‘We need to find a solution’: Bryony House workers call for immediate temporary shelter

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WATCH: A shelter that supports women and their children fleeing domestic violence has now been closed for 68 days. As Alicia Draus reports, workers of Bryony House held a rally Friday calling for an immediate temporary shelter. – Nov 15, 2019

Dozens of people including workers from Bryony House held a rally on Friday to bring attention to the lack of shelter.

Bryony House operates as a shelter specializing in support for women and their children escaping intimate partner violence in HRM. It’s been operational since 1978 and offers 24 beds.

The building that housed the shelter has been around since the 1880s and was damaged during Hurricane Dorian in September, forcing those at the shelter to flee the facility during the storm. It hasn’t reopened since and the building is now for sale.

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“We currently have no shelter and we have no shelter beds for women and children fleeing domestic violence,” said Kristina Fifield who has worked as a women’s counselor at Bryony house for the last 9 years.

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Fifield says they have been continuing with counselling services by phone, and are working with other shelters in the city like Adsum House and Berry House to provide some beds for women but she says it’s not enough.

“We’re going into cold months and we know that shelters are full in Halifax in winter months,” said Fifield.

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On average about 470 women and children go through Byrony house each year.

Atlantic Regional Executive Vice President of PSAC, Colleen Coffey, represents workers at Bryony House and says their big concern is the safety of women.

The shelter has now been closed for 68 days and she says on average about 70 women would  have come through the house during that time.

“What happens to that 70 women?” she asked.

“Maybe they’ve called in and got counselling over the phone but maybe those women really needed to go somewhere long term, we haven’t been able to do that.”

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Since the shelter closed, the non-profit has organized for some women to stay in hotels, but while Bryony House would typically offer women and their children shelter for 6-8 weeks when it’s open, that’s not happening now.

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“We’re not offering people six to eight weeks in a hotel, I can honestly say that is not happening. Mostly two nights and then we try to get them somewhere else,” said Fifield. But she says hotels are not ideal for other reasons.

Kristina Fifield has been a women’s counsellor at Bryony House for nine years. Alicia Draus / Global News

“Our job has focused on safety and keeping women and children safe, and we had a bunch of safety things in place to deal with men showing up, partners showing up,” she explained.

“A hotel does not seem like a way to keep women safe. What happens when abusive partners are showing up at hotels? What happens when women are waking up fearful and scared in the middle of the night? We are not providing the services that we normally provide.”

Julia Keramaris attended the rally and says as someone who spent time at Bryony House with her mom and sisters when she was 11 years old, she knows first hand the importance of having somewhere to go.

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Alicia Draus / Global News.

“It was just a sense of community, a sense of belonging,” said Keramaris.

“[Before] I lived in fear everyday, and [now] I couldn’t imagine my life without the Bryony House.”

The rally on Friday called for more immediate action from management with many saying it should have never come to this.

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“This was predictable four years ago when the Minister of Community Services came in and said Bryony House wasn’t going to make it in two years,” said Fifield.

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“This board knew this house was in trouble, they knew it a long time ago but there was no plan in place for a temporary shelter,” said Coffey.

In October the executive director of Bryony House, Maria MacIntosh, told Global News that finding a temporary location is an important step and something they were working on.

“We’re continuing to evaluate and augment our services,” said MacIntosh. “We’ve increased our outreach, we’re looking at different ways to do so, so we’re doing the best we can during this transition period.”

Global News has also reached out to MacIntosh about allegations made during the rally but calls have not been returned.

There are plans in the works for a new facility with 5.3 million dollars set aside by the federal and provincial governments. but it could take up to two years to build.

“There should have been a plan in place where if the shelter was closing down, and closing its doors forever there needed to be a plan in place in the interim,” said Fifield.

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