With nowhere else to go, women have been turning to the Mizpah Transition House for 30 years.
“We really don’t have anywhere else for women and children in the community. We’re kind of it,” explained Jane Harper, executive director of the South Peace Community Resource Society (SPCRS). “Over 6,000 families … have found safety coming through this transition house.”
On Thursday, Jan. 31, the Mizpah Transition House celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Harper explained that when the house was first created, there were very few transition houses in B.C.
“The work of taking care of women who had been beaten, that’s how we used to refer to it, by their partners, was a job of friends, family and neighbours,” said Harper, adding that there were only 15 houses across the province and into the Yukon at the time.
“In Dawson, a group of 22 community members got together and they saw a need for some sort of safe shelter in the community for women and children leaving violent relationships.”
These members of the community wrote a proposal to the government asking for funding and then approached SPCRS to find out if they would run the program once funding was obtained which it was. Thirty years later, the Mizpah Transition House continues to be a safe haven.
Part of the reason it continues to be a safe place is that the actual location of the house has remained a secret from the general public.
“Last year, we had 132 women who were here because of physical violence and an additional 77 women who were at risk of violence. Abusive situations occur all the time,” said Arden Smith, the department manager for SPCRS.
“We’re funded for seven beds and through the grace and goodness of our community, we’re able to operate at a higher capacity than that when needed.”
In addition to the women who visited the Mizpah House seeking refuge from violence, 67 children were also brought to the house.
“They’ve had the courage to be able to leave that relationship and say, ‘I’m not going to live like this and I’m not going to let my children live like this,’ and take that first step into a shelter,” said Harper.
“That is the one thing that I learned probably the most is that those women are strong or they wouldn’t have survived.”
The house is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by professionals who are trained to offer support in forms such as crisis intervention, mood assessments and goal setting so that these women can figure out what direction they want to go and come up with a plan, explained Smith.
“It’s not just that they have a place to stay that’s safe, it’s that they’ve got a chance to take a look at it a little differently. They’re not under that tension and the stress that they were at home. They have time to see it from a different perspective and realize that they can do very well on their own,” said Harper.
“Nobody intended for women to live that way – for them to afraid of the person they’re intimately involved with.”
While the Mizpah Transition House welcomes women with open arms, not every story has a happy ending.
“Some women that we’ve had in the house have been killed in the end. They’ve ended up going back to the partner and they haven’t survived,” said Harper.
However, the house is usually successful.
“I do think it works, and I think the reason it works is that when women come in, everyone is equal. They all can offer some kind of support to each other,” added Harper.
The Mizpah Transition House is something that some members of the community feel is important for the city.
“It has changed the lives of many people who I’m sure when they were going through what they were going through, probably felt that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. The ability to come to safe home to be able to engage and get the help you need from people who actually are trained to help you and know what you’re going through, I think it’s made all the difference in the world,” explained Blair Lekstrom, MLA for Peace River South.
The anniversary celebration was also a day for celebrating the people who continue to make the transition house possible.
“We want to say thank you to everybody for making sure it’s here for the people that are in need and hopefully one day, we won’t need this facility anymore. But, until that time thank you to everybody for making sure that we have it,” said Mayor Mike Bernier.