The Big Hill Haven has been awarded the most significant funding yet from Alberta Children and Family Services to address a growing level of domestic violence in the Cochrane area.

Today, $275,000 in funding was announced for the 2024-25 fiscal year and is expected to be ongoing.

Wanda McGinnis, executive director of Big Hill Haven, says the funding is welcomed and appreciated, but ongoing support from the community remains essential.

"This government investment is going to allow us to do is just create some certainty and sustainability in the programs that we're currently offering and then continue to use our community investment to expand programs into a focus into primary prevention," says McGinnis.

Big Hill Haven is a grassroots organization that started as a dream in 2016. It began offering outreach support in 2018 and opened its first shelter space in 2020.

It doesn't utilize a traditional brick and mortar approach, rather provides safe space for women and children in rental accommodations. They have 10 beds available and if the demand surpasses the available space they find other emergency space.

"One thing that I really want to stress is, we, as an organization, have taken some chances and embraced innovation as a way to make sure that people who are living in violent and abusive relations in Cochrane and area don't have to choose between being safe and remaining in the community that they love and are connected to. So as part of that, we have looked at programming in a way that offers us opportunity," says McGinnis.

"Building a standalone brick and mortar shelter is a huge cost undertaking," she continues, "So as the pandemic was rolling out and we recognized that people were living in more and more dangerous situations, we realized we needed to do something and that's where we started to explore these standalone apartments."

"One of the beautiful learnings that came out of the pandemic is communal settings can present some challenges of their own. I'm certainly not suggesting we don't still need those traditional approaches to responding to family violence, but what we do need is we need people to be willing to explore innovation and to think about what families need and I think we've done that in a really brave way at Big Hill."

The need has never been greater for their services. McGinnis says year-over-year, they've witnessed an astounding 60 to 70 per cent increase in demand.

"Last year, we offered 1,277 nights of shelter. This year, as of today we're at 2,004. That's a huge increase."

Today, the government reaffirmed its commitment to provide an additional $10 million over four years to strengthen women’s shelters and fund more beds. Of that, $5 million is being spent this year to assist women’s shelters in 17 communities across the province.

For more information on Big Hill Haven click here.