ST. MARY’S — Despite a variety of programs available to women struggling with domestic violence, since COVID there’s been “a significant drop” in the number of women from Guysborough County accessing the help that’s available, according to Marcia Connolly of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre & Sexual Assault Services Association.
Connelly, the organization’s Guysborough County outreach support worker, delivered the news during a recent presentation to council of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s. “There are many different programs, but what we are finding ever since COVID is a significant drop in accessing these programs, particularly [from] rural communities and particularly [from] this area,” she said.
The Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre (AWRC) is an independent, feminist, community-based organization that focuses on women, girls, two-spirit, Trans and non-binary people and their families and communities. This includes support services for emergency financial, mental and physical health; and prevention, education, and advocacy. At the same time, its website states, “much of what we provide is for people of all genders [striving] to lower and remove barriers in society.”
Said Connolly: “[It may be] that women are and their families are not familiar with the resources that are here. [But] I used to be physically at the Sherbrooke library and women would make an appointment and they’d come meet me in the community room. It was completely confidential and free. If that wasn’t where they would go, I would go to Port Bickerton [to see them]. I would go to Country Harbour and Ecum Secum. People would call in and make phone appointments.”
What has increased, she said, are the number of poverty-related phone calls the organization receives. That includes, she said, “Doctors [who are] seeing seniors who can’t afford groceries... During COVID, the women’s centre received thousands of dollars in funds, and I bought probably $2,000 in grocery cards for this area.”
Speaking to council, Carrigan Martell, a prevention and awareness coordinator with Naomi Society, an Antigonish women’s support group, noted that the post-COVID world has also thrown up challenges for her organization.
“Similar to the women’s centre, we offer outreach services throughout all of Antigonish County, and all of Guysborough County,” she said. “[One thing] we offer is second-stage housing, [which] brings folks into a home that’s in the community. Usually, the priority goes to women with children. As we all know, housing is an issue right now. So that’s something that we are trying to navigate.”
According to a Statistics Canada analysis released last year, 557 residential shelters in Canada were “primarily mandated” to serve victims of abuse in 2020-21. “The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was recounted across many facilities. Overall, about one in three facilities reported being impacted to a great extent by the pandemic, overall.”
Statistics Canada reported that “accommodation capacity” was the greatest pandemic-related challenge faced by shelters. “With just under 47,000 admissions in the first year of the pandemic in 2020/2021, facilities saw a drop in admissions. Many reported, however, that the number of crisis calls and demand for services for victims outside their facilities had increased.”
Both Connolly and Martell emphasized the importance of maintaining strong links with municipal and elected officials during uncertain and precarious times. “This is an ongoing conversation, Martell said. “I encourage you to reach out.”
Added Connolly: “You, as councillors, may be the first point of contact for a woman or a family who you know is struggling.”