By Claudia Latino

A husband and wife are living the ultimate family dream. They fell in love, got married, and eventually had a son, until this dream turned into a nightmare. From YWCA Durham’s Success Stories, found on their website, a woman named Tanya (her last name disclosed for privacy) was starting to realize her relationship with her husband was changing. When their son turned 9, she knew she had to escape. “His abuse left no bruises or broken bones. No one else could see or understand what I was going through,” said Tanya. What was going to happen to them? What would her husband say? What would he do? Where were they going to stay? If she and her son left, would their lives change for the better? So many unanswered questions, but she felt the only way to keep her and her son safe was to leave. 

“How could I support us?” she said. “Wouldn’t it be easier to stay? The downside of staying in this abusive relationship finally outweighed the obstacles of leaving.” The first shelter she went to was full, but she was taken in by YWCA Durham. According to the organization, after three months living at the YWCA, her life changed for the better. YWCA Durham was a place Tanya and her son could call home. “I’m a different person,” said Tanya. “I’ve matured. It turns out I’m stronger than I thought. I have overcome the tragedies. I’m a survivor.” Her abuse story through YWCA Durham was a success. 

YWCA Durham, which is now celebrating its 75th anniversary, is home to many women who are in dangerous situations like this. Every year, approximately 3,300 women and children in Canada need to leave their homes to escape domestic violence and abuse, according to the organization. The Adelaide House on 33 McGrigor St., in Oshawa, Ont., is just one of the shelters that YWCA Durham provides for women of any age and their children (under 18) who need a safe place to stay. Additionally, they offer a 40-unit apartment building where women can reside and develop life and job skills, a goal toward independent living within 24 months. 

YWCA Durham gives women opportunities to participate in recreational programming such as volleyball tournaments and karate. Through this, women who are clients of the YWCA can also benefit from the organization’s ‘Crisis Care Outreach’ and ‘APPLE’ community programs – The Crisis Care program is a service to assist women, whether that is counselling, safety planning, or legal support, while the APPLE program offers abused women long-term support of these services. 

Debra Mattson, communications and fund development manager of YWCA Durham says it is unfortunate these situations exist, but they are fortunate to provide services for those who need it.

“It’s a transitional type of programming in the idea that the woman [who] has left her abuser is trying to make a plan and we are here to try and re-plan her life,” said Mattson. 

“When I first started working at YWCA Durham, I didn’t know a lot about the sector and the issues surrounding domestic violence,” Mattson adds. “So, I sat down with one of the executive directors and asked her to describe the process of a woman coming into the shelter. From the first phone call to our crisis line, I just remember getting shivers when she casually mentioned that once the woman arrives, she is given a tour of the shelter, and we show her the security in place, including bullet proof glass and bars on the windows.”

“It was then that it struck me how serious and deadly domestic violence can be. It really hit me that a shelter can save lives.”

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In 2018, 45 women and 41 children called this supportive housing “home.” YWCA Durham is a social service that aims to protect community members who need to get out of threatening situations and want to live a normal life. 

According to Stats Canada, domestic violence is more common in short-term, committed relationships than in marital relationships. Police reported the highest rate of domestic violence in Canada in 2018 between those aged 25 to 34 years. 

Credit: Statistics Canada

Wendy Leeder, co-executive and shelter services director of YWCA Durham is proud to be part of an organization that aims to change lives for the better. “The opportunity and honour to represent the voices of women and children in our community, the chance to make a difference in someone’s life, the opportunity to watch women succeed,” said Leeder. 

Adds Mattson: “I am always happy when I do get to interact with our clients, even if it is for a short time. I have had many small, but meaningful conversations with these women. I am always thrilled to learn about their successes – including when they leave the program to live on their own and start to rebuild their lives.” 

Women who are in a place where there is nothing but unconditional love is a place they call home. Women who are in a place where there is nothing but abuse and violence is anything but a refuge. 

Tanya, who sought help from YWCA Durham, now has her life together and is a shining example. “The truth is life can be different,” she wrote on the company website. “All the support you need is available to you. When you leave, the door stays open behind you.”

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