WOMEN, ABUSE AND YELLOW BRICK HOUSE
Friday Jan 14th, 2022
When I set out to support a charity a few years ago, I didn’t have to stop and think even for a moment which one it would be.
The answer was abundantly clear to me. I needed only to consider my own personal background and what I had been through, and subsequently arisen from. The reason the answer was so clear is that I am a survivor of domestic abuse. I speak from my own experience as during the course of my failed marriage, I had reached out to Yellow Brick House—a non-profit organization which helps abused women and children rebuild their lives.
Looking back at a very dark time of my life, I made myself a promise and a personal commitment to do my part in creating change and raising awareness for this critical subject of domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse and violence, does not discriminate by race, background, education or socioeconomic class.
Violence against women has been occurring for thousands of years. Women that come from various cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds often times find themselves in situations where culturally they are being oppressed by their deep seeded traditions of gender inequality. Family may ‘normalize’ the view that the man is the dominant figure and the wife is subservient and must always bend to the wishes of her husband and put up with abuse.
If she falters, she may be subjected to daily abuse and this is unfortunately considered acceptable.
An important point to make is that any woman can become the victim of abuse. The abuser uses intimidation, bullying tactics and often anger and violence in order to maintain power and control. A violent episode may result from something as menial as a look, a perceived untidy house or not following his exact instructions. Ultimately, it is caused by him perceiving as something not being to his satisfaction.
A startling statistic to consider is that one in every three women in Canada is a victim of domestic abuse.
A woman that has been subjected by the perpetrator, in most cases a spouse, to ongoing abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, financial or psychological, my have deteriorated self-esteem and finds herself in a very difficult cycle from which to break out of. Women often feel discouraged from leaving a dangerous situation—where to go and what to do. They need to be offered help in putting together a safety plan and they need to know that there is a safe place that they can turn to for help. In instances where the abuse is taking place in front of children, the stress of the situation has a huge detrimental impact on children.
The onset of Covid-19 has brought about an increase in domestic abuse and violence.
The pandemic has been a powerful force in keeping women from seeking help. According to National Research, there has been a 30% increase in domestic violence during the pandemic, yet the number of women seeking help has decreased due to restrictions.
By providing on overview of the integral role of the services of Yellow Brick House, I hope to shed light on a subject which is not given enough attention. My hope is to bring this subject to the forefront of the reader’s mind, raising awareness and changing the societal belief and the attitude that domestic violence is a private matter. Indeed, it is not, and it should be discussed. Domestic abuse affects everybody in our community. When a woman and her child are victims of abuse, they are hurting. And, the impact of this hurt is felt all across the board—from the school system, to the workplace, to the financial impact it has on society.
YELLOW BRICK HOUSE – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: MS. LORRIS HERENDA
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Lorris Herenda, Executive Director of Yellow Brick House, in which she gave me an in-depth view of the origination, background and programs Yellow Brick House has to offer. She also shared with me her own background and beliefs on the subject of domestic abuse.
Lorris’ career started as a counsellor where she assisted individuals and families through a variety of issues. She mentions that “ one thing I repeatedly found was that many women were living in relationships that were abusive in some form-- be it financial abuse, physical abuse, verbal, emotional. “
Lorris, having grown up in Eastern Europe, recalls that domestic violence, patriarchy and misogyny, were very common and accepted practises. She said “as a young person it really troubled me that women were placed in precarious situations just because they are women. Women were led to believe that they were less valuable than a male counterpart.”
This is something she has fought against all her life. In fact, Lorris said “ I believe in equality and that’s my philosophy of feminism—that we are all equal and we can all contribute equally to a family unit or society as a whole.”
As a mother of a 22-year old son, Lorris always felt that it was her duty to lay a foundation within him “ to have respect for all people and treat them equally regardless of gender identity”. In addition, she encouraged him to recognize his privileges as a man and recognize that women have to fight a lot harder for the same privileges. She believes equity is our human right.
Yellow Brick House was formed in 1978 by five individual community members who discovered that there was a desperate need for a safe place for abused women and children to go to. At that time, funding was sought from the provincial government to open the first Yellow Brick House shelter. Today, 43 years later there are roughly about 600 emergency shelters across Canada to continue addressing this need.”
Lorris joined Yellow Brick House in 2004 and at that time, this organization had only one emergency shelter. There was a stark realization that more women and children could not get a shelter bed than were actually being accommodated. Lorris mentions that this was the impetus that “really prompted me and the board to develop and implement a strategy to open our second shelter”.
This happened on Feb. 1st 2012.” On a positive note, there were more shelter beds and cribs added to accommodate more women and children. However, Lorris states “the challenge that exists today, is that we have not been receiving sustainable operating dollars for our second shelter from the provincial government and we have been advocating now for 9 full years.” Yellow Brick House gets funding from the local community and hence the need to bring attention to this worthy cause. Of course, ideally there is a need for a third and fourth shelter, however due to funding barriers and continued shortage of financial support, there remains a shortage of emergency shelter and shelter beds as the population in York Region expands.
