what blossoms in the sunshine you invite into your life.

Teachers – Allies in Ending Teen Dating Violence

By | News

Being a teenager is hard. Suddenly everything changes — one’s body, mind, responsibilities, hormones and desires. Yet, with so many grown up expectations emerging, teens are often still infantilized and talked down to. One major example of this is the way teens are told to abstain from dating altogether, as a safety measure. The problem is, a desire to date as a teenager is completely natural. When caregivers don’t accept that, it only drives adolescents to keep secrets. The truth is when parents talk honestly about dating and give their kids freedom to experiment with relationships, those kids are more likely to engage in safe and healthy dating practices. An open approach to teen dating allows parents to set parameters and chaperone dates. This helps them to guide their kids towards healthy connections. Especially with so many unrealistic and unhealthy examples of love in the media, it’s important for teens to get real information so they can draw boundaries and advocate for themselves.

Of course, there will always be those children whose parents or guardians never talk to them about relationships or prepare them for love and romance at all. There will be kids coming from abusive households who have never witnessed healthy relationships. For these kids, teachers can play a vital role in steering them on the right path. As teens begin to date and flirt within school walls, teachers can look out for them. School employees may be the first to witness signs of abuse in teen relationships.

This is why knowing the signs of teen dating violence is a good place for educators and other school employees to start. What are they?

  • Unexplained Changes in behaviour such as a shift in attitude, dropping grades, lower focus, change in interests or extra-curricular activities, etc.
  • Isolation from former friends. This may look like a teen neglecting their own friends in favour of their partner’s friends or not hanging out with anyone besides their partner at all.
  • Name-calling or belittling from a romantic partner. When playful teasing crosses the line and becomes mean-spirited, it’s obvious. If belittling is witnessed and there’s a co-occurrence of a child’s confidence sliding, that’s a major red flag. Kindness and consideration should be at the core of any relationship
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries. If a student begins showing signs of physical harm, that’s worrisome. A sudden series of clumsy accidents may not be accidents at all.
  • Signs of anxiety or depression. A student becoming depressed or anxious is always a bad sign. Regardless of the reason why, signs of a mental health crisis should never be ignored.
  • Constant contact with a dating partner. It’s normal for anyone to be excited about a new relationship and to make room in their life for a romantic partner. But if a teen suddenly seems to lack all independence and is never disconnected from their dating partner, it’s a sign of a toxic and consuming relationship.

Once educators know the signs of abuse, they need to know how to address suspected abuse, prioritizing the safety of the abused student. For starters, teachers should always cultivate a supportive, nurturing classroom environment. Knowing they can trust their teacher increases the likelihood of students disclosing difficult personal information. Hopefully that means a student will turn to their teacher when they realize they are being abused. But they may not.

In that case, a teacher can approach a student personally in a private meeting or ask a guidance counsellor to do so. Before getting information from the student about their situation, the teacher needs to make it clear that they have an obligation to disclose certain information to parents or guardians, the Children’s Aid Society and/or law enforcement. This will mean that the student has informed consent if they disclose parental abuse or anything criminal. The teacher can then gently mention the changes they’ve noticed in the student’s behaviour and ask if there is an explanation. If the student opens up and discloses dating abuse they are experiencing, the teacher should listen carefully and non-judgementally. The teacher should speak very little, giving the student plenty of air to share. Empowering language can encourage the student to make the best decision for their life.

If the student is not ready to end an abusive relationship, the teacher should do their best not to become frustrated. Instead, they should let the student know their door is always open. They should remind the student of their self-worth and agency. Applying pressure for the student to make a decision is not a good strategy. The teacher should provide resources that the student can take away such as information about the signs of abuse, information about healthy relationships, and contact information for Kids Help Phone, where support is available at any time.

