Warmer weather has translated into higher demand for safe housing for women and children in the South Okanagan.
“It is common around the summertime to see an increase in use. When it gets really hot, people tend to drink more, and tempers tend to flair. Alcohol is often involved when assaults take place,” said Debbie Scarborough, executive director at the South Okanagan Women in Need Society (SOWINS). “But that doesn’t mean that it’s slow in the winter.”
Scarborough said the transition house, a shelter with 14 beds, was over capacity every day during the month of May.
Scarborough said when the demand outweighs the supply, SOWINS will scramble to find other transition houses in the Okanagan and will search for suitable shelter as far as Kamloops.
Transition houses are available to those who are fleeing domestic abuse, where food and shelter is provided at no cost for 30 days, sometimes longer. But because many victims of abuse will require more time to re-establish themselves, SOWINS is working towards the addition of second stage housing, which offers a longer-term shelter to women and children.
“It’s basically an opportunity for them to go back to school, get their life together,” she said. “We can’t have expectations that women are able to get on with a normal life when they have no home, and they’re at risk of being homeless.”
She said since there are so few safe and affordable rental options, some women are forced to return to unsafe living conditions.
“Our second stage housing will provide affordable housing for these women and their children to live in up to a year while they look for and secure their own independent housing.”
Scarborough feels optimistic that the city will make land available for the project.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit acknowledged the importance of safe housing in the community for women and children, and suggested collaborative efforts between many other local organizations with common goals.
“Of course we’re willing to work with other organizations,” she said. “Basically our demographic is the same to what the (Penticton’s Affordable Community) task force is looking for, such as the working poor and single-parent families, so it sounds like it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”
In addition to providing safe shelter, SOWINS offers a variety of services that relate to domestic abuse. Scarborough said the organization provides counselling for spouses and children that experience domestic abuse and helps them to overcome the fear and anxiety that results.
“We help with education, understanding, recognizing and overcoming the impacts of abuse. It allows them back into the mainstream of society and community.”
She said although the organization is trying to expand its services, “It would be nice if we could do ourselves out of a job and there would be no such thing as abuse.”
If anybody can help SOWINS in their effort to establish second stage housing, they’re in search of affordable rentals, housewares and gently used furniture. Scarborough can be contacted at 250-493-4366.
SOWINS is taking a giant step in their fundraising efforts this year.
Encouraged by the response to the inaugural Walk A Mile Challenge in 2013, and seeking a change after the successful nine year run of the Women Front & Centre Gala, SOWINS has decided to focus their energy on this new major fundraiser to be held in October.
“It’s not easy walking in heeled shoes, but it is fun and it gets people talking about something that’s really difficult to talk about: gender relations, violence against women, the effects it has on children and our communities, the roots of the behaviour and envisioning solutions and remedies to end the problem,” said Scarborough.
Walk A Mile In Her Shoes South Okanagan will raise funds to support SOWINS programs and services for women and children overcoming the effects of abuse and violence.
Everyone is welcome to participate as an individual or as a team. Participants are encouraged to raise a minimum of $50 in pledges to help SOWINS reach their goal of $50,000. Donations or pledges can be made to a specific walker, a team or to the event itself.
The walk takes place on Oct. 8 at Rotary Park on Lakeshore Drive. Starting at 3 p.m. walkers can put on their shoes, practice walking, make last minute pledges and take photos in at an onsite photo booth prior to the walk starting at 4 p.m. Youth prizes will be awarded right after the walk and those 19 and older are invited to purchase a burger and beer ticket for the awards and after party at the Barking Parrot at 5:30 p.m.
Register for the walk at www.SOWINS.com.