14,000 women use shelters every year.
Women stay in shelters an average of 21 days.
Watch an interview with Minister of Community and Social Services Madeleine Meilleur, Minister Responsible for Women's Issues Deb Matthews and the Executive Director of Women's Community House, Kate Wiggins.
Two rolls of barbed wire, three 12-foot fences, 16 security cameras, three dead-bolting doors, one laughing little boy …
This is a tour of Women's Community House in London, Ontario. It's not a detention centre for society's most dangerous but a haven for its most vulnerable — abused women and their children.
As Executive Director Kate Wiggins puts it, "We're designed similar to jails. Only we're trying to keep people out."
What they're trying to keep in is the laughter, hope and safety that abused women and children need to heal.
From the looks of things, they're doing a good job.
Domestic abuse can make a woman feel alone, that she has no one to turn to. But at Women's Community House — a full-service shelter — women become part of a supportive community that cares for them and their children.
Courtyards full of playground equipment and murals of rainbows surround each group of three apartments. Women and children have self-contained spaces, complete with bedrooms, small kitchens and living rooms. In addition to the private courtyards, there's a large playground and outdoor space, where a basketball court and garden let the residents experience nature and community.
Restoring dignity to abused women and children guides the shelter's work and mission. It means respecting people's cultures, experiences and abilities. Right now, the shelter has three accessible units for people with a disability. They're rarely empty. "It's very hard to find safe, affordable accessible units," says Wiggins. Women with a disability are one and a half to 10 times more likely to suffer domestic abuse.
Despite this statistic, there's also a lot of hope. Along with the trauma and suffering, Women's Community House sees its fair share of triumph and healing. "Oh yeah, absolutely," says Wiggins. "We hear about that actually quite often. It's the magic that happens here. We get letters. We get thank-you cards. We've got all sorts of lovely, lovely stories and lovely outcomes â€¦ and we are absolutely necessary in many of these stories."
Wiggins is the first to acknowledge that Women's Community House couldn't have achieved these results without the community and government's help. "This is the first government that's had a Domestic Violence Action Plan," she says, "and we have made some strides. We're not there yet, but certainly there is movement. And it is on the political agenda."
Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services, is part of the reason domestic violence is on Ontario's political radar. "Violence against women affects everyone," says the minister, "male and female, parent and child, friend and neighbour. The whole community suffers when a woman is abused." Her government has just made a major investment in Violence Against Women Services so that shelters like Women's Community House can be here for Ontario's women and children in need.
"If you don't have a lot, you don't have a lot of supports in your life," says Wiggins. "Where are you gonna go? You're gonna come here. Of course you're gonna come here."
Thank goodness for that.