Within the first weeks of the pandemic’s social distancing restrictions and strong directives to stay home, discussion around domestic violence gained unprecedented coverage in the news.

Increased time in close quarters for families, the loss of employment and income, the pressure of homeschooling children, the lack of sport and social outlets for men to decompress and the inability for women to leave the house for work or other reasons, have created a potentially explosive cocktail.

While numbers in the Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society transition house have remained steady, the Revelstoke RCMP have noted an increase in calls nonetheless. “The Revelstoke RCMP are experiencing an increase in calls regarding the checking for the well-being of community members, as well as some domestic and neighbour disputes,” according to Staff Sergeant Kurt Grabinsky.  For him, calls from community members have helped facilitate the RCMP’s work in assisting those in need and connecting them to the proper help. “The RCMP have appreciated the actions of our community members to assist others,” he said via email.  “Revelstoke has a great social network, which minimizes risk to those who could experience long-term difficulty.”

This “checking in” by community members is an important foundation to building community and individual resilience. Following the recent mass shooting in Nova Soctia, where 22 people were killed mostly at random, it was reported that the perpetrator had assaulted his girlfriend prior to the shootings. Ontario-based psychologist Peter Jaffe, who has studied violence against women and children for 40 years discussed the relationship between violence on society and domestic violence in an interview with CTV news.

He noted that in many cases law enforcement or community members are already aware of domestic abuse by the perpetrator before broader acts of violence are committed. “When women are in danger in our community, all men, women and children are in danger,” he said. This means, as a community, we play a role in supporting each other.

Building resilience for Revelstoke individuals and our community

As a community, we are only as strong as our most vulnerable members. The more we know our neighbours and check in with them, the stronger the community ties, and ultimately the more resilient a community.

So far throughout the pandemic, Revelstoke’s resilience and capacity to look out for each other has revealed itself with citizens and organizations mobilizing to help those most in need obtain basics like food, and prescriptions (read the case study on Revelstoke by the Tamarack Institute). But now that the initial shock has passed and society looks for a return to normal, the deeper layers of impact from the pandemic have started to emerge.

Recognizing the impending mental health crisis, the Canadian Federal Government is pouring $240 million dollars into mental health and primary care. The Province of British Columbia is also providing a variety of mental health resources to help people through their Bounce Back program, virtual counselling and through peer support and virtual mentoring program.

Locally, the Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society has received special funding from the Columbia Basin Trust to deepen its social response to COVID.  The shelter already has peer support programs in place, that are meant to support at-risk individuals in the community, and offer important social and emotional support to vulnerable men, and women in this community. The programs, which offer one on one check ins as well as peer support through group activities, typically offer therapeutic activities and the opportunity for participants to connect with each other, engage in meaningful conversations, and learn tools and coping skills to better manage stress and anxiety. Naturally, programs have also had to shift their offerings to the online sphere, and have added to their programs in a response to the increased demand.

According to Lynn Loeppky, executive director for the Revelstoke Women’s Shelter, the groups are more important now than ever, as a way of keeping otherwise isolated individuals connected to each other and to community resources. “The programs provide men and women with tools to manage stress and anxiety, which can also help reduce stressors that may be factors in domestic violence,” she said.

“Outreach programs like the ones offered by the Women’s Shelter, offer community, connection, and the tools to help build resilience among our community’s most vulnerable,” she continued.

According to psychotherapist, author and researcher Dr. Gabor Mate, communities are pivotal in helping individuals heal and build resilience. While his work is focused mainly on addiction, we know that a strong link exists between substance abuse, poor mental health, and violence.  According to Mate, healing from addiction is less of an individual feat, and more a function of community. As such, we, as an entire community play a role in the well-being of our most vulnerable and at-risk. Programs such as the Revelstoke Women’s Shelters Moving Forward and Moving Mountains help build a deeper sense of community and connection for program participants.

One program client says she the program brings her a feeling of community. “I really appreciate the moving forward program in Revelstoke. It’s great to have an opportunity to meet people, learn new things and be part of a community. This program makes me feel like I am not alone and have a family in town.” Another one echoes those sentiments “The Moving Forward group is a great social gathering and is such a nice way to meet other women. I do not know what I would do without this program,” she says.

Programs are free and open to anyone who feels they could benefit from the support, especially considering the high demand for mental health services at the moment. While the shelter’s Moving Forward program has traditionally been reserved for former clients, the focus on its current programs is also prevention – for both the women and men’s programs.

If you are experiencing or at risk of experiencing violence, we encourage you to call the women’s shelter’s crisis line: 250 814 1111. For those feeling isolated and in need of mental and emotional support, please contact the program coordinators:

Moving Forward Women’s Outreach: Anneliese Neweduk 250 814 8387 or movingforward@telus.net

Moving Mountains Men’s Outreach: Taha Attiah 250 837 1572 or movingmountains@telus.net

Lisa Cyr is the Communications Coordinator for the Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society, as well as Coordinator for the Revelstoke Community Response Network.