The executive director of a Newfoundland women's shelter says they have been inundated with demand this year, forcing them to turn away some women and children seeking refuge from violent situations.
Michelle Greene, executive director of Iris Kirby House, says the organization has taken in 108 people at its transition house in St. John's and 81 at its facility in Carbonear since April 1 but was forced to turn away 267 others.
"That many is quite unusual. I don't want to use the term a 'banner year' but it's a banner year for trauma and turnaways," said Greene.
"We are full all the time. We don't have a bed to give someone, so when someone comes who is experiencing domestic violence we just don't have the space to help them. We can help them through outreach but we can't put a roof over their head."
Opened in 1981 to provide shelter and a safe haven for women and children experiencing domestic violence, the organization operates facilities with 22 bedrooms and 33 beds in St. John's and 15 beds in Carbonear, along with a few other apartments units and houses in St. John's, Carbonear and Mount Pearl.
Greene fears the worst as the organization keeps turning people away.
"The biggest fear is that someone is going to lose their life, either at the hands of their partner because they've chosen to go back — and I say 'chosen' with quotation marks, they've been forced to go back — or that someone is going to die sleeping in their car," she said.
"It's going to be the end of someone's life because we have not be able to give them shelter."
Greene said part of the problem is the rising cost of living, which straining households, and a rental crunch is forcing women to stay in transition homes longer, tying up capacity for longer periods of time.
An average stay is generally five to six weeks, she said, as people get back on their feet.
But one person recently stayed for 159 days, just over five months, because she and the organization couldn't find accessible, affordable housing on a bus route with enough bedrooms.
"It's really quite a disaster in the making," said Greene.
Bonavista group working to open own shelter
The nearest women's shelter outside the Avalon Peninsula is in Marystown, Greene said.
From there, the next nearest shelter is in Gander, in central Newfoundland — and then Corner Brook, on the other side of the island.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay is also having the same problems, said Greene.
But a group on the Bonavista Peninsula is spearheading its own effort to open a shelter in the area so women won't have to travel hundreds of kilometres to find safety.
Betty Fitzgerald, Bonavista's former mayor, is leading the charge in partnership with the SaltWater Community Association, which is trying to buy a house in the community to convert into a shelter.
"Most of those people stay where they're to because they don't know where else to go. They haven't got anywhere to go and they don't want to leave their family in their own area to travel somewhere else," Fitzgerald said.
"So they stay in situations and my fear is the kids. Children are innocent and they can't defend themselves, and God only knows what they're going through."
Fitzgerald said she has also been trying to also set up a regional status of women council for her area. If that effort succeeds, she said, she believes a shelter will follow shortly after.
The SaltWater Community Association tried unsuccessfully to get approved for a mortgage to buy a home. Now the group is raising money through a 50-50 draw to buy a house on its own.
"Women and their children need a place to escape the violence and abuse that they're going through," Fitzgerald said.
"This raffle is very important to raise the funds to see that this shelter is put in place to help those children."