Women's shelter in Rigolet to open round-the-clock

It's not very often that a change in operating hours could mean the difference between life and death. 

But at Kirkina House in Rigolet, staff believe keeping doors open could save a woman, a child or even a family.

The women's shelter is moving to round-the-clock operation. Right now it can only take in clients from Thursday to Sunday.

"It was something that I was fighting for since I started my job here at Kirkina House three years ago," said executive director Desiree Wolfrey, describing how she broke down in tears when she got the news.  

"I was very excited."

The change comes as part of the latest provincial budget, which set aside $7.8 million for transition houses — $780,000 more than the year before.

"It will make a change in the lives of people in Rigolet and Nunatsiavut," Wolfrey said.

"To have our shelter open. To be able to come here and be able to stay here."

'A hard choice'

Right now, women and their children can stay at Kirkina House for part of the week, but by Sunday afternoon they have to find somewhere else to go.

Some travel to the women's shelter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but that means uprooting — the two communities are about 160 kilometres apart, and connected only by air in the winter and ferry in the summer.

"It would be a hard choice, I think," Wolfrey said.

"Having to transfer schools, or quit your job — it would be a hard decision to make."

Some women are able to find a place to stay, with family or friends, but rental properties are next to non-existent in Rigolet.

Wolfrey said she knows this means some women are returning to unsafe homes.

The shelter has room for three women and their children, and Wolfrey said they're never full.

She said she thinks that may change when they extend their hours. If not, the shelter can be used for overflow from other Nunatsiavut communities.

A sister lost 

Wolfrey said it's possible there are women in Rigolet who live with an abusive partner, but have never come to the shelter because they know they'd only have to return home again.

It weighs on her mind — not only because of her job, but because of a personal connection.

In 1993, Wolfrey's older sister, Deidre Marie Michelin, was shot and killed by her partner, who then killed himself. 

Wolfrey said she wonders if things would have been different if Kirkina House was around back then.

"That went through my head," she said. "I thought of her and how, if this was open then — how it would have helped her."

While it's an emotional job — and a busy one these days as she works to get staff in place for the new hours — Wolfrey said thinking of her sister, and other victims of domestic abuse, keeps her focused.

"I'm hopefully helping some families, some children, some women in a way to help protect them — and hopefully save lives," she said.