It’s very important that the teacher maintains confidentiality, within their capacity to do so. Under no circumstances should the teacher confront the abuser or facilitate communication between the abused student and their abuser, even if the teacher is familiar with both. This could heighten danger for the student being abused. Maintaining confidentiality signals to a student that they can trust the teacher and they may turn to that teacher again in the future. Having one person to trust and confide in can make a significant difference in a child’s life.

This conversation may be hard on the teacher and that’s completely understandable. They should be sure to look out for their own well-being after having a tough talk with a student.

One of the hardest parts of supporting abuse survivors is knowing they may not make the decision that seems best right away. For students coming from challenging home environments, their abusive partner may seem like the only person they have. That can make it really difficult for them to leave. But when a teacher or counsellor shows they care, that can shift the student into a more confident frame of mind, giving them the strength to disconnect from the abuser.

One present, observant teacher can save a child from harm. A teacher may have a better sense of a child’s day-to-day life than their own parents, so the influence a teacher can have must not be understated. Educators do so much more than teach academic lessons. They model healthy interactions, boost children’s confidence, teach life skills, and watch over their pupils. Teachers are like first responders to children’s challenges. Their role in resisting and preventing teen dating violence is so very important.

The Importance of Government Involvement in Ending Gender-Based Violence

By | News

Gender-based violence and discrimination fester and spread when unchecked by legislation. The government’s role in ensuring gender equity is therefore paramount. Women and allies have been crusading for fair treatment, equal pay, and minimization of violence in Canada since before Confederation. More than 150 years later, the fight continues. Thankfully, the Canadian government has pledged to be a partner in that fight with its Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.

When Interval House was founded in 1973, laws supporting and protecting women were weak. Married women were seen as their husbands’ property and had little social support to turn to when they found themselves living with abuse. It was only nine years earlier that women gained the right to open a bank account without a husband’s signature. Still, financial, emotional and physical abuse persisted in homes across the country and politicians along with the general public viewed family violence as a private issue to be kept behind closed doors. This was famously illustrated in 1982 when NDP MP Margaret Mitchell raised the issue of widespread domestic violence in the Canadian House of Commons. She was met with an eruption of laughter and ridicule by her male colleagues. Despite women’s calls for justice and a wave of shelters having been opened for survivors of intimate partner violence, concerns around violence against women were not being heard and honoured by the men in power.

Advocates like Margaret Mitchell and the founders of Interval House did manage to effect change by pushing women’s issues and gender-inequity into the spotlight. 1982 was also the year that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed into law, ensuring equality for women and visible minorities. This gave marginalized groups a legal foundation from which to build their cases for better treatment. The following year, Bill C-127 passed, making it illegal for men to sexually assault their wives. We can see historically how each law passed to support marginalized groups became a plank on the bridge to the next major milestone. Everyone committed to ending gender-based violence continues to walk on and build that bridge today.

As far as we’ve come in the quest for gender equity, there’s still a long way to go. Every 2.5 days in Canada, a woman is killed. 53% of those women are murdered by a current or former intimate partner. The rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women continue to alarm Canadians. Canada’s hate crimes statistics exclude transgender and non-binary individuals to this day. Shelters for abuse survivors are at capacity and unable to keep up with the demand. A lack of affordable housing and childcare puts extreme financial strain on single parents—most of whom are women. Women continue to take on the bulk of domestic labour, in addition to working jobs outside of the home. Women make up the majority of Canada’s minimum wage workers. Women who take maternity leaves earn less than their childless counterparts. And despite the Canadian Human Rights Act passed in 1977 prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal pay for work of equal value, there is still a gender wage gap in Canada with women working full-time making 75 cents on every dollar made by men.

This is why the Canadian government’s commitment to stand with activists and work towards a brighter future for women, trans and non-binary folks continues to be so important. It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence was launched in 2017 and was it ever time! Based on the pillars of prevention, support for survivors and their families; and promotion of responsive legal and justice systems, the strategy aims to address some of the most pressing concerns in regards to gender-based violence today. There have been some major accomplishments in the two years since the strategy was launched. Specialized training for the RCMP has been implemented; the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline was launched; boys and men have been engaged in the conversation and educated about gender-based violence; the government committed at least 33% of National Housing Strategy funds to projects geared towards women; recommendations from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women have begun to be implemented including a fund to support victims’ families; and more.

The Canadian government’s commitment is appreciated. Still, we must acknowledge that commitment comes in response to the tireless advocates pushing for a better quality of life for women, trans and non-binary folks and a minimization of gender-based violence. Interval House has been at the forefront of this advocacy for 46 years, bolstered by our many supporters. We have always known that when it comes to violence, it’s never a private matter. Because violence felt by one reverberates far and wide, creating a darker world for all of us. It is so necessary for the government to uphold the pillars of prevention, support and justice. It makes the load a little less burdensome for those on the front lines, determined to make this country, this world, a little bit kinder and fairer for everyone.

 

4 Tangible Ways You Can Help Prevent Abuse

By | News, Uncategorized

November is Woman Abuse Prevention Month in Ontario. The need for awareness and prevention is still so great—the statistics highlight that clearly. In 2018 alone, 148 women and girls were killed in acts of gender-based violence across Canada. Every six days a woman in this country is killed by her current or former intimate partner. Children who grow up in violent households are more likely to be victimized as adults or perpetrate abuse themselves. Individuals who have experienced intimate partner violence are more likely to experience abuse in multiple relationships throughout their lives. Abuse is cyclical in nature.

Whether or not you’ve been directly impacted by abuse or intimate partner violence, everyone has a role to play in preventing abuse from continuing to negatively impact and sometimes even end the lives of women and children in our communities. Here are 4 tangible ways you can help prevent abuse and participate in the campaign to end gender-based violence.

1) Help create protective environments in your networks

Hold people accountable, believe survivors, and encourage change within your networks. By doing these things, you will start a ripple effect to prevent abuse at a larger scale. If you are a parent, teach your children to question gender roles that don’t feel right to them. If you are a teacher, intervene when bullying occurs and set examples of tolerance and acceptance. If you are a trying to date someone, be respectful, seek consent, and graciously accept rejection. If you are a university student, join or start a club that advocates for sexual safety and gender equality. If you are an employer, train staff about the signs of domestic abuse, offer employee assistance programs, and make a commitment to prioritizing the safety of your employees. By creating and fostering protective environments, you can support survivors and prevent abuse. Read more about the role employers have in supporting abuse survivors.

2) Talk to your friends & family about gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity

Over the last few years the idea of toxic masculinity has become top of mind. Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have pushed gender-based violence and systemic gender inequality into the spotlight. The more we talk about these issues, the better chance we have to change societal attitudes for future generations. You can help change the attitudes of friends and family members by calling out instances of toxic masculinity and confronting gender stereotypes. Abuse thrives in secrecy and requires an imbalance of power in relationships. In order to prevent it we have to raise our voices against it. Read more about toxic masculinity and challenging patriarchal entitlement.

3) Support consent-based sex education at all levels of school.

Teaching children consent at a young age helps them recognize if their boundaries are being crossed. Consent-based sex education, which promotes mutual respect and self-empowerment, can help prevent toxic relationships and gender-based violence later in life. Consent is not a difficult concept to grasp, but it a life skill that should be practiced and internalized. It’s an important part of healthy relationships whether they are sexual or not, and supporting curriculum that discusses issues like consent will ensure healthier relationships for more and more individuals. Read more about consent.

4) Donate to front-line organizations that support survivors

Understanding that abuse is cyclical, we must also acknowledge that preventing future abuse means intervening and breaking the cycle of abuse happening today.  Supporting survivors of intimate partner violence is a tangible way to prevent abuse and gender-based violence. People who leave Interval House with a solid support network, housing options, employment, strengthened life skills, etc. are less likely to experience abuse with future intimate partners. They are also empowered to break the cycle of abuse once and for all, changing the trajectory of their children’s lives by protecting them from abuse and demonstrating healthy relationships moving forward.

