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FEBRUARY 25 UPDATE: On February 24, Saugeen Shores Council approved the $2,500 contribution to the Women's House Serving Bruce and Grey.

Hub Staff

The Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey (WHSBG) was founded in 1985 and remains a not-for-profit organization funded by the Ministry of Children, Community of Social Services and the Ministry of the Attorney General. However, the government funding is not enough to cover the demands for service in the community and WHSBG dedicates a significant amount of time and energy raising money to bridge the gap.

In a delegation to Council January 13, Community and Fund Development Coordinator Michelle Lamont revealed some sobering statistics regarding the needs of women and children in Bruce and Grey counties.

Lamont began by acknowledging that sexual assault remains a common problem in Canada, with 51 percent of Canadian females reported to have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence. Lamont also dispelled the myth that these statistics are unique to larger communities, and described similar trends across Bruce and Grey.

Another fictitious fact dispelled by Lamont is that domestic abuse is a crime of the poor and uneducated. “We see it in all communities,” declared Lamont. “Part of this myth is that people, especially in our unique economic bubble, they think that we may not see it as much in our area and actually the percentages stay pretty consistent,” she said.

Lamont disclosed data collected by the South Bruce OPP that showed increased reports in domestic violence incidents in their policed municipalities from 2009 to 2012. The results also showed that family violence accounted for almost a quarter of all reported violent crime in Bruce and Grey counties.

Lamont explained the three levels of prevention provided by WHSBG, beginning with their proactive approach of educating the public about the support available through Women's House. The next level involves intervention and protection through their in-house shelter that accommodates up to 13 women and their children for six to eight weeks. Residents have access to a counsellor 24 hours a day as well as safety planning and youth programs for children. WHSBG offers a 24-hour crisis line manned by a trained counsellor that receives over 8,000 calls each year.

As part of their secondary level of prevention, Women's House offers transitional assistance to aid women in planning and securing a path forward. A transitional worker covers many areas such as housing, education, job training, income support, legal aid and childcare. Lamont mentioned the second stage housing projects in Port Elgin, Kincardine and Wiarton that offer one year of housing for victims along with counselling and security. Lamont acknowledged the generosity of the Saugeen Shores Council in 2009 that alleviated service costs and taxes for the Port Elgin project.

The final preventative approach consists of group counselling sessions and outreach programs to prevent recurrences and alleviate trauma.

In 2017, WHSBG assisted 783 women, 194 children and answered 8,602 crisis, support and advocacy calls. Lamont stressed that in order to maintain these services to the community and close the gap between government funding and annual expenses, they need to raise $193,592. Through annual fundraisers such as their Women’s Day events and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, they have been able to produce close to 25 percent of this total. The remaining 75 percent depends on corporate sponsorships, municipal support, and contributions from businesses and service groups.

Lamont expressed her sincere gratitude for the donations they receive. “We couldn’t do it without that support and we couldn’t continue to provide the services that we do. That shortfall would mean that we would have to cut back on services and not be able to support the number of women and children that we do right now," said Lamont.

Councillor Jami Smith thanked Lamont for her report and the work done by WHSBG. “I think it’s a wonderful reflection on what occurs outside of our daily lives and what’s happening in all of our communities," said Smith.

Smith commented on the more than 8,000 annual calls received by WHSBG and equated that to 25 calls a day to which she said indicates an urgency that exists in our community, one that she admittedly takes for granted.

Reading from the WHSBG mission statement, Vice Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt said "ending violence against women is a community responsibility" and encouraged Council to acknowledge this responsibility as well as the amount of work that goes into the fundraising. “I’m hoping that this can be taken back to staff to request a $2,500 donation towards the fundraising campaign,” proposed Myatt.