With the two emergency shelters, Yellow Brick house offers 51 Beds and cribs.
“Every single one of our beds and cribs is full every single night and pre pandemic we were able to accommodate 400 women and children a year in our two shelters but about 800 women and children could not get a shelter bed in York region,” explains Lorris.
All front line staff have post secondary education in either Social Work or Psychology and many have Masters in Counselling and/or Social Work. Lorris points out that “another requirement that we have at Yellow Brick House is that every single one of our frontline counsellors speaks at least one other language.”
Yellow Brick House is able to provide services in almost 40 languages. Having counsellors that can speak the same language as an abused woman or child really breaks down the barriers and allows for better understanding between the survivor and the counsellor. Yellow Brick House continually invests in training for the staff : mental health CPR, first aid CPR, Assist Suicide prevention, crisis prevention intervention (CPI) to name a few.
Yellow Brick House currently operates 2 emergency shelters around the clock and 24/7 crisis support line.
The same services that are offered to women and children in the shelters are also offered to families not staying in the shelters. These community counselling and supportive services include individual counselling and group support for both women and children, family court support services for those going through the legal system, immigration support, housing and employment support, and “many wrap-around services—"whatever women and children need, we try to provide,” says Lorris.
The impact that Yellow Brick House has on helping abused women and children, is huge. Lorris states that “ the average number of abused women and children helped in a year—pre-pandemic has been approximately 6200 through all our programs.”
But during the pandemic, Lorris states that the numbers are down to just over 4000 women and children. The lockdown during the pandemic , when women were isolating with their abusers prevented them from being able to reach out for assistance. Lorris said “as the restrictions are being lifted, we are seeing a surge in crisis calls and women seeking shelter and supportive services”.
Lorris explains that women and children “usually come to us with nothing except the clothes on their back so it is very important for people to understand that the women and children are leaving their whole lives behind and it takes a lot of courage, which we witness on a daily basis… It is the most humbling thing to see.” Upon arrival, the families are given basic necessities (toiletries, clothing, food), shelter, safety and counselling support.
The services of Yellow Brick House are not limited to women and children from any specific geographical area. According to Lorris, “women come to us from all over the place—we are geographically not restrictive. Their level of danger is accessed by the police and decision to relocate is often based on that.”
CHILDREN FROM HOUSEHOLDS OF ABUSE
Domestic violence has a devastating negative impact on children that are living in this environment. Lorris said “60% of children living in violent homes, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, may have behavioural problems, and physical problems.”
Yellow Brick House provides individual counselling to children to help them with their coping skills and to help them understand the change in the family structure due to abuse and violence. The counselling sessions offered one-on-one or in group setting are aimed at helping children recover from post traumatic stress.
JOURNEY TO LEADING VIOLENCE FREE LIVES
All efforts are made to assist the women to take that first step towards a violence free lives.
Albeit difficult, through counselling and support, the goal is for the women and children to be given a safe environment in which they can begin to recover from their experiences and to be able to envision a different future. The abused women generally stay in the shelter from 2-3 months. The step after the shelter is finding housing which can be a challenge depending on size of her family “The larger the family, the harder it is for women to find housing. But Yellow Brick House staff help assist the women and children through this journey.”
Canada is a microcosm of world-wide cultures and backgrounds where its population is rich in diversity.
Women from all across the globe, and from all different backgrounds, cultures and religion are prone to being a target for abuse within a relationship-- be it financial, emotional, physical or psychological. The existence of domestic violence and abuse among immigrant women is prevalent and has only grown since the beginning of the pandemic. The grim reality is that women from all walks of life, may be suffering in silence and too scared to break out of the cycle of abuse.
Yellow Brick House has developed programs to help educate the community about the negative effects of domestic violence and its long term effects on women and children. Women that are able to break away from the abuse they are subjected to from their partners, need protection and need to have some way of being able to rebuild their lives. Yellow Brick House provides them with this opportunity. The programs are meant to empower women and give them the opportunity to lead a full life without the violence, without abuse, without torture and give them the opportunity to teach their children that abuse will not be tolerated.
It is my hope to draw attention to this important subject in order to create and bring about change. To quote Lorris, “the more footprints we can leave and stomp the ground for our future generations to change the statistic, then that’s what we need to do.”
LEILA KHAN TEAM
My objective in writing about Yellow Brick House is to ask for your help and support in my plight to raise funds for them. How can you be a part of this? For every referral I get in my real estate business, I pledge to donate a portion of the proceeds of sale or purchase to Yellow Brick House to help them continue to support abused women and children.
I am on a plight to raise $15,000.00 for this non-profit organization.
I invite you to help me with this worthy cause.