Pandemic causes rise in need at women’s shelter

·2 min read

Medicine Hat Women’s Shelter Society is reporting an approximate 15% increase in demand for services since the beginning of the pandemic.

Executive director Natasha Carvalho confirmed to the News that COVID-19 and the pressures associated with it have had an impact on the local community.

“We definitely did see an increase in demand during the COVID pandemic,” Carvalho said. “It’s ongoing.”

Before the pandemic began the number of individuals MHWSS served annually was generally consistent; usually around 1,300 people total per fiscal year. As a result of the pandemic, that number has risen to 1,513 served in the 2019-2020 fiscal year and 1,518 for 2020-2021.

“We’re not surprised that there’s an increase,” said Carvalho. “We know that people who were already struggling continue to struggle when they have extra layers of barriers put on them.”

Barriers generated by the pandemic include loss of employment, more time spent in the home, children being kept home from school and rising cost of living, among others.

“We did hear a lot more of dangerous situations that people were trapped in, especially in those early days (when lockdowns were in place).”

MHWSS’s findings reflect a larger trend taking place in Canada. The Women’s Housing and Homelessness Network recently released a study which found that 75% of women and gender diverse Canadians currently experiencing housing need and homelessness have experienced trauma and abuse. The study also found that the breakup for relationships significantly contributed to housing need and homelessness among women and gender diverse people.

“What really struck us is that there were a lot of new families calling,” said Carvalho. “A lot more people were struggling during (the pandemic).”

Despite an increase in demand for services, some resources necessary to run those services have decreased. Throughout the 2019-2020 fiscal year, volunteers at MHWSS donated 2,960 hours of service. In 2020-2021, that number dropped to 894.

This is largely due to changing COVID protocol, which has, at times, caused a reduction in building capacity. COVID-19 has also had an effect on donated items, impacting the number or type of items that could be donated.

“It was hard for us because of trying to limit contact and limit the number of people coming through the shelter. To limit exposure, we cut down on having volunteers in at that time … We couldn’t then take donations because we didn’t have anybody to help with processing of donations. It did kind of limit what we normally rely on,” Carvalho said.

Carvalho emphasized that she and the staff at MHWSS are thankful to the community, which has provided continuous support throughout the pandemic. She reiterated that MHWSS is available to support individuals who need assistance in the community.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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