|Half of Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
For over 30 years, Yellow Brick House has been providing help for abused women. A major new campaign is now under way to help raise funds for a second shelter in York Region.
Domestic abuse is a serious and pervasive issue. The facts speak to that:
- Half of Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
- Every minute of every day, a Canadian woman or child is being sexually assaulted.
- One to two women are murdered by a current or former partner each week in Canada.
- Every year in Canada, up to 360,000 children are exposed to domestic violence.
Anna (name changed to protect her privacy) truly understands and appreciates the value of an organization like Yellow Brick House, a non profit organization in York Region that has been providing shelter, counselling and support to abused women and their children for over 30 years.
Anna, a former Yellow Brick House resident, was a victim of domestic violence for over 40 years. While with her husband, she endured devastating physical, emotional and mental abuse. For years, she spent her nights in a living room chair hoping she would be able to hear her abuser approach her. For years, she lived in fear. For years, she was isolated from the outside world.
When Anna reached out to Yellow Brick House, she knew the abuse she was enduring was escalating to a very dangerous point. She contacted the organization through the 24-hour crisis line and was safely guided to the emergency shelter.
She recalls from her days at the shelter “I was away from my home for the first time in years. I was frightened and alone. I was sharing a room with another woman and her two children. The shelter was full. Babies were crying, mothers were fussing, counsellors were very busy – and I felt peace for the first time I could remember.”
Anna worked very closely with trauma counsellors at the shelter. The counsellors helped her realize that leaving her abusive situation was the right thing to do – for her and her children. Both inpidual and group counselling were made available to her.
For the first part of her stay, she rested and told her story. “Telling counsellors about what I had endured was very liberating,” said Anna. “I had been keeping this terrible secret for so many years and had been kept away from everyone for so long that it felt tremendous to be able to share and have someone listen.”
Shelters for abused women do more than provide emergency housing and food for women and their children. They offer counselling and support to help women build their lives, provide programming for children who have witnessed violence to help them heal, offer legal advice and provide assistance with finding affordable housing. Well beyond the services and programs, counsellors work with each resident to help them build their self esteem, strengthen their self confidence and work toward a life free of violence.
Yellow Brick House also focuses on raising awareness about the issue of domestic violence in York Region communities and schools through the Public Education Program. The organization is committed to challenging and eradicating the beliefs, values, systems and structures that support and perpetuate sexism and violence against women.
When Anna left her home to seek safety at Yellow Brick House, she left everything behind: her home, her belongings, all she had gained from years of hard work… and her husband. This move was the most courageous move of her life.
“I realized I was in serious danger. Finally, I decided that leaving was the best thing to do. I was right and it is the best thing I have ever done,” said Anna.
She admits she was very scared when she first made the decision to leave, but felt an immediate sense of relief when she arrived at Yellow Brick House and realized how supported and welcome she was.
Since its inception, Yellow Brick House has responded to the growing need for emergency shelter for abused women and their children. In addition to emergency services, the organization has developed innovative programs to help respond to experiences of abuse and to work toward its eradication. The gravity and tragedy of violence against women and their children cannot be overstated.
Yellow Brick House provided emergency shelter and supportive counselling and services to nearly 4,000 women last year alone, an eight percent increase in services from the year before. Even so, 540 women and children had to be turned away due to lack of space.
With the exponential growth in York Region, an economy that is resulting in increased cases of domestic violence and too few shelter beds, Yellow Brick House is now pursuing funds to open a second emergency shelter in the south end of York Region where services for domestic violence victims do not exist.
The “Second Shelter, Second Chances” campaign aims to raise $4 million to build this much needed shelter in Markham. The need for this expansion is supported by statistics gathered on women abuse in York Region. As indicated in a Yellow Brick House capital needs assessment report in November 2007, York Region has all the high risk factors associated with woman abuse. These include rapid population growth, lack of affordable housing, lack of adequate transportation and a growing population of perse cultures with unique needs. According to municipal figures, the population has increased by 61 percent since 1991 and is projected to grow another 25 percent and reach 1.3 million by 2026.
“We cannot meet the need for a second emergency shelter without the support of York Region residents. The community has supported us throughout our history, and we need them to continue to do so,” said Lorris Herenda, Executive Director for Yellow Brick House. “We must respond to the needs of our community members, our neighbours, sisters, aunts, friends.”
Anna shares, “The counsellors at Yellow Brick House are kind and knowledgeable women. They helped me gain strength and believe in myself again. They are angels. I’m not sure what would have happened to me if I hadn't found Yellow Brick House, but I will never have to worry about that again.”
When Anna left the shelter, she felt confident of her ability to live a violence-free life. She was provided with all of the fundamental needs to start her new home and new life. Even though she was living independently, she had free access to supportive counselling. To this day, Anna is in regular contact with Yellow Brick House. Her parting words were, “Yellow Brick House gave me the tools to build a new life. I will never be able to thank them enough.”
The work of this amazing organization mends hearts, saves lives and empowers women like Anna to live free of violence and abuse. To learn more about Yellow Brick House and to find out how you can contribute to the organization’s Capital Campaign, visit their website at www.yellowbrickhouse.org.