FSWS expressing concern as it continues to provide emergency shelter
Tim Brody - Editor
First Step Women’s Shelter (FSWS) in Sioux Lookout is continuing to provide a safe and secure emergency shelter for physically, emotionally and/or sexually abused women and their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Things are a bit busy for us at the shelter. Trying to keep up with all the news, health regulations and making sure our women and children in the shelter are safe,” shared FSWS Executive Director Tana Troniak.
“The staff, women and their families are working really hard at the social distancing. Of course living in the shelter does have some struggles with this.
“I am limiting how many staff are here during the day to keep it at five… We are trying to limit how many women are in the shelter, but if a woman calls and is at risk of violence we will accept her,” Troniak informed.
“The staff at First Step Women’s Shelter are all coming to work each day and I have to say are some of the most dedicated women I have ever worked with. I am proud to go to work each day with them. We are working closely with The Health Unit and Out of the Cold to come up with ideas in case we do have families or person that needs to be in isolation for 14 days. We do have some concern as we know in the violence against women sector that times like this high stress, isolation will increase family violence. I do have a concern (about) how we will manage to get women out of their communities if they are on lock down. Transportation cost may increase, but we will work closely with the OPP and Nursing stations to ensure women and children are safe,” Troniak said.
Another concern Troniak expressed was, “We still have not been able to purchase hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, masks and other protective equipment. This does concern me. I have many inquires out trying to find us the proper supplies to ensure the staff, women and children are safe.”
“The shelter strives to offer culturally appropriate services with a particular focus on Indigenous women and children. We are open 24 hours a day - 365 days a year.
“We are considered an essential service and we are open, taking crisis calls and providing support and safety to anyone who calls our crisis line. We currently are full and will ensure that anyone who calls the crisis line and fits our mandate will be provided a safe secure place to go if required.”
FSWS is exploring other options to find more space for its clients.
Troniak shared, “Living in the shelter right now does look a bit different. We are asking the families to stay in unless they have an appointment or medical is required. We have a huge back yard and suggest women venture outside for fresh air or take a walk around the area. All the women and staff are trying to maintain the social distancing as much as possible.”
She added, “What I would like to make sure everyone knows is that we are open and can call the shelter anytime, 24-Hour Crisis Line: 1-800-465-3623 or 737-1438.”
Support and counselling services are available over the phone.
The Sexual Assault Centre run by FSWS is also open, but only seeing clients by phone.
On April 4 the provincial government announced relief funding for residential service providers that support children and youth, people with developmental disabilities and emergency shelters for women and families fleeing domestic violence.
“The COVID-19 Residential Relief Fund will cover costs such as additional staffing, residential respite for caregivers; personal protective equipment and supplies; initiatives to support physical distancing and transportation to minimize client exposure,” a Government of Ontario news release informed.
“This is a trying time for everyone, as we continue to stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19, but we know that home isn’t safe for everyone. That’s why it’s critical during this time that residential organizations for people fleeing violence have the security they need to continue supporting vulnerable women,” stated Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues.