Funding targets crisis hotlines

·3 min read

In the face of increasing gender-based violence, the Westman Women’s Shelter says government funding for crisis hotlines for survivors is a welcome investment.

Heather Symbalisty, executive director of the Westman Women’s Shelter, which is run by the local YWCA, told the Sun that while the shelter itself isn’t a recipient of the funding since it doesn’t have a hotline, the money will support crucial initiatives for victims of gender-based violence.

“It’ll assist us immensely during these times, because right now our calls have increased and our services have had to increase because numbers are really high,” Symbalisty said.

She added that often when people reach out to crisis hotlines, they’re connected with services like the shelter.

“[Crisis hotlines] provide really good resources to individuals in the community … where they can access support and what shelters are around and other resources.”

The provincial and federal governments partnered to deliver the funding. Marci Ien, the federal minister for women and gender equality and youth, announced last Wednesday that Ottawa would provide $30 million to support crisis hotlines across Canada. Ien was joined by Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires to announce the first bilateral agreement to support crisis hotlines.

The funding comes at a time when the demand for crisis hotline services has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a government press release.

Over the next few months, the federal government will work with each province and territory to sign similar bilateral agreements, the press release said. The funding will enable crisis hotlines to offer more “robust” services, resources and support to prevent the escalation of gender-based violence.

“Calls to crisis centres have significantly spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. At times, volumes were at capacity. We know that these hotlines are a lifeline for women fleeing domestic violence, as they are a crucial connection to the services that ensure their safety,” Ien said in the release. “We are committed to working closely with provincial and territorial governments to prevent, address, and end gender-based violence.”

In the release, Squires noted Manitoba has among the highest rates of intimate partner violence and family violence in Canada, which primarily harms women and girls and also disproportionately affects those in rural, remote and northern communities, Indigenous people, people of colour and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.

“Supporting access for those dealing with gender-based violence through crisis hotlines is an important way to ensure that Manitobans affected can receive critical support services,” Squires said.

The funding builds on the federal government’s commitment to providing approximately $300 million in emergency COVID-19 funding to support individuals experiencing gender-based violence. To date, more than $230 million has been provided to more than 1,300 women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and other organizations.

In Manitoba in 2021, the Winnipeg-based Klinic Community Health reported that more than 38,000 crisis line calls were answered. There was a 231 per cent increase in calls to the sexual assault crisis program between 2020 and 2022. Since the beginning of this year, the organization has trained an additional 75 volunteers and have planned more training sessions to be held this fall.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun