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Alternatives for Women receive $227K to complete Vi’s House dream

 

A Friday’s $227,000 funding announcement, from left, were: Phil St-Jean (Picton councillor), John Hirsch (South Marysburgh councillor and acting mayor), Jill Dunlop (Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues), Caroline Granger (Board Chair AFW), Todd Smith (Bay of Quinte MPP and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services) and Leah Morgan (executive director AFW).

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Alternatives for Women received a huge financial boost Friday when Todd Smith, MPP, Bay of Quinte and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services announced $227,000 in provincial funding for the County women’s shelter, and specifically to help with the final phase of construction at Vi’s House.

Todd Smith, Bay of Quinte MPP, makes the $227,000 funding announcement for Alternatives for Women.

“This is a great place, much-needed, long overdue in the community,” said Smith.

“For over 30 years, Alternatives for Women has worked to reduce the need for its services and hopes to make them redundant,” said Smith, “that clearly hasn’t happened.”

Domestic abuse and violence continues to affect Bay of Quinte and Prince Edward County, and the women and families that live here, he said.

Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, said the project is one of 380 across Ontario at community agencies which deliver specialized care.

“Community organizations in rural areas play a particularly key role in strengthening our communities by delivering essential services,” said Dunlop, who noted that as part of the Partner Facility Renewal program, $1.7 million was being invested to help rural organizations who support woman who are victims of violence.

Over the last few years, Alternatives for Women has faced financial challenges and other woes, slowing efforts to undertake renovations to the older property it purchased. An unexpected funding shortfall last summer led the organization to launch a GoFundMe account with an ambitious goal of $50,000.

Numerous community fundraising efforts have made a significant difference to help get the project off the ground with donations large and small, making it a community effort for a community project.

One such effort was by the Ladies on the Rocks from Wellington on the Lake who posed in their birthday suits for a 2020 calendar – that effort raised $24,000.

Vi’s House as it is fondly known (originally Vi’s Place) is now the permanent home to Alternatives for Women, where most of the extensive renovations have been completed.

The Picton property was home to Violet Agnes Courtney up until her death in October 2017 at age 85. The family decided to sell it to Alternatives for Women at below market value.

“Violet Courtney was always known for supporting women in the community, opening her doors, supporting people in need, so her family really wanted to honour her legacy by selling it to us so we can continue that work,” said Leah Morgan, executive director with Alternatives for Women.

Caroline Granger, Alternatives for Women board chair, said she was thrilled with the funding announcement.

“This project is something I have wanted for probably about 20 years, so you are putting the icing and a bow on the dream I have long held for having expended services, and the ability to do the best job we can for the women and their children in our community,” said Granger.

“This investment in helping women through the process of getting safe quickly and safely is actually a savings for the province and for Canada generally,” Granger said. “Our ability to intervene effectively, not only changes the family’s lives, but it costs our system much less.”

South Marysburgh councillor John Hirsch represented PEC mayor Steve Ferguson at the Alternatives for Women funding announcement.

South Marysburgh councillor John Hirsch, represented Prince Edward County mayor Steve Ferguson who was unable to attend due to an emergency COVID-19 meeting.

Hirsch thanked both ministers for the provincial initiative on what he described as a fantastic project.

“This building, with such a cheery disposition to it, will be so important to the psychology as well as the actual physical shelter for those women who end up having to use it,” Hirsch said.

Alternatives for Women, a not-for-profit organization offering confidential help for abused women in Prince Edward County is now also able to provide accommodations in the form of four transitional housing units and an apartment.

Perhaps most significantly, it houses the first emergency shelter bed of its kind in the charity’s history, and in Prince Edward County.

Morgan said it had been a long project.

“We would not be able to finish the final phase without the help of the province,” Morgan said. “This funding is absolutely crucial to the final phase of construction; it’s going to improve functionality of the space and allow us to implement the security measures needed for the high-risk women we serve.”

Morgan said they will be able to expand their programming, share counselling space with community partners, as well as providing peace of mind to the women living in the home, as well as to the staff.

She said they want the women who come through Vi’s House to not just survive, but to thrive.

“Thanks to this grant, we will be able to provide housing to approximately an additional 20 women a year thanks to this project,” said Morgan.

Smith also noted that Minister Dunlop made a historic investment one week ago to fight human trafficking, in the sum of over $300 million for the program.

A tour of the property ensued were Morgan showed off one of the smaller units suitable for a single woman, together with three other units, all fully-furnished.

“They have everything here they need to cook meals, however, we will have communal dinners as much as possible, we are hoping at least once a week.”

All of the small appliances in the units were donated through a registry set up at Wellington Home Hardware.

“That was awesome, the community really came together and purchased all the small appliances we needed at cost,” said Morgan.

“The furnishings in the rooms (totalling $15,000) were donated as well, by St. Mary Magdalene Church.”

“We are very blessed with our community,” added Granger.

The work that still remains to be done on the property includes decking, the foundation for the decking, siding and other outdoor work.

Granger noted the total cost of the construction is going to come in at well over $600,000 for the entire project, which is in addition to the purchase price of the property.

“We still have about $100,000 worth of construction and security to be finished, so this grant makes it possible to complete this,” Morgan said, noting how they had to deplete their reserves to get the project up and running.

“We will be able to replenish that, which is really important, and cover some other additional costs that we were not expecting,” she said.

Granger noted it is the biggest project Alternatives for Women has ever done in its 30-year history.

“But it does almost double the capacity for transitional housing in the community at a time when we know both the issue of violence and the issue of affordable housing is hitting almost crisis points,” said Granger.

“Our ability to be able to deliver this project is, I think, very important for Prince Edward County.”

Smith noted that, “More than 250 women, and in some cases their children, who turn to Alternatives for Women for services annually; some for solely counselling and support; about 20 a year find safe shelter as they transition to better situations.”

He noted that almost twice that many refuse to go to emergency shelters, because it means leaving their community, loved ones and support networks, and sometimes their jobs.

On average, every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. Half of all women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

Alternatives for Women offer a crisis line, transportation, transitional help, housing in the community and counselling. They can be reached at alternativesforwomen.org or by calling 613-476-4435. Their crisis line is 613-476-2787.

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