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Housing

YWCA ramps up plan to give women safe space in small communities


The NWT’s YWCA says it is making progress on a pilot project that provides staff to address violence against women in some of the Northwest Territories’ smaller communities.

The Safe Homes pilot is designed to provide options for women who need a safe place to go in three smaller communities – one in each of the NWT’s Dehcho, Sahtu, and Tłı̨chǫ regions.

Locations will be selected based on “community readiness,” the YWCA NWT says, which includes community willingness to accommodate the program, capacity to run it, and RCMP availability to respond when required.

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“The goal of this overall is to increase women’s safety in smaller communities by testing different solutions,” said YWCA NWT executive director Hawa Dumbuya-Sesay.

“In the NWT right now, we have five shelters. Leaving one’s community is not always an option for women.

“If a woman is choosing to stay in the community because they have their family there and because they want their kids to stay and continue school there, then it could be great to have this option.”  

The project received $1 million in federal funding in March 2020 – days before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, hampering the organization’s ability to travel into small communities and prepare a pilot.

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Now, the YWCA NWT is hiring a project liaison officer to begin a “participatory approach” where communities are asked how best a program can be developed.

Dumbuya-Sesay says the program seeks to create a space that will also serve women from other nearby communities in each region if needed.

“What we’re trying to do if increase access,” she said. “It’s so important for our program to be able to create resources in smaller communities so they know they have an option if a woman is feeling unsafe.

“Sometimes women do need to leave, because [remaining] in the community is sometimes not ideal if the partner is really violent and looking for the person.”

Dumbuya-Sesay said the pilot won’t necessarily involve opening a fully equipped shelter – at least not at first – but will instead helps women to leave harmful situations.

That could mean a safe home in a hotel room, or a space at the local health centre, or a rented apartment unit, Dumbuya-Sesay said.

“When people need to go there for emergency reasons, they would be able to access it while a coordinator working there can help them with a long-term plan,” she said.

Hope for long-term funding

Eventually, a more permanent solution may involve building a shelter – or providing longer-term tools for a community in case funding runs out.

Dumbuya-Sesay, describing “a lot of gaps that need to be filled” in the NWT’s smaller communities, said she hopes the pilot results in maintaining safe homes in the pilot communities and expanding to other locations.

“We’re hoping that from the lessons learned and some of the successes, we can be able to advocate and apply for more funding,” she said of the program’s long-term prospects.

Dumbuya-Sesay points to a call for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls that requests government support for the establishment and long-term funding of shelters and safe spaces for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

A first step, she said, is having open conversations with women in smaller communities.

“When you look at the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, a lot of times women go missing and sometimes they find themselves in unsafe situations that lead to all of these issues,” she said.

“If they are feeling like they need support to get out of a unhealthy relationship, they should know that those supports are there.”

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