Domestic violence shelters in Saskatchewan deemed essential during COVID-19 pandemic

Advocates warn that domestic violence rates are expected to spike as people self-issolate amid COVID-19. Getty Images

As residents are asked to stay in their homes as more cases of COVID-19 pop-up in Saskatchewan, domestic violence shelters are staying open for those who need to leave an abusive or violent household.

All shelters in Saskatchewan remain open as staff quickly learn to adapt to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Much like healthcare workers, shelter workers are considered to be working in an essential service,” said Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS).

“They are going to show up to work when they can, whether or not there are people who are impacted by COVID-19 in the shelter.”

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Dusel says PATHS is working closely with the government of Saskatchewan to make contingency plans to offer support to individuals fleeing violence. This includes extra expenses whether it be for supplies, staffing or making alternate arrangements for people.

“The most important thing everybody needs to remember is that there will be help available,” Dusel said.

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Shelters across Saskatchewan have been experiencing different call levels ever since the government began urging people to self-isolate or practice social distancing.

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At some centres, call levels are normal or even slightly higher, says Dusel, while other shelters are reporting fewer calls than usual.

“Even clients who are in the shelter are trying to find other places to kind of hunker down during this time of crisis,” Dusel said.

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She said the pandemic has created a lot of stress for shelter workers across the province as many of them might need to self-isolate.

“Because of the public health measures that indicate someone who has been exposed or is experiencing flu-like symptoms needs to stay home for 14 days, this will necessarily lead to challenges and keeping up staffing levels in the shelters,” Dusel said.

“Shelter workers are not immune to the same kind of anxiety everyone in our society is feeling right now as we just don’t know what is going to happen here in Canada.”

Other provinces have had to close down domestic violence shelters because of staffing issues. However, Dusel is hoping this is a problem the province can avoid.

“In the case they do close, crisis lines will remain open, and we’ll make alternative arrangements for people to go,” Dusel said.

“If you are feeling at risk from an intimate partner please call your local shelter or counselling services. They’ll be able to tell you what services are available and where you’ll be able to stay safe.”

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To find a local shelter call Sask 211 or by flipping through the first few pages of any Saskatchewan phone book. PATHS also has information available online.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic or family abuse call the 24-hour crisis hotline by calling 211. A full list of 24-hour hotlines can be found here.

Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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