Although family violence calls in Port Alberni have not increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS) is still offering a safe place for women and children who have been affected by domestic abuse.
In 2019, the Port Alberni RCMP received 389 calls for family violence throughout the year. According to the RCMP, the number of domestic violence calls in Port Alberni has not increased compared to this time last year, despite social distancing restrictions. But ACAWS executive director Ellen Frood says women in abusive relationships may feel trapped or isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic and might not feel safe reaching out for help.
“[Domestic violence] is not going away—in fact, it’s a little more hidden,” said Frood. “Many people are not coming forward because of social distancing.”
Although the ACAWS office and drop-in centre on Third Avenue is closed to the public, the Transition House run by ACAWS remains open 24/7 for women who are experiencing domestic abuse and their children.
“We’re observing all the protocols for distancing,” said Frood. “And we have a new ability for people to text us.”
Women who do not feel safe making a phone call can text 250-206-1011 to reach out to the Transition House. The number will be monitored constantly, said Frood.
“This [number] allows us to open and create a relationship,” said Frood. “This is a huge benefit.”
Frood says ACAWS has been impacted “enormously” by the pandemic.
“Part of our service is counselling and working with clients face-to-face,” she said. “We’ve had to quickly adapt to how we do our work. Maintaining contact of some kind is so important, especially in this time of pandemic.”
During isolation, ACAWS staff are attempting to reach out to clients through daily phone calls. The PEACE Program (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling and Empowerment) for children and youth is still active, with counsellors making regular check-ins and sending activity packages to homes. Counselling and support services are available by phone, texting, video chat or even over social media, but this becomes difficult when clients don’t have access to a computer.
“Many people come to our drop-in centre to use our computer,” said Frood. “All of a sudden, those doors are closed. We’re having to be innovative. In the midst of everything, we’re still learning and finding different ways to do things.”
ACAWS staff can always be reached by telephone. Call the main office at 250-724-7111 and leave a message, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will get back to you.