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Alternatives for Women unveils plans for Vi’s Place – for women at risk

Alternatives for Women board members (from left) Dee Hazell, Caroline Granger (chair), Emily Cowan and Rahno Boutilier (executive director) look over plans for renovation of the newly-acquired Bridge Street property to be named Vi’s Place.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Prince Edward County’s Alternatives for Women marked International Women’s Day with an unveiling of plans, drawings and photographs for a new emergency shelter.

Plan showing out side of Vi’s Place.

The home on Bridge Street in Picton was recently purchased by Alternatives for Women. It was home to Violet Agnes Courtney up until her death in October 2017 at age 85 – and will be known as ‘Vi’s Place’.

Rahno Boutilier, executive director, said women in Prince Edward County are at greater risk of homelessness due to domestic violence.

“In an effort to fill that gap, we have purchased a property and reorganized some of our finances and capital,” she said.

“We were really blessed to meet the Courtney family and it was their mom’s home, so they probably could have sold it a number of times, but they held out for us because they thought their mother would appreciate the legacy of using it for women to help women,” said Boutilier.

Their mother was very generous in the community she said.

“She was always taking in young people and those kinds of things. She had a large family herself and they thought this would be a wonderful fit and thought she would be pleased. We were thankful they held onto that property until we could get it together. It is a lovely story.”

The project was made possible by the Parrott Foundation which donated $250,000, and Alternatives also received $97,000 from local housing investment funding.

It is hoped renovations to the property, which are about a third complete, will be finished in July, with a projected move in date slated for month end.

The property, said Boutilier, will increase the number of transitional units available in Prince Edward County and will include three one-bedroom single units as well as an emergency space. There will also be a one-bedroom rent-geared-to-income apartment in the basement that can be used for long term.

“Last year at this time, it was kind of a dream and we were in the very first stages of it, and this year, we are able to report that we are renovating and building and there is a lot of activity going on over there, said Boutilier.

And though the non-profit organization is excited, Boutilier admits the process has been a huge learning curve.

“I think in our naivety, we thought we could just buy a house and renovate it like we were moving in, but we have all these checks and balances that we need to answer to: safety, ministry, fire department and there are all kinds of things we need to think about,” she said. “People have been very helpful and generous with their time and enlightening us and helping us to move that along.”

Caroline Granger, chair with Alternatives for Women, said it will be the first emergency shelter room Prince Edward County has ever had.

“We have between 18 and 20 women a year that will not go to shelters, so they won’t get safe and if they leave the County, they can’t get back.”

“It came to us like a gift as it was the family who approached us and we were able to come up with the money,” she said. “This is a huge project for a little tiny agency like us.”

“This is my 20th year on the board and I have been waiting 20 years for this,” said Granger. “It’s going to be an amazing project.”

Alternatives assists about 250 women a year.

“It [domestic violence] goes on everywhere, it is the one violent crime that doesn’t know boundaries, and it is the only violent crime in Canada that hasn’t gone down in the last decade,” said Granger.

And while she states it’s the one crime everyone wants to ignore, work together is a solution.

“Some people don’t know to ask for help; don’t know what’s normal or what’s not normal. “We also have to ensure we don’t make it a shameful thing that the victims are afraid to talk about it because that’s another barrier. Shame should not be in there.”

Topping the wait list are single women who do not have children said Boutilier.

“Those women are the most precariously housed and they have the most difficulty leaving their abusive situations and finding safe affordable housing in Prince Edward County.”

“We felt that when we were looking at purchasing a building, we looked for over two years in order to find one that we could afford and renovate and that met our needs.”

Alternatives for Women assists women from age 16 onward and Boutilier notes a the agency is starting to see senior citizens along with younger women with children.

Alternatives provides free and confidential services to abused women in Prince Edward County, which includes a 24-hour crisis line, group and individual counselling, emergency transportation, and advocacy and support. It currently administers a second-stage housing program with a six-plex apartment with four two-bedroom and two one-bedroom units for women who are in need of safe housing.

“It provides them with a little extra time, a little extra support when they are trying to build lives free of domestic violence,” said Boutilier. Women can stay with them for up to one year.

About two dozen people came to the International Women’s Day luncheon hosted by Alternatives for Women.

Friday’s International Women’s Day informal luncheon and discussion event was held at St. Mary Magdalene Church parish hall as an opportunity to continue the discussion surrounding women’s issues and to share ideas. The global theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) this year is #BalanceForBetter – Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.

“Balance is not a women’s issue, it is a business issue,” said Boutilier – including a gender-based boardroom, government, media coverage, balance of employees and wealth.

“As we look and forecast into the future, we see so many cuts in Ontario to women’s programs. The provincial roundtable, income, basic income pilot programs and those kinds of things. It really affects a lot of women we work with who live below the poverty line. Work here is seasonal and financial strain is a leading cause of domestic violence, so if you can ease those things, why wouldn’t you?”

After sharing a light chili lunch, the group of about two dozen women and one male spent some time writing down thoughts to the posed question, ‘What does the theme #BalanceForBetter mean to you?’

Kelly Knott, a violence against women counsellor, speaks to the group.

“How do you think we could better what we have?” asked Kelly Knott, a violence against women counsellor with Alternatives for Women.

Responses noted the gamut from equal pay for equal work to harassment and bullying, retirement and pensions, education to prevent teenage pregnancy and affordable child care.

One expressed concern with “the stigma of the burden of expectations around women’s bodies and what we wear.”

Another noted how depressing it was to see how often equal pay comes up in the conversation. One participant was looking for a workplace free of harassment. Another seeks a world where women don’t have to take self-defence classes for protection. “We are not looking at the root of the cause and why all of these things don’t work,” she said.

Balance is something that is learned said one participant.

“One of the nice things about learning something is that it can be unlearned. It may take more time,” she said.

#BalanceForBetter is working toward trying to help those most vulnerable people in our community, said Boutilier. “To have the opportunity to live life free of violence and make a plan for what they want to do with their lives for the future because we know for many reasons they stay (in domestic violence situations) due to financial strain. They don’t leave because they can’t afford the rent, or they may not have a full-time job.”

Boutilier stated the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation recently noted the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom was $840.

“That’s not true in Prince Edward County, that information is outdated; it’s $1,200 to $1,400 and they can’t afford that.”

Boutilier called for collective action and shared responsibility to drive a gender-balanced world.

“This is why it is so important for people to get together, to share the message, to take action and to speak out,” she said. “It takes a whole community to raise a child, and if we want them to be free of violence, we have to start early and continue on.”

Tax-deductible financial donations are gratefully accepted at alternativesforwomen.org. In-kind donations of clothing, toiletries and furniture are also welcome.

The Alternatives for Women 24-hour crisis line number is 613-476-2787.

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  1. Christine Renaud says:

    Thanks for this coverage and I’m so happy to see this coming together for such a necessary service for women and families in our community! Kudos to all involved, especially the staff of Alternatives for Women.

  2. Colleen Hill says:

    So happy that Vi Courtney will be remembered in this special way. Kudos to her family. What a badly-needed ‘first’ for the County. Congratulations to Alternatives for Women in this undertaking.

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