Our Residential Program is designed to expose women and children to a healthy home environment of trust and support. Our BESS Program helps survivors achieve economic self-sufficiency. We rely on donor support to ensure that we are able to provide these programs and services, so if you have the capacity to give to front-line organizations like Interval House, this is an incredibly meaningful way to help prevent abuse and end gender-based violence.

Donate today.

No Memes No

By | News

It is said that who you are is simply the sum of all the decisions you have made throughout your life. It’s the culmination of all the times you’ve said yes and no. The choices you make influence more than just the split second in which you make them. Indeed, they lead you down unique paths and help you find direction when you reach a fork in the road of your life journey.

Boundaries and consent factor into the choices you make. Checking in with yourself regularly to understand your limits can help you make the best decisions for yourself. Having a strong sense of your boundaries and those of others is a mandatory life skill that will strengthen your sense of self as well as your interpersonal relationships.

If consent is obtained without the person being aware of exactly what they are consenting to, it is not informed consent and is therefore invalid. For example, if your friend invited you to their cottage for a fun weekend, you might say yes without hesitation. But what if you got to their cottage and found out you were expected to work the whole time, fixing the deck and painting the siding? It’s possible you would have said yes either way but by leaving out the fact that you were being invited to their cottage to help with work, your friend would have failed to get your informed consent to the trip.

Sometimes feelings of obligation, guilt, or pressure can make it difficult to say no. For example, if someone suggests they may self-harm  or withdraw emotional connection if they don’t get the answer they hope for, it might be difficult not to comply with their wishes. If you ever get a sinking feeling that your boundaries have been crossed or that you have crossed someone else’s boundaries, even though the answer was yes, think of FRIES. Consent is only valid if it is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific. Anything less is unacceptable.

Sometimes when you say no, there will be people who have a hard time hearing it and they may bring up your own history to manipulate you into changing your answer. It’s okay if you let someone else use your iPod but said no when James asked if he could. It’s okay if you were comfortable around other people in your bathing suit but aren’t comfortable wearing a crop top to the party. It’s okay if you said yes to a sleepover with friends in the past but feel like saying no now. Your past decisions don’t negate your right to say no now. Don’t let people boil your consent and boundaries down because of what you said yes to in the past.

No. It’s a complete sentence. There’s no need to explain beyond it if you don’t want to. And you aren’t owed an explanation when someone says no to you either. Especially for women and folks assigned female at birth, there is socialization towards people pleasing. This can make the word no feel heavy and uncomfortable to speak aloud. Try practicing it. Say no to yourself in the mirror, firmly. Say no when your instinct is to say maybe or to avoid answering altogether. Say no when something you’re watching makes you uncomfortable. The more you practice saying no, the easier it will be to use the word when a difficult situation arises. Never let feelings of obligation or guilt overpower the instinct to say no.

Of course, no isn’t the only way to say no. You might say, “I’m not really up for it” or “I’m uncomfortable with that” or “sounds cool but I don’t know” and that’s completely okay. Remember, anything less than enthusiastic consent is a no. It’s important to pay attention to tone and body language when seeking consent because sometimes the body has an easier time saying no than the voice.

When you have a giving nature, it can be especially hard to draw boundaries. But saying no does not make you a bad person. Giving is wonderful and virtuous but it should never be done at the expense of your own needs. You must nourish yourself first before you can nourish others. If you push past your needs in favour of giving to others, you will be sure to burn out. Then you’ll have nothing left to share. Say no when you need to so that you can say yes when you are able to. You are still kind and loving, take a moment to show that kindness to yourself.

