The transition house operated by the Tamitik Status of Women continues to be nearly fully occupied as women and children flee domestic violence, reports a Tamitik official.
Kristen Guite said a consistent occupancy rate of 98 per cent for the transition house’s eight beds highlights the need to expand its capacity.
The issue of domestic violence rose to prominence earlier this year when RCMP statistics showed a jump in the number of assaults, which would have included incidents of domestic violence, compared to the same period in 2016.
Although subsequent statistics show the number of assaults registered since then has not increased at the rate of earlier this year, incidents of domestic violence have not tapered off, said Guite.
“Not all domestic violence or abuse is reported,” she added of official statistics. “We continue to be very busy. We’re at about capacity.”
Particularly troubling are cases of extreme violence which Guite described as ‘attempted murders’ in the October 10 minutes of the Kitimat Interagency Committee, a broad-based group of local governments, local social services agencies and provincial agencies.
The committee meets monthly to discuss areas of general and specific community interest, including domestic violence.
“‘Attempted murders’ may not fit the RCMP definition and may not be expressed in the legal sense and may not have been the intent of the perpetrator, but the severity of the violence is that to the [affected] person,” said Guite.
While the official rate of domestic violence has not kept pace with the spike reported on by the Sentinel earlier this year, that doesn’t mean the local RCMP detachment is not active at several levels.
It’s part of the interagency committee and participates in assessing what action might be needed, and in tracking domestic violence through another local group called the Interagency Case Assessment Team (ICAT) which is made up of local and provincial social services agencies.
At its last reporting, ICAT had three active files, said Sergeant Graham Morgan, the officer commanding of the Kitimat RCMP detachment.
“Some serious cases are being managed by our ICAT team,” he said.
When it comes to actions taken by the detachment’s officers, official RCMP policy relating to domestic violence requires, upon first contact, to assess 19 risk factors.
In terms of safety planning, officers are required to list strategies and means which include referrals for services for victims, or in cases where a victim has to leave a home, transportation to a transition house or other safe location.
Depending upon what officers may encounter, a person may be removed from a residence for a cooling off period, Morgan said.
That would be the case where there is not what Morgan described as a primary aggressor, but a situation of anger in which a piece of furniture or other may be smashed.
Tamitik’s plan to increase the number of beds at its transition house from the current eight is in two stages, first to 12 and then to 14.
The increase to 12 beds, financed by a successful grant application to the provincial government’s BC Housing agency which already supports the transition house, would coincide with the go ahead of any of the large industrial projects now under consideration in the Kitimat area.
Those four additional beds would be added at the current transition house and the number then increase to 14 at a new structure being planned by Tamitik to gather all of its programs under one roof.
“We know that when our local economy surges with increased population that we do not currently have the capacity to meet the need in our community, particularly as we are at capacity for many months during any given year,” said Guite.
“In part, when the economy is flourishing, there is a lack of rental units and an increase in rental rates, making it more difficult for women leaving an unsafe environment to do it on their own.”
Tamitik executive director Linda Slanina did note that adding beds at the current transition house location would require an amendment to the District of Kitimat’s residential bylaws.
“The house was originally funded for 10 beds [in 1996] but due to [District] bylaws and zoning for residential properties, was reduced to 8 beds,” said Slanina as eight beds is the maximum number of non-blood relations that can live on the same residential property.