Muskoka YWCA says requests for help leaving domestic violence doubled since last year.
Gravenhurst council received an update from the YWCA of Muskoka on the programs and services they provide—and the growing need for them.
Hannah Lin, executive director spoke at the Aug. 15 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Currently, she said that YWCA of Muskoka provides 17 different programs, run by 14 people, which reach approximately 1,200 people, with a budget of $900,000. The organization started 25 years ago and is one of 30 across Canada.
Lin said that “among the YWCAs in Canada, we are known for being nimble and for being a willing partner to innovate, especially when it comes to rural issues and context. We are often the member organization asked to provide the grassroots perspective…we actually share with urban YWCAs on how to adapt, how to scale up and how to reach people who are most marginalized. We focus on upstream educational programs, building resilience and preventing violence.”
She said that it is important to use a “gender-based lens” when looking at issues and that “the federal government now has acknowledged formally having a gender-based lens.”
“Through our work we see participants who are incredibly resilient but also disproportionately affected by some of these issues particularly single women, single-parent families and seniors. And often, it is those who are racialized or indigenous or gender diverse or those with disabilities who are hit even harder,” Lin explained.
Lin then spoke of the National Emergency Survivor Support Fund (NESS Fund) that helps women leaving domestic violence and trying to achieve housing stability.
“This year so far (and we’re just in August) we’ve served 32 women leaving domestic violence. That is more than double the number of people we reached last year, when we first started the program,” she said.
The YWCA also provided direct financial aid through the pandemic to approximately 150 women and their families for basic needs.
“There are complex issues contributing to a growing income gap in our community, which has the potential to rip us apart. We’re in the process of developing collaborative partnerships and applications to provide more ‘getting ahead’ programs like Circles that help break the cycle of poverty and actually support life stabilization over a longer period of time,” Lin said.
Lin expressed gratitude to Gravenhurst council for the in-kind space donated for nine months of Circles, to keep it running between two sizeable grants. The Circles group had the opportunity to keep going through covid because of “approved funding, offsetting the cost to keep going, to use the Terry Fox Auditorium for nine months and that kept the group going. It actually helped 15 families and their allies keep on going.”
She also acknowledged the impact the Terence Haight grant has had on programs like Quest and Girls Unplugged. Two Girls Unplugged groups will be delivered at K.P. Manson and Gravenhurst Public schools this fall.
Lin said they were looking ahead to 2024, when they will host the 153rd annual member’s meeting of the YWCAs of Canada. “We plan to bring 150 to 170 delegates to Muskoka and specifically to Gravenhurst,” said Lin.
Her ask of council was for an in-kind donation of the use of the Terry Fox Auditorium for three days. The not-for-profit rate they were quoted was $2579.93. She also requested staff look into the Internet capability of the space, noting that the YWCA wouldn’t only benefit from improved wi-fi, but others that use it as well.
After Mayor Lorenz thanked Lin, she said that it is “preferred practice to not deal with fee waivers on the fly,” and that a committee member could bring something forward at a future date…we are pleased to help out with the Internet, we know it’s a struggle, but I don’t know what the fix or the cost is.”
Coun. Johnston asked about the “staggering” numbers given on domestic abuse and “why has that accelerated so dramatically over last year? Is that it’s the environment we live in these days, people are are discouraged or angry or scared, despondent because of everything that’s going around us…is that maybe a reason, it’s not an excuse but that may be a reason?”
Lin said that there are multiple factors, from income instability to lack of power, but that prevention needs to be the focus. “That’s why we start with kids in Grade 5…conversations about how to be in a good relationship, how to set boundaries, how to take care of yourself and others.”
“It’s not always necessarily intimate partner violence either, sometimes it’s between family members and somebody finally recognizes it. I heard my colleague saying ‘so you’ve been living in this situation for 35 years and now, you’re ready’… somebody finally has the courage to pick up the phone and someone is listening.”
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