Since no isn’t the only thing that means no, perhaps you’re wondering what means yes, besides yes. When it comes to giving consent, the only thing that can be taken in the affirmative is an enthusiastic, freely-given, yes—remember FRIES! Nothing you wear, nothing you do, nothing you think, nothing you have said yes to in the past, nothing at all besides yes means yes. It’s important not to let anyone shame you for things that happened to you against your consent. No one is ever asking to have their boundaries crossed.

 

 

 

Consent really is simple—as simple as tea! This video details the nuances of consent very clearly. Just remember: yes means yes, no means no, and anything in between means no too! Be mindful of how you feel when giving consent and take note of the non-verbal cues of others when requesting theirs. I’m sure you don’t want to do anything that would make you or anyone else uncomfortable so always accept a no gracefully and compassionately, the same way you would want someone else to take a no from you.

Signs of Abuse in Teen Relationships

By | News, Uncategorized

One major difference between teen and adult romantic relationships is that abuse tends to happen in more public areas, like school or friends’ houses. Because of this, teachers and peers may witness abusive behaviour before parents.

BESS Housing Partnership Coordinator Talks Affordable Housing for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

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When our clients come up against barriers to accessing safe and affordable housing, Chantel is there to help break those barriers down. As our Housing Partnership Coordinator at Interval House, Chantel is an expert at navigating the housing market. She is an essential team member in the Building Economic Self-Sufficiency Program (BESS), which supports women survivors of intimate partner violence living at the shelter or in the community as they rebuild their lives. We sat down with Chantel to talk about her role at Interval House and to get her insight on the barriers that survivors can face when seeking safe, affordable, and sustainable housing after abuse.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do at Interval House?

I’m the Housing Partnership Coordinator, which represents half of a two-person housing team that makes connections in the community to help women, along with their children, find housing and relocate after experiencing intimate partner violence.

Each day is spent connecting with private landlords and community agencies to advocate on behalf of women and children and assist them in their abuse-recovery journeys and relocation goals.

Can you talk about the housing support offered by Interval House?

Interval House offers housing support to women who have left abusive relationships, whether they are living in the shelter or in the community. We do private market searches and housing advocacy to private landlords, community agencies, and social services. The staff help clients organize their financial documentation and apply for any available income or housing supports in the city. Women are accompanied to viewings for apartments and interviews for transitional housing, and we follow-up with agencies that clients may have already applied to. We provide referrals to programs such as the Furniture Bank, where clients can get furniture if they’ve left everything behind, and referrals to moving/storage programs that can help collect valuable items left at the home of an abuser. We provide one-on-one housing counselling for dealing with landlords, information and assistance with the landlord and tenant board process, and eviction prevention. BESS offers workshops on how to navigate looking for a new apartment and managing expectations when getting back out in the housing market. We also provide resettlement support for women who have moved into the community, connecting them with additional BESS services such as employment and counseling service to break down their isolation and work towards the most important goal—building economic self-sufficiency.

What is your favourite part of your job?

My favourite part of the job is witnessing the transformation of our clients. Going through abuse and making it out to the other side, finding your footing and standing strong to create a life of safety and security for yourself and your children is a hard, emotionally charged battle. Each woman who comes to Interval House is strong and passionate about the safety they want to create in their lives. I’m glad to be a conduit of resources and I’m passionate to be of service. Women do a lot of hard work transforming their lives after abuse and sometimes I feel like a coach on the sidelines always there strategizing and re-strategizing. When the way forward is found, and it’s different for each person, it’s a great feeling and it’s an incredibly powerful thing to witness.

What are the biggest challenges that your clients face?

