When women and children escaping relationship violence come to stay at the Cridge Transition House for Women, they’re moving into a home.
No matter what the situation they’ve left, the focus of their month-long stay at the emergency shelter is having their basic needs met in a safe, relaxed environment.
“It’s a place that’s full of life and energy and joy and hope, and that’s the feeling that you have when you walk through the door,” said Candace Stretch, assistant manager of women’s and family services for the Cridge Centre for the Family.
Stretch oversees operations at the transition house – which despite two decades of provincially and privately-funded service in Saanich, has been able to maintain the privacy of its location. While an average of nine women and their children may be staying in the house at any given time, a “sisterhood” bond between past and present residents has kept the level of confidentiality high, Stretch says.
Transitioning the women into a safe housing situation – whether that means returning to the family home or moving somewhere new – is the primary objective at the shelter.
“We often have someone who has come to us … after being hospitalized for an extended period of time,” Stretch said. “So we see, on a very regular basis, women who have been subjected to brutal physical violence.”
But the Cridge’s definition of violence doesn’t always mean physical confrontations. Sexual and emotional abuse are common among clients.
“Almost every time we hear someone’s story, they’ve been isolated from their families and their communities,” Stretch said. “They become very dependent on the abuser for all of their needs. Many times they have no access to any finances.”
For 75 per cent of all clients, their choice is between being abused, or homeless, said fellow Cridge staffer Shannon Whissell.
“It’s a progressive erosion of their ability to control their own money or determine their own relationships and as that gets eroded and emotional violence comes into play… the physical violence is really the endpoint,” she said.
Stretch has come to know well the cycle of abuse her clients can fall into – one that often includes periods of remorse from an abuser following a violent event, which is inevitably followed by repeated incidents of abuse.
As emotionally draining as the work is, the women convey a strong sense of hope for their clients.
“One thing that really sticks out for me in this job is how resilient women are, particularly women with children,” Stretch said.
“We see women who have been able to do remarkable things around keeping their children. We’ll see kids come into the house and they just don’t fit that bill of a child that’s been exposed to violence. They look more like a child who is secure and knows that Mom is there to protect them.”
Transition house support worker Susie Scott described her first shifts at the house as “intense.”
She finds the same sense of comfort in the children who come through the home.
“I find the kids are really resilient. It’s really nice having these kids that come from difficult situations that just want to play and have fun – and have the opportunity to do that … to just enjoy being kids.”
A way out
• More information on the Cridge Transition House can be found at www.cridge.org. Emergency services can be accessed through an outreach worker 24 hours a day at 250-479-3963.
• The Victoria Women’s Transition House Society is not affiliated with the Cridge Centre for the Family, but offers a similar service. Reach the Victoria Women’s Transition House, 24 hours a day at 250-385-6611. More information is available at www.transitionhouse.net
Toys of Joy
Every child who passes through the Cridge Transition House for Women, from babies to teens, receives a welcome package with a gift as well as a present on their birthday and holidays, should those days fall during their stay at the shelter. The volume of children coming through the house takes its toll on the toys on hand, said support worker Susie Scott, who is co-organizer of the Toys for Joy drive.
Toys for the Cridge Transition House can be dropped off at the lobby of the Hotel Grand Pacific, 463 Belleville St. until April 9. Cash can also be donated online at www.cridge.org and allocated to the drive by indicating “Transition House Toy Drive” in the comments box. Here are a few of the top requests from the Cridge Transition House:
• Colouring books
• Kids’ instruments
• Movie/rec centre passes
• Action figures
• Baby toys
• Kids’ bicycle helmets
• Board games
• Kitchen play pieces and play food
For more information, contact 250-995-6415.