‘Not just a place to crash’: Shelter, affordable housing and care for those seeking refuge

In northern Alberta, Hope Haven Women’s Shelter lightens the load for survivors of domestic violence

Leaving an abusive situation can be difficult. One of the immediate barriers is finding an appropriate place to stay.

That’s a primary target for Hope Haven Women's Shelter, which offers transition and a safe space for women in Lac La Biche and the surrounding region in northern Alberta.

“We provide emergency accommodation for women in need, as well as subsidized housing and long-term residences to those in transition,” says Melissa Green, executive director for Hope Haven.

Conceptually, Hope Haven has 21 emergency beds available for 21 days—but Green says the shelter is as lenient as possible with client stays.

“We’re not just a place to crash before women move on. We are actively involved with helping clients and creating a personal plan to assist them through this period,” says Green.

Eighty-eight per cent of the shelter’s clients identify as First Nation, according to Green. Hope Haven responded to these needs by implementing a community outreach team for nearby reserves. Its outreach team visits those communities twice a week, and is able to assist women who are unable to come all the way to the shelter.

“Community outreach has been so successful in that we have been able to help a lot more clients that would not otherwise be able to come into the shelter,” says Green. “We’ve found that one of the greatest barriers for our clients who live in Lac La Biche’s surrounding Indigenous communities, and seek refuge, is transportation—so having our people out there has been amazing.”

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Enbridge is committed to supporting and strengthening the communities near our pipelines and facilities. In 2018, we donated $5,000 to Hope Haven Women’s Shelter to upgrade necessary maintenance items—like a new washer-and-dryer unit, and curbs for the parking lot.

This coming spring, Enbridge employees will return to Hope Haven for a day of volunteering. Last year saw Enbridge employees, Hope Haven staff and clients working together to paint walls and put together furniture for the shelter.

While upgraded maintenance items will have clear benefits to the overall operation of Hope Haven, items like a fresh coat of paint in a room can be equally beneficial for a client.

“No one wants to come here, per se, so we want Hope Haven to feel like their home and feel welcoming as soon as they arrive,” says Green.

In the future, Hope Haven aims to enhance its relatively new long-term housing program, called Cassie’s Place, to maximize its effectiveness. And in addition to that much-needed shelter, Green hopes to build Hope Haven’s capacity for addressing mental health and addiction.

“It’s not a problem with a simple solution, but it’s one we’re seeing more and more of at the shelter,” she says. “I get so inspired watching the women become stronger and believe more in themselves while they are here. I know they can do anything.”