The small city of Airdrie has been called “the wife beating capital of Alberta” by those involved in ending the problem such as Crystal Boys, founder of Airdrie P.O.W.E.R.. Airdrie’s average number of calls to the RCMP relating to domestic abuse is four times higher than the provincial average.
But like many satellite cities, Airdrie doesn’t have a women’s shelter yet. While Calgary is only a twenty minute drive away, it’s not always the best option, especially for those who don’t have a vehicle or are overwhelmed by the thought of leaving their hometown.
Boys knows this story all too well. Twenty years ago she had to make the decision to leave an abusive relationship.
“[We] left with the clothes on our back,” says Boys. “My infant daughter and myself — we didn’t have shoes on and we went and stayed at the shelter.”
Luckily, Boys and her daughter were able to catch a cab that took them to a shelter in Calgary.
Twenty years later, all those emotions came flooding back after seeing a domestic dispute in the parking lot of Safeway on a late Sunday morning. Boys, knowing there was no shelter in Airdrie, realized something needed to be done and decided to take action.
“Airdrie is mostly young families, which happens to be the same demographic as domestic violence is most likely to happen,” Boys says. “So that’s kind of a double edged sword.”
“Even if she wanted to get help, there was nowhere for her to get help here in Airdrie. So, I just took it upon myself to start Airdrie P.O.W.E.R and get a shelter built,” she says.
Airdrie P.O.W.E.R. — or Protecting Our Women with Emergency Resources — established May 2015, is a non-profit organization that is seeking to, “provide women in Airdrie and District with the means to leave an abusive environment through emergency resources, education and empowerment.”
Boys said the prevalence of domestic abuse in Airdrie is a unique situation in which she hopes to make progress.
“Airdrie is mostly young families, which happens to be the same demographic as domestic violence is most likely to happen,” she says. “So that’s kind of a double edged sword.”
Currently Airdrie P.O.W.E.R. offers a Women Helping Women and hamper program to support local women while they find funding and space to build. The program supplies purses containing basic toiletries and gets them into the hands of women at various shelters, immediately after leaving a volatile situation.
The Bigger Perspective
There’s a surprisingly low number of phone calls made to the Calgary YWCA from surrounding satellite cities, says Allison McLauchlan of the YWCA.
“Women — if they do call, how do they get to the shelter?”says McLauchlan, highlighting the different challenges that come with being a smaller city shelter.
“Over the past year we’ve probably had only a handful of requests for space that we know of from women from smaller communities,” says McLauchlan.
McLauchlan, manager of shelter and outreach services, says the lack of calls isn’t a true reflection of the needs of these communities.
“With the thought of having to uproot and move to a shelter, at the best of times — without having to leave your community, your neighbours, your family — that’s an overwhelming thought for women who are experiencing abuse trauma,” she says.
Airdrie P.O.W.E.R. is currently hoping to raise enough funds to build an emergency shelter within the city, or just on the outskirts, by next year. Once the shelter is built, there will be a clearer picture of the need within the community, Boys says. She adds that shelters in smaller communities must address different issues, as opposed to big city shelters, within their procedures, such as transportation.
In addition to crisis relief, Calgary has three short-term supportive housing and only one long-term supportive housing.
“Anybody that’s looking at developing a shelter, that would be one area where I [would] put a lot of focus on what happens after the 21-day stay,” McLauchlan says.
The three main systems that work in alignment with a women’s shelter are the legal system, the housing system and the financial system, but McLauchlan stresses the importance of housing.
The next phase for Airdrie P.OW.E.R., after an emergency shelter is built, would be to look at secondary housing, a place where women can go after leaving the shelter to restart their lives. When Boys was using the shelter, secondary housing became vital in empowering her to leave.
“They really helped me get on my feet and enable me to get a decent job and gave me the confidence to get a decent job. I was able to take care of my daughter on my own,” says Boys.
She spent four years in assisted living where she received vouchers for basic home necessities such as pots and pan for cooking and clothing for job interviews — empowering her to help others in the same situation.
“It’s imperative that we have somewhere safe for these women to go so that they don’t need to focus on their safety, they can focus on rebuilding their life,” she says.
McLauchlan says she is eager for the day Airdrie opens its first women’s shelter doors and stresses that more needs to be done in the face of domestic violence.
“We are full. Everyday, 365 days a year,” says McLauchlan. “There is a huge need for women and children leaving abuse … just because it’s not visible we need to keep building on that.”
Boys agrees, saying that there is a lot more to do but every step of the journey is important. She looks forward to the day her dream of a shelter is made a reality.
“Being able to take care of yourself and your children is so empowering and it strengthens who you are as a human being,” she says. “I want every women to feel that freedom.”
This story is part of a larger multimedia site. For more information visit thesilentepidemic.net.
- By Kendra Crighton