Studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic created a “shadow pandemic” in which domestic violence cases rose dramatically over the past two years. It has been attributed to victims being confined with their abusers for an extended amount of time with little or no access to outside help. Even now with COVID restrictions being lifted the call volume to support services continues to be high across the province and the country.  

Wanda McGinnis became the first Executive Director of Big Hill Haven this year, and the position is keeping her terribly busy. She says, “It’s tricky because I want to say things are going great and we are very very busy but that’s not always a good thing especially when you are talking about domestic violence.” 

Unfortunately, McGinnis can confirm the trend that calls for assistance are on the rise saying, "I can confirm that like both the national and provincial stats, we are experiencing a huge increase in calls for both outreach support and shelter space. The calls we are receiving reflect considerably higher risk situations than prior to the pandemic. While I don’t want to make assumptions about what is creating the increased urgency, I will say that it is possible, that requirements to isolate, work from home strategies, homeschooling, and limited opportunities to connect with family and friends created regulated isolation that nurtured an outbreak in violence, abuse, and control in already unhealthy and unsafe relationships.” 

Operating since 2016, Big Hill Haven was created to provide emergency housing, community outreach, and case management programs for women and families in Cochrane and area suffering from domestic violence. According to the Big Hill Haven website, “During the past year...Big Hill Haven has been able to help 62 women, and provide 82 nights of shelter and 244 peer support hours."  

Big Hill Haven continuously works to expand their services and programs to meet the increasing needs in our community. McGinnis says, “Initially Big Hill Haven focused on outreach supports to the community, ensuring safety planning, risk assessment, resources, referrals, court support, were available to those needing it. We soon learned that while this was enough for many living in the area, it fell short for those at imminent risk. This prompted the Big Hill Haven Board of Directors to explore opportunities for shelter space ensuring those at greatest risk had access to a safe space where additional supports are available to support them as they heal, create safety, and plan for the future. Since that time, we have doubled our shelter space to support even more people to find safety.” 

To add to the stress caused by the pandemic, there is now the added factor of rising inflation and the skyrocketing cost of living which can also trigger family violence. McGinnis wants to emphasize that domestic violence can rear its ugly head in other ways besides intimate partner violence. McGinnis recently spoke on Elder Abuse Awareness Day and says elder abuse is another concerning trend.  "We’re seeing an increase in the number of people in that elderly demographic who are seeking space and I think it is directly proportional to the increased burdens on families around their finances. […] there are multigenerational families living under one household that’s increased the financial pressures so we are certainly seeing that with a nontraditional domestic violence community that we typically are associated with.”  McGinnis says the financial burden that families are facing including less money coming in, more money going out and higher-priced accommodations all add extra stress to families that may already be showing the cracks of strain. 

McGinnis says, "We want to be sure the community knows Big Hill Haven is committed to safety for all. We do not believe anyone should be living in a space where they are afraid. If you or someone you know is at risk please call us! Our services are free and we are here to help. You can call 403-796-6564 to speak with someone. I also want to also draw attention to posters we are placing in Cochrane and area communities. Please watch for them, if you want one for your business, call us we would be happy to get one to you."

McGinnis says Big Hill Haven will continue to work hard to help those seeking help to escape domestic violence and says, "We were actually able to double our shelter space in response to the need and also as a result of the generosity of the community because of course we don't receive any government funding to date. We are able to do everything we do because of the generosity of the community."

If you are in need of help from Big Hill Haven, contact the Outreach Team and Program Manager directly at 403-796-6564 or by confidential email at: for immediate assistance. 


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