By: Mike Anderson
Sandgate Women’s Shelter in Jackson’s Point was the recent recipient of a $78,800 provincial grant, which allowed the shelter to complete much-needed upgrades to its kitchen and washroom facilities.
The grant was arranged by MPP Caroline Mulroney’s constituency office and provided through the Partner Facility Renewal Program (PFR), launched by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, as part of $950,000 investment in community social service agencies.
Michelle Smith, Sandgate’s Executive Director, and several board members arranged a special tour for Ms. Mulroney on Feb 29, in part to show-off the new upgrades, but also to personally thank her and her staff for helping to secure the funding.
According to Ms. Smith, provincial grants are critical to a shelter like Sandgate, because it means that funds don’t have to be taken out of essential programs to pay for renovations.
Ms. Smith said that the upgrades were necessary to provide a comfortable setting for women and their families and to deal with the problem of ageing infrastructure, as the shelter building is over a hundred-years-old.
“We need to make sure that our space is in good shape so that women leaving their homes know that they have an environment conducive to healing,” she said.
“The kitchen is the heart of the home. And having an up-to-date kitchen is important when you’re trying to have someone feel welcome and safe,” added Ms. Mulroney, who was happy that the funding was arranged quickly and the renovations completed in time for International Women’s Day.
“Sandgate provides an essential service for women and children escaping violence. The needs are increasing, and we have to make sure that they’ve got the facilities that they need to be able to welcome them.”
Indeed, there is a growing demand for Sandgate’s shelter beds, including an increase in the number of young mothers with large families — many of them newcomers to Canada — seeking assistance.
Last year, Sandgate, which operates shelters in Jackson’s Point and Richmond Hill, provided emergency housing for more than 300 women and children.
According to Ms. Smith, there are many factors responsible for the increased demand, including rising levels of domestic abuse, human trafficking and poverty.
But she says one of major reasons is the social stigma of leaving an abusive relationship is waning, encouraging more women to seek help.
“The stigma is not as great as it once was,” Ms. Smith said. “And that means more women are coming forward to a shelter than before. Our numbers have always been higher. Our shelter beds have always been full. And, it’s putting more pressure on the need for beds in our region.”
Indeed, while many women transition out of the shelter after several months, some –unable to find affordable housing — take as much as a year or more, putting further pressure on available beds.
While Sandgate’s shelters are open 24-hours, seven days a week, they can only offer a total of 30 emergency beds. And with their shelters often operating at capacity, this means many women and their families are redirected to other shelters across Ontario.
Despite statistics indicating that domestic violence against women is on the rise, there are only two emergency women’s shelters operating in York Region, Sandgate and its sister agency Yellow Brick House. Clearly, the problem of not enough capacity isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
“We’re looking at a million-and-a-half population, rising domestic violence and only 70 beds in the region. So, it’s troublesome,” Ms. Smith said.
“What often happens is that women will return to a violent situation for financial reasons or a lack of housing. So for us, it’s not engaging in the recidivism. I think success is measured on very different levels. For me, if our phone is ringing and women know that we’re here, that makes us a success.”