The Highlands’ housing crisis is being felt by the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton with a lack of affordable housing meaning women and children are having to stay long-term at the County’s only shelter.
YWCA director of client services, Darlene Smith-Harrison, said “sometimes the women are with us much longer than they want to be mostly due to the lack of affordable housing for them to move on to. It’s such a huge barrier.”
She added, “If there are any landlords out there at all who have decent, safe housing, we’d really love to hear from them and make that connection so that we can help the women and the families move on.”
Smith-Harrison made the comments in speaking about a $50,000 donation to the YWCA Haliburton Emergency Rural SafeSpace (HERS) by David and Patricia Morton of the Morton Family Foundation. They donated $50,000 last year as well and have donated $130,000 to date.
Smith-Harrison said just at HERS alone, they’ve had eight women and eight children with them from January last year to now.
Executive director Kim Dolan said the pandemic has created a toxic combination of increased stress, isolation and job losses that is leading to a dramatic rise in domestic abuse.
“This is especially true for rural women, whose physical distance from police services and lack of resources to assist in accessing safety and support greatly increases their vulnerability to gender-based violence.
“HERS has been fully occupied since January 2021 and rural women in Haliburton County have reported abuse that is far more serious and complex throughout the pandemic. Like women’s organizations across the province, the YWCA is facing heightened demand and increasing costs.”
Smith-Harrison said it’s a continuous struggle because it’s a small program that is staffed 24/7 when they are occupied, which they always are these days. It’s a very expensive program, she added, noting government funding covers just a portion of what they do so they’re left to fundraise anywhere from 25-30 per cent of what they need to operate.
Donation funds safe space in Highlands
She said that is why the Mortons’ generosity is so important. It is helping to keep the doors open.
“One of the biggest struggles is, if HERS isn’t available and women need safety and accommodation, they have to leave the County,” she said. But by being able to stay, she said women can sometimes keep parttime jobs and children continue to go to their schools. They can also stay connected to friends and family. She said having to uproot their lives and family to be safe and leave the area is “an awful separation.”
Even with the Mortons and other donations, things remain difficult at HERS, Smith-Harrison said.
“When we’re full, we’re full, we can’t bring women in. So, we have to work with women, as we do with all women, on safety planning, and helping them get to the next best safest place that we can come up with.”
She noted all funds raised in Haliburton County stay in Haliburton County.
The YWCA announced the Mortons’ funding Dec. 9.
“We are deeply moved by Patricia and David’s positive impact in the Haliburton County community,” said Dolan. “The Mortons’ compassion for others is helping to ensure that women and children have ongoing access to our Emergency SafeSpace, nutritious food, basic necessities, and 24-hour support when home is the most dangerous place to be.”
YWCA HERS provides safe and supportive temporary accommodations for women, with and without children, who are fleeing abuse in Haliburton County. The service, designed to be available on an as-needed basis in order to help reduce costs, offers space for up to two families at a time so that women can move away from the abusive situation in their home, without leaving their support systems. For safety reasons, the YWCA ensures 24-hour staffing during evenings, nights and weekends when the units are occupied.
“We are so happy to give this donation to such a worthy cause,” said Patricia Morton on behalf of The Morton Family Foundation. “We have been greatly inspired by the expertise and tremendous dedication which the YW’s Haliburton staff bring to their work, both in providing women with safety and security to plan how to build better lives for themselves and their children, and in providing expert professional support services to assist their healing from trauma.”
David Morton added, “As a man, I am just appalled and disgusted by violence against women and children. I am grateful at least to have this opportunity to extend a helping hand to the brave women who, with the wonderful support of our YWCA, are striving hard to empower themselves.”
How to help or get help
Members of the public who wish to donate or find ways of supporting YWCA services in Haliburton County are encouraged to visit ywcahaliburton.org or contact Ria Nicholson at 705-743-3526 x113 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations made before December 31 will be doubled during the YWCA’s holiday season matching gift campaign. If you, or someone you know, needs support, contact the YWCA’s 24 Hour Support & Crisis Line: toll free 1-800-461-7656; phone 705-286-6442 or text 705-854-1591.