The biggest challenges they face are structural and systemic issues—like the lack of affordable housing in Toronto. Toronto is a huge city with millions of people and millions of jobs and it’s hard to narrow down to somewhere that’s affordable and stable. Renting in this city is an incredibly complicated situation financially. For people who have fluctuating financial and life circumstances, it’s even more difficult to navigate. There are some supports, like special priority housing, for survivors of intimate partner violence but there can be a lot of red tape. Sometimes a person who was in an abusive environment doesn’t have access to the necessary documentation, or they’ve had elements of their lives destroyed such as their credit, their employment history, or the unit they lived in. This all serves to further complicate the referential-based relationship with their previous landlord and their future landlord. Maybe they had two incomes before and now they have one, maybe they were forced to stay home and care for children and have been out of the job market for a long time. Don’t get me started on the price of rent again; it’s hard to break down a brick wall. We try our hardest for our clients here at Interval House, but there are systemic issues at play that negatively impact the most marginalized in our society. When situations change abruptly after fleeing violence, a lot of clients struggle to understand, why them? The step-by-step process of rebuilding a life can look so daunting. Thank god for our women’s counsellors.

Is there a specific client and story that sticks out in your mind?

I had a client who started coming to the BESS program after ending an on-again/off-again relationship with an abusive partner. She was dealing with trauma from that relationship, as well as issues with substance abuse, which had been a huge aspect of her life with her ex. When she found BESS, she was happy and ready to commit herself to breaking the cycle of abuse and rebuilding her life. She accessed counselling to start to look at the long-term trauma she had experienced, she got employment advice, and she attended group sessions to build connections with other women in similar situations. She took advantage of every possible program in BESS. I, along with my coworkers, became hopeful for her. Because she was no longer with her abusive ex, we couldn’t offer her respite at the shelter—Interval House’s Residential Program is an Emergency Shelter available only to those leaving an abusive home. She was finishing up her stay at a detox centre and was facing the very real and unsettling possibility of being homeless. We were able to find her transitional housing, but unfortunately it was located a far distance from the school that she had planned to attend, far from social support services that she had come to rely on, and it was an area that was triggering for her sobriety. Due to the state of the housing market, she felt she had little choice but to accept the unit, despite the fact that it put her in danger of relapsing and isolated her from her support network. In that unit she did struggle and stopped attending BESS for a while however she is resilient, as survivors are, and reached out to us again when she had regained her footing. Eventually, we were able to move her into more stable and healthy housing and she began to thrive. To me, this story represents so much of what we stand for. We don’t give up on people. We understand that healing from abuse isn’t a simple, linear task. Set-backs may happen but it doesn’t mean your life will always be this way. We still work with her and still maintain hope.

Do you think there is a housing crisis in Toronto?

100%. Absolutely. No doubt about it.

What do you think the government should be doing to support housing for survivors of intimate partner violence? 

In regards to housing, I believe the solution is to build more affordable units. There are tens of thousands of people living in this city who are waiting on an affordable housing unit. They are waiting for years and that’s just not acceptable. I think that it’s imperative to be innovative and create new possibilities for affordable housing and to also fix the housing that already exists. We find money for so many things in this city. Housing is a critical issue. We need more efficient bureaucracy to push affordable housing projects and initiatives forward. We need a transit system that extends to the furthest reaches of the GTA and it needs to be accessible and affordable. We need it so that people who choose to move outside of the core can still affordably access the city to find work and connect with support services. I think it’s important that we get the cost of rental units in Toronto under control. Buildings that are the exact same as they were 20 years ago are now double and triple the price for rent. Is an updated refrigerator and floor worth that much? There are women and children in abusive situations that are afraid to leave because they cannot financially afford to live alone in a safe, stable environment. They need a place to call home, a place that allows them to get to and from work and allows them access to a surrounding community that’s healthy, diverse and thriving. In many cases, like the client story I mentioned previously, the places that may be affordable may not be safe. That’s not fair to survivors and the children of survivors of violence in the community. Every survivor deserves to resettle into a safe and affordable environment.

 

5 Ways to Support Someone Experiencing Abuse

By | News, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Abuse doesn’t just affect the people directly involved. When someone you love and care about is being abused, it can leave you feeling angry, scared, and helpless. Victims of abuse often need the help and the support of others to break the cycle of violence. But it’s more complicated than just telling them to leave. Here are 5 ways to support someone experiencing abuse.

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