For women who find themselves in an abusive situation, whether it’s physical, verbal or psychological, nothing is more important than having a safe place to turn to. Anselma House in Kitchener, Ontario has been offering that safe place for over 30 years.
As Chief Executive Officer Mary Zilney puts it, “Every woman has the right to live free of violence and free of abuse. Every woman does.”
And so it’s with that attitude that Anselma House provides shelter and services so women and their children can learn how to move beyond violence.
Recently though, Anselma House started to see an increase in demand for service that was proving larger than their 20-bed shelter could meet. It dawned on Mary and the rest of the staff that it was time to consider building a larger and more efficient shelter. After tireless fundraising and much generosity from the community, the provincial government and the federal government, that’s exactly what they were able to do.
Spanning nearly 33,000 square feet and offering 45 beds, the new Anselma House is a striking building — a ray of hope — that brings with it many features the former shelter didn’t offer.
“One of the advantages of the new shelter,” explains Mary, “is that the rooms were built very flexible. Each one opens to the next, so if we have a woman with four children, we can just open the room beside.”
There are also large communal areas like a dining room, kitchen and program rooms to help encourage women to participate in the services Anselma House offers.
“We have a clinical support worker who can meet with moms individually,” says Merle Fast, Manager of Anselma House. “So they can do talk therapy and deal with their issues that way.”
There’s also programs that bring the women together, like a psycho-educational group and nutrition classes, so they can bond and see that they’re not alone in their experiences.
“A lot of them tell me how nice it is to come into the shelter,” says Merle, “and for the first time in their life, they are hearing that there are other people who have the same situation as they do.”
It’s that lack of awareness about the occurrence of violence against women that Anselma House is striving to change. Their public address and central location is unique for a women’s shelter, but it’s a feature that can help bring that awareness to the community, and can help women realize there’s somewhere they can go if they are suffering, that there’s hope to move beyond violence.
“Women abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Merle explains. “It happens in families and in communities and in society. Women need to know there is a safe place they can come to.”
If they didn’t know it before, thanks to the new Anselma House, they’ll know it now.