Domestic abuse and family violence increases during the holiday season as families spend more time together. COVID-19 lockdown measures have further isolated families, leading to additional cases of abuse.
“When you impose restrictions, the death rate in domestic violence goes up. I just read a report and I’m sorry I can’t remember the name, but it stated that since the pandemic (began) in January, 129 lives were lost due to domestic violence,” said Lynne Rosychuk.
In a Statistics Canada report compiled in 2019 for 2018 domestic abuse cases, police in Alberta reported the third-highest rate of domestic violence in the country. Alberta police received 13,896 reports of domestic violence in 2018 from both men and women. Only Quebec, at 22,515, and Ontario, at 28,626, reported higher numbers.
Rosychuk, founder of Jessie’s House in Morinville, is keenly aware the New Year will deliver an added spike of family violence.
“Domestic abuse usually comes in waves,” she said. “After the holidays it usually increases. Families want to stay together through the holidays. Parents don’t want kids to go through trauma at a time when it’s supposed to be a celebration. But the strain of Christmas, the strain of being together, the financial strain – especially if you don’t have a job – sets things off.”
Rosychuk was the major driver in developing the town’s 9,200-square-foot emergency shelter. It was built in memory of her daughter, Jessica Martel, a 26-year-old mother of three who was murdered by her common-law husband in 2009.
The emergency shelter is a legacy to Jessica and has 35 beds for people of all ages and genders.
Since opening in May, the shelter has provided assistance to individuals from Morinville, Sturgeon County, St. Albert, Edmonton, Beaumont, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
With COVID cases rising, Alberta Health Services has restricted Jessie’s House to operating at 50 per cent capacity. Essentially, it only accepts 17 people at any given time, a fraction of the upcoming anticipated need.
“We don’t try and rush people. We meet them where they are at. We do a lot of trauma care and if we can’t help them, we get them the support they need," Rosychuk said.
Unfortunately, much of the work done to assist victims is in jeopardy due to a lack of funding, exacerbated by COVID-19.
“We never expected to open in the middle of a pandemic. Our wave of fundraisers got cancelled along with everything else,” said Rosychuk.
The shelter was built from corporate donations, business contributions, individual offerings and community fundraisers. The Town of Morinville also donated a plot of land where the shelter is constructed.
“The government has never funded a (shelter) build as far as I know. They only step in when it’s operational.”
To meet its budget, the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation organized three main fundraisers. COVID’s arrival cancelled a cabaret, a gala-auction and a community run that together typically generate $300,000 annually.
In a double hit, government grants issued during the pandemic were unavailable to Jessie’s House.
“We didn’t qualify for COVID funding. We weren’t up and running for more than a year.”
The shelter’s operational budget runs between $1 million and $1.2 million. The biggest cost is staff and the shelter has been forced to lay off a few staff.
December is always an expensive month, but prior to Christmas the St. Albert Food Bank stepped up and donated a truckload of non-perishables and 20 turkeys.
Compassionate individuals are donating $1,000 here and there, and a few days before Christmas the foundation received a $10,000 cheque. The foundation plans to access a federal grant of $3,500 to cover PPE supplies. In addition, it hopes to tap into a $75,000 provincial grant from Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women to cover staff salaries.
“We have a lot of work to do and we can’t do it without your support. It could be your family or someone that you know that needs us. We see in the news how domestic violence is rising. We want to help people not live in fear.”
Monetary donations are needed. Cheques can be mailed to Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation, Box 167, Morinville, Alberta, T8R 1S1 or by calling Linda at 587-598-7279.