Construction is underway at Women's Place new Nova House location in Niagara Falls. SUPPLIED

Emergency shelter services moving to new Niagara Falls location in spring

Women’s Place is on the move.

In the spring of 2022, Women’s Place will move all of its emergency shelter services to an expanded facility at the Nova House location in Niagara Falls. The larger facility will provide safe shelter for women and children from all of the communities that Women’s Place serves, including Pelham, Welland, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Port Colborne, and Wainfleet.

The consolidation of the two shelters and expansion of Nova House from a 20-bed to a 40-bed shelter is part of a plan to meet the growing need for domestic violence services in Niagara.

Once completed, the larger, consolidated shelter will ensure that fewer women and children in South Niagara are referred elsewhere due to lack of space.

“Extremely excited,” Women’s Place Executive Director Jennifer Gauthier said. “I think it’s great for our community that we’re going to increase the number of safe shelter beds available to women and children. Unfortunately over the past few years, we’ve turned many women and children away and had to find them safety at friends or homeless shelters or outside their region and so expanding our services to meet the needs of our community was really important to us.”

Gauthier said the extra capacity comes at a crucial time.

“The need for domestic violence services seems to grow every year, and we are expecting a huge uptick in our services over the next year because of the impact of the Covid pandemic,” she said. “There are stresses that cause these tensions and people don’t necessarily leave right away. We are at capacity right now but we continue to see an increased need and think that will just get larger and larger over the next few years.”

Each year, the demand for shelter space is increasing. In 2019-2020 alone, staff referred 390 women elsewhere due to a lack of space. The consolidation will also allow Women’s Place to increase the safety of residents and staff by ensuring that at least two counsellors are in the shelter at all times, invest in improving domestic violence services across South Niagara by expanding outreach services at satellite offices, and reducing the agency’s reliance on fundraising and ensuring that Women’s Place continues to be sustainable well into the future.

Serenity Place will close in early 2022 and a new satellite office will open in Welland to ensure local domestic violence supports continue to be available, such as safety planning, counseling, transitional housing support, and legal support, while expanded counseling services will be available at Women’s Place satellite offices in Port Colborne and Fort Erie.

Construction began in the spring of 2021 to expand the Niagara Falls shelter. The project is being managed by Merit Contractors Niagara.

In addition to creating extra bedrooms, other areas of the shelter will be improved to better serve a larger number of clients. A second kitchen, expanded dining and living spaces, and a child and youth wing that will house a playroom, a teen space, counseling rooms, and an arts and craft area will be added to the shelter.

“Our ultimate goal is to see women and children come in and transition to a life free from a life of abuse, where they can live independently in the community. We have all the supports in place to be able to support them through that process. Whether it’s counseling support, securing them housing, child and youth counsellors, and help navigating court system,” Gauthier said.