Safe home a way out

It's taken years, but the shelter the late Debbie Neault dreamed of is about to open its doors in Invermere.

The house is bright and spacious, with plenty of windows. There’s art on the walls, plants in the corners and a soothing sage green colour scheme in the common room. Its main level features three bedrooms, a kitchen and a children’s play area.

And by the end of the week, it should be officially open to women looking for a place to stay as they make their way out of abusive situations.

While women dealing with domestic violence in the Columbia Valley have had other safe places to stay, Rachel King — who co-runs the Family Resource Centre’s Women’s Information and Safe Homes Program, which oversees the house — says this is the first program of its kind in the area.

“We’ve had safe homes, which are private homes that people open up to having women and their children come and stay,” she explains. “But this is the first safe house that we’ve had. It’s not a private home.”

Instead, the house can hold up to four women and their children at a time. Single women may also access the program. King says the program will offer them housing for about 30 days, while Resource Centre staff help them get ready to move into places of their own, in or out of the valley.

“For a gal that decides she’s leaving and needs some time to collect herself, it starts with the basics: personal items, food, clothing, shelter. Then we help her access social services, do a job search,” says King.

“It’s really directed by her, what she needs. She knows her situation, she knows what’s happening in her life, what she needs. So we try and honour what she wants and support her in that way, and not make decisions for her or say, ‘oh, no, he’s bad, you should leave him.’ It’s not for us to say.”

The safe house was the brainchild of Debbie Neault, who created the Columbia Valley Family Violence Prevention Society 17 years ago. Neault passed away in 2010, and when her group realized it didn’t have the capacity to manage a facility on its own, it donated more than $70,000 it had raised to the Family Resource Centre. Donations from the community, and businesses who let the centre buy furnishings at cost, helped bring it forward from there.

With a soothing decor in warm, calming tones, the house’s rooms were designed to be “a little bit of a refuge,” King says.

“It’s a safe place to be, so a woman can leave, because a lot of the time it’s with absolutely no money and maybe the clothes on her back. It’s just a safe place to be. To regroup and get on with her life.”

Women can access the home (whose address is being withheld for safety and privacy reasons) through the centre, or by referrals from the RCMP, doctors, and other community groups and programs. It’s open to women from Canal Flats to Spillimacheen.