Southern Alberta women’s shelters forced to turn thousands away


It’s where women and children fleeing domestic violence find safety, but more and more, those safe spaces are unavailable.

Up to 24 women and children can stay at Harbour House in Lethbridge for a maximum of three-weeks, but the shelter is full – and has been for years.

“We are really struggling and need to find more bed space available and we need to help all these women and children in need of the shelter for their own safety” Domestic Violence Shelter Services Manager, Sandra Vonk, said.

Harbour  House has seen a steady increase in demand for its services over the last five years. Since the start of last year, the shelter has admitted almost 600 women and children.

READ MORE: Project to assist victims of sexual violence launched in Lethbridge

Turn-away rates are almost triple intake. In 2015 alone, they turned away 1,946 people. This year, that number is expected to reach 2,500.

“Right now we could really easily triple our capacity, and still be turning people away.” YWCA CEO Jennifer Lepko said.

Down the road in Taber, Alta. the numbers aren’t as high, but they’re also experiencing increases.  In 2014, Taber Safe Haven admitted 307 women and children, and turned away 159.

Those numbers increased by about 30 the next year.

The hope is these stats will lead to a new space with more beds, sooner rather than later.

“We try to find them safe places for them to go and give them the resources that they need, Lepko said. “We don’t have the physical safe bed, so unfortunately many of them will go back to an abusive situation.”

The city of Lethbridge is about to reach 100,000 people. Lepko said that could be a factor in the amount of women seeking their services.

READ MORE:  City of Lethbridge asks for community feedback on the brink of 100,000 residents

She said the economy also plays a role.

“Somebody who has lost their job, you increase a lot of the stress in the house and that could lead to some poor choices. We see a direct coloration with the economy and how the economy is doing and the increase in violence.”

Money is also hard to come by in a tough economy. Shelter services rely on donations from the public with events like the upcoming Royal Gala.

Still, Lepko said staff here will be doing their best to provide services that are needed to keep women and children safe from abuse.