YWCA service changes raise concern for former client

By Jenn Watt

Changes to services offered through the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton during the coronavirus pandemic has caused concern to a local woman who says she used the service in the past and is worried Haliburton County women won’t have the support they need.

Breann Allin said the YWCA played a crucial role in her life when she needed help leaving an abusive situation.

“The first time I spoke to a [YWCA] worker she helped me see my options and helped me develop a safety plan for both my leaving and how to stay safe until I did leave. She also informed me of all the local resources that were accessible including a temporary living space that my daughters and I could use that allowed us to stay in the community” Allin wrote in an email to the Echo.

In particular she said knowing the Haliburton Emergency Rural SafeSpace was available gave her comfort that there would be a place for her to go if necessary. She also benefited from meeting with the local YWCA staff face-to-face for support after she had left the abusive situation.

“She was extremely accommodating” Allin said of the YWCA staff member “often meeting me at a location that worked for me. Even if/when it was out of her way. Seeing her in person helped hold me accountable whereas on the phone I could have blown her off.”

Having gone through this experience and knowing the value of the YWCA services Allin said she is worried that women who are in abusive situations during the COVID-19 pandemic will not have the same level of support she had.

Earlier this month the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton issued a press release letting the community know that services were still being delivered but that staff were now observing new protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.

“​Crossroads Shelter [in Peterborough] and HERS – Haliburton Emergency Rural SafeSpace are essential services for women and children fleeing violence in Peterborough and Haliburton County. We continue to provide reliable confidential support resources safety and information around the clock” the press release reads. “Our offices are closed to the public and staff who usually work at our Simcoe Street Office Women’s Centre of Haliburton County and Centennial Crescent Housing Community are working remotely and will continue to provide assistance [by phone text and email].”

In an interview with the Echo on April 9 YWCA Peterborough Haliburton executive director Kim Dolan said that services are available but “look different” right now. She said she couldn’t comment on current use of the HERS space and said staff were available by phone text and email.

“It's in support of our commitment to keeping women safe that we will not confirm nor deny whether anybody is currently in the HERS shelter and that’s for safety reasons” Dolan said. “What I can confirm for you is that while things have changed our commitment to and level of services available to women have not changed they’re still there. How we’re doing it right now is a little bit different. Our crisis and support lines are still open they’re answered 24 hours a day seven days a week. Safety planning risk assessment access to services and referrals to other services are still available.”

Allin said she was concerned that women did not have physical access to staff and questioned how a woman who due to the pandemic needed to stay at home with an abusive person would be able to make phone calls to a YWCA staff member.

“Without having any type of office space alone provides issues how can you possibly receive counselling never mind [plan] a safe exit with your abuser sitting beside you? Or worse still you are on the phone trying to receive counselling and your partner ‘catches’ you or finds out you have been seeking help as he is now home all day” Allin said.

She outlined how changes not only to how the YWCA is offering its services but also to other institutions and workplaces would create an even more isolating and dangerous situation for women.

“Imagine you are living in a 1000 [square foot] house you your spouse and your kids. Your counselling is not available because you can’t do it over the phone as he is always there. There is no longer someone who sees you at least monthly so no one [is there to] to notice bruises. Not only are your kids home and witnessing all the abuse they are no longer going to school so the ‘prayer’ you think daily about your child’s teacher noticing something and calling CAS [children’s aid services] is no longer an option” she said.

She called the situation “terrifying.”

Dolan said that shelter services are available to women fleeing violence and that service is decided with each woman individually.

“In order to provide the best possible service to women who are experiencing violence and to ensure that we’re maintaining our commitment to best practices related to the COVID pandemic we’re still providing services and that we’ll assess on a case-by-case basis with women who call in the best services for her and her kids if she’s got kids” she said.

Questions regarding the specifics of what shelter services are being offered the opportunity for face-to-face contact between staff and clients and whether there were plans to further modify what YWCA offers during the pandemic sent in a subsequent email to Dolan were not answered at press time.

YWCA’s 24 Hour Support & Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-461-7656 or you can text 705-991-0110.