With incidents of domestic violence on the rise, people should know they have recourse.
A safe haven, a friendly ear, a helping hand: these needs are crucial to anyone, yet often so hard to find for those who need them the most. Muskoka Women’s Advocacy Group (MWAG) is available to provide women with all these and more.
Abusive situations are a harsh reality that has always existed in society; therefore, the need for safe shelter has always been a necessity. However, program manager Ruth Holloway notes that she has seen an influx of women coming to the MWAG shelters in recent years and months, and believes this is largely in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like it has increased, we are definitely getting more calls and more people,” Holloway states. “Let’s face it, COVID added an element of stress that we had no idea it would. I think that it added stress to families and people, and the cost of living and housing has increased and the availability of housing has decreased. You add all that together, and there’s a lot of people struggling.”
She says the majority of the calls for help come from women but in the rare case that MWAG receives a call from a man, they refer him to The Lighthouse in Orillia or the Table Soup Kitchen Foundation in Huntsville.
MWAG is a charitable organization established in 1984 and run by an elected board of volunteer directors. It consists of two crisis shelters: Muskoka Interval House in Bracebridge, which opened in 1985, and Chrysalis in Huntsville, which opened in 2007.
MWAG offers accommodation and support to women and their children in abusive situations. Holloway states that all services are free of charge and include: short-term emergency accommodations, risk assessment and safety plans, confidential support in person or by phone, groups, and programming for women and children, and assistance with navigating the legal system.
Muskoka Interval House has a fifteen-bed shelter and Chrysalis has a ten-bed shelter, as well as a ten-unit transitional housing facility. Women experiencing abuse are granted a twelve-week time period stay and three weeks for women experiencing homelessness.
“If a woman is at home reading this and wondering what her options are, the message that I would like them to know is if there’s something going on and you feel that you are in an abusive situation, call and talk to somebody, find out what your options are,” Holloway says. “There’s often things that are happening that a woman doesn’t even realize are abusive, so the conversation and the education part is really important.”
The first step for women seeking MWAG’s services would be to call one of the shelters, which are open 24/7, and speak to a counselor. All information given to MWAG is kept confidential and the woman calling may choose to remain anonymous.
“They can talk to someone about what’s going on in their life, and we can see what their needs are and what they are experiencing,” Holloway says. “We have women that will call and talk to us for quite a while before they come in because there’s a lot of questions and it’s a big decision. So they need to know what’s going to happen, what’s going to be there for them and we want to be respectful of that.”
Holloway also points out that, as with many shared housing situations, the pandemic significantly changed the way the shelters operate. As per ministry guidelines, women can no longer share rooms and common areas and are still wearing masks and social distancing. Holloway says that while these rules are still in place, MWAG is confident that everything will soon get back to normal.
For any woman who feels in need of any of MWAG’s services, Holloway implores them to get in contact. She says that oftentimes, women have reservations about calling MWAG, as they are unsure if what they are experiencing qualifies as abuse. This is why it is so imperative to reach out for support, as MWAG’s qualified counselors can provide insight into a situation the woman would not otherwise have.
First and foremost, MWAG’s mission is to provide a safe space for women in the community who may feel they have nowhere to turn, and want these women to know that their metaphorical door is always open.
“It’s important for these women to know that support is available,” Holloway says, “and for them to know that they’re not alone.”
For more information, visit mwag.ca
To contact Chrysalis, call 705 789 8848
To contact Muskoka Interval House, call 705 645 4461
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