Stand up and speak out: Ontario shelter freeing women from abuse and violence

Hamilton Interval House urges the community to Be More Than a Bystander

We’ve all heard the phrase “giving 110 percent,” but how about when it comes to giving back to the community?

Quite literally, Hamilton Interval House in southern Ontario gave 110 per cent last year by operating over capacity for women fleeing domestic abuse. In 2017 and ’18, the emergency shelter has operated at an average of 111 per cent, with two months reaching 130 per cent.

“It’s a tough decision for a woman to make,” says Nancy Smith, executive director at Hamilton Interval House. “Fleeing abuse can create a lot of uncertainty, especially so if there are children involved. And we must be there.”

Hamilton Interval House has risen to the occasion for over 30 years.

The 22-bed shelter provides more than a roof over a woman’s head. Clients are connected to other community resources where appropriate, including an in-house legal advocacy program.

Mentorship has been a focus for the organization since 2013, which led to the inclusion of its Be More Than a Bystander program two years ago.

MentorAction includes male ambassadors who align with Interval House of Hamilton’s values. The Be More Than a Bystander program partners with elite sports teams and sports celebrities who speak up about the impact of abuse on women and girls.

Most recently, the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats—both players and cheerleaders—signed on to Be More Than a Bystander, joining McMaster University athletics teams and the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

Smith describes the response to the program as “phenomenal.”

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“We know sports celebrities are well-received by our community members and the general public,” says Smith. “After we determine a good fit and vetting, these athletes join us on school presentations, radio announcements and TV spots to help get our message out.”

Presentations from the Be More Than a Bystander program have been aired on TSN Sports, and a six-part series is also in the works with a local Hamilton TV station.

Research points to prevention as the most effective way to reduce domestic violence rates. But for Hamilton Interval House to even maintain efforts for prevention, sustainable funding is an ongoing effort. Hamilton Interval House relies on fundraising events, government grants, corporate sponsors, and personal donations.

Enbridge believes in strengthening the social fabric of the communities where we operate. Recently, Enbridge donated $5,000 for a furnace in need of replacement at Hamilton Interval House. In previous years, Enbridge has supported the organization by funding the upkeep of shelter bed rooms.

Although it is difficult to track success stories—Hamilton Interval House is not able to keep in touch with former clients following their stay, due to safety—Smith keeps a different definition of success in mind.

“If a woman knows we are here for her, that to me is a success,” says Smith.

“She may make a number of different choices—but for her to know we are here, and that we are an option with services available to her, is what keeps me going every day.”