The pandemic was responsible for altering many things including the way Cochrane’s Big Hill Haven operated in providing comprehensive collaborative domestic violence response for area residents.
Big Hill Haven has been working since 2016 to provide support for families living in abusive situations. For nearly seven years, the organization has grown and evolved to meet the increasing needs of the community. They continue to develop strong community partnerships that support Big Hill Haven and in turn their clients.
Executive Director of Big Hill Haven, Wanda McGinnis says, “We are still learning a lot from the pandemic about how best to support individuals and families, and we are taking all those learnings and making sure that every move we make is a strategic response to what we have learned. And I think that is putting us in a position where the programs and services that we're offering are meaningful.” Having caught their stride over the years, McGinnis believes the organization is having a big impact in helping people who are considering changes and pursuing safety and escape from violence and risk.
While McGinnis is proud of Big Hill Haven’s accomplishments, everyone involved wishes that the organization would become unnecessary, “We hope we get to a point where domestic violence resources are obsolete, and they are not needed.” Maybe one-day preventative activities, programs, and services would have a strong influence in that they will positively impact relationships before situations escalate into violence. However, as McGinnis points out, “We are not there yet, and so we need to make sure that the programs we have in place to respond are absolutely effective and meaningful and they are meeting people where they are at.”
Big Hill Haven’s annual report for 2021/22 shows that they are providing effective support. They were able to help 104 adults and 69 children last year, which is a significant increase. McGinnis says, “Those numbers are not reflective of the fact that we increased our shelter space early in 2022. So, those numbers, what we are going to see as we compile things at the end of our reporting period which is the end of March is those numbers are going to be even higher.”
Heading into 2023, the need for Big Hill Haven will continue. Although the pandemic is easing the increasing stress of difficult economic times will play a role in domestic violence cases. As well, Cochrane’s growth alone will be a mitigating factor to the increasing number of cases. McGinnis says, “Everybody knows somebody who needs support and services that Big Hill Haven offers. That is why I do this work every day because we all know somebody whose life is going to be better because of the support they get from a domestic violence organization like Big Hill Haven.
Strategic planning sessions began in September of 2022 to look at ways Big Hill can best respond to the needs of the community. McGinnis says, “I think what we have learned through the pandemic is that brick and mortar look different. We have adopted an innovative integrated housing model with our current shelter programming and so we are offering people “safe space” that doesn’t look like the traditional brick and mortar shelter with a communal care living arrangement.”
The pandemic affecting the communal living model may be good timing as now is not the time for the organization to be looking at building or purchasing a building with interest rates where they are at. They do not want to get into a facility that will negatively impact or limit their ability to be responsive. McGinnis says, “We are trying to hold on to everything we can to be nimble and lean into the community partnerships that allow us to be flexible.”
As Big Hill Haven closes out 2022 notable factors will play a part in the strategic planning. Those include; The increasing level of violence and lethality families are experiencing and being recorded in historically high numbers. There is a marked increase in the number of seniors who are experiencing violence and are needing support. The length of stays is growing longer. McGinnis says, “We currently offer a 30-day emergency shelter stay and we are noting that people are staying a lot longer than that because there is a lack of affordable housing for them to transition to.”
Despite the challenges, McGinnis is feeling optimistic about what Big Hill Haven can accomplish in 2023. “We have a great team at Big Hill Haven, and we are fortunate to have Patti Fisher still involved. She is a founding member of Big Hill Haven, and her commitment, passion, and vision are important in everything that we do as we move forward.”
A big part of 2023 will be about creating an organization that is responding to what this community wants and needs. Secondly, there needs to be a focus on prevention strategies, “So that we can start to engage individuals and families and conversations before the risk gets to those severe and extreme places." says McGinnis.
Finally, McGinnis says, “I have worked in a lot of rural settings and this community is like none other. A huge thank you to this community which continues to just do bigger and better than they have ever done, and we could not do it without you. So, thank you so much.”