Soaring demand at women's shelter hits home for mother of woman murdered in 2013

Debbie Hibbs highlighted soaring demand at Iris Kirby House in her speech marking the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
Debbie Hibbs highlighted soaring demand at Iris Kirby House in her speech marking the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

At a ceremony marking the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the mother of a woman who was killed in an act of intimate partner violence in 2013 lamented the soaring demand at a Newfoundland women's shelter.

In her speech, Debbie Hibbs said the dire situation at Iris Kirby House speaks volumes.

"We are not working hard enough, and we have to start working harder and sooner," she said.

Juliane Hibbs and her fiancé, Vince Dillon, were murdered by Hibbs's ex-boyfriend in Conception Bay South in 2013. Debbie Hibbs, Juliane's mother, has since become an advocate for victims of intimate partner violence.

"I know it takes time for laws to pass," she said. "But really — are we really, really trying?"

On Thursday, Iris Kirby House executive director Michelle Green said the organization has taken in 108 people at its transition house in St. John's and 81 people at its facility in Carbonear since April 1 but has been forced to turn away 267 others looking for shelter.

Women and Gender Equality Minister Pam Parsons told CBC News she learned of the demand at Iris Kirby House earlier this fall.

"It's scary, to say the least, but it's very real," she said.

Parsons said she set up a meeting between Green and John Abbott, the minister responsible for housing, but when asked if the Office of Women and Gender Equality would itself increase funding to Iris Kirby House, she said, "I only wish I had that power."

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Parsons said her office provides $3.2 million in funding for organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador, but none of it goes to Iris Kirby House, which — as a shelter — falls under Abbott's mandate.

Green has said she fears someone will die after being turned away from Iris Kirby House, and PC women and gender equality critic Helen Conway Ottenheimer said she shares that concern.

"The fact that they're fleeing violence and they have nowhere to go is worrisome, it's concerning," she said.

Conway Ottenheimer said she understands housing is a complex issue across the province but more funding and collaboration between the provincial government and community groups is needed.

"Women in our midst are living in unsafe situations," she said. "It's incumbent on government to step up and to work on finding solutions.

'Demand is increasing': Abbott

While speaking with reporters at an announcement regarding a new 40-room affordable housing complex in St. John's, Abbott said he's working with the Iris Kirby House to address a dire need for shelter space.

"We know that demand is increasing and we will continue to meet that demand," he said.

Abbott said the new affordable housing complex is primarily for seniors and people with disabilities, but there will also be space for vulnerable women. He said he doesn't know how many more shelter beds are needed for women fleeing intimate partner violence in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Katie Breen/CBC
Katie Breen/CBC

In the meantime, Abbott said people who can't find shelter space can call the province's emergency housing helpline at 1-833-724-2444. Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn said the helpline is a short-term solution and he wants to see more short-term funding for people seeking shelter.

"We shouldn't be at the stage where people are right now, choosing between, 'Well, I'm going to sleep in a car or a parking lot or in the lobby of a motel,'" he said.

He said the demand on Iris Kirby house is tragic.

"Those women that have been turned away, they're going back to an abusive relationship, or an abusive setting."

Support is available for anyone affected by intimate partner violence. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.

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