Shelter Awareness  

Dynamic shelter support groups

A door opens at the Kelowna Women’s Shelter and women stream from a sun lit room, resource materials in hand. They are laughing and chatting with each other. Some pause to exchange phone numbers. Many are carrying donated toiletry or clothing items. Some move toward the Childcare area to collect children, some crowd into the pantry to receive containers of tasty and nutritious soup to take home to their families, some pause to schedule individual counselling appointments or to arrange for a worker to attend court or an appointment with them.

This is the scene as one of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter’s weekly, drop-in, support groups ends. Groups are one component of the Shelter’s Outreach/Follow-up program, and may be attended by Shelter residents as well as by women living in the community, who have been impacted by family violence and abuse but who do not presently require the residential or “shelter” aspect of Kelowna Women’s Shelter services.

Led by a skilled facilitator with a clear knowledge of the dynamics of abusive relationships and of the effects abuse may have on women and children, the group offers women in attendance the opportunity to talk about their experiences and receive support and validation from other women; women who understand because they either have been, or perhaps still are, in abusive relationships. The group provides an opportunity to listen to other women’s experiences, discuss typical characteristics and dynamics of abusive relationships and reflect on what is happening in their own relationships. They hear that no one deserves to be treated abusively and that abuse is always the responsibility of the person who is behaving abusively. They leave, knowing that they are not alone and that help is available. For some, it is a first glimpse of a life without abuse.

A woman who has attended group for the first time, steps into the counselling office to say, "Thanks for encouraging me to go to group. It was amazing. I was listening to this beautiful, smart, articulate woman saying how her husband tells her she is ugly and crazy and a useless waste of skin. I was thinking that those things weren't true about her and that she didn’t deserve to be treated that way, and then it suddenly hit me that my husband said the same sort of things to me - and I believed him - but maybe they aren't true about me either. For the first time, I realized that I don’t deserve to be treated that way either."

Groups are only one component of the Shelter's Outreach/Follow-up program. The program also offers individual appointments either at the Shelter or at another safe location within the community, and provides information, referrals, assistance with planning, as well as support, advocacy or help with practical issues. This means that the Shelter’s Outreach worker is available to not only listen, affirm and provide information, but to provide practical assistance or accompaniment to appointments or to court when necessary.

A woman may choose to access Outreach/Follow-up services when she begins to recognize that she is experiencing abuse within a present relationship and is struggling to make decisions and plans, or after she has left a damaging relationship and is striving to heal and create a more positive future for herself and her children. Having someone to talk to who is knowledgeable, non-judgemental and supportive is invaluable at whatever stage a woman accesses services.

The objective of the Shelter and its staff is to ensure that the varying needs of women and children impacted by family violence and abuse are met effectively. The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is staffed and “open” to provide service, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This means that a woman impacted by violence or abuse can call the Shelter, any time of the day or night, any day of the year. She is immediately able to talk to a counsellor, and receive information, referrals, validation, support and when necessary, practical assistance. All services are confidential and free of charge.

The Shelter’s Outreach/Follow-up program is an important part of the continuum of services available. If you need help or know of someone who does, call 250 763-1040. Abuse is never okay…asking for help is. Help is available.

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About the Author

April, 2011 marks the 31st anniversary of the day the Kelowna Women’s Shelter opened its’ doors to offer counselling, support and a safe residence for women and children whose lives have been impacted by family violence, abuse and significant crisis. The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is a place of refuge for women who are not safe in their own homes, women who have been beaten, traumatized, threatened, and have fled in terror from a partner. Our staff and volunteers provide services to women and children in the area boundaried by Oyama to the North and Peachland to the South. For more information visit kelownawomensshelter.ca or call 250-763-1040

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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