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How the rebranded Calgary Women’s Shelter is helping combat rising demand for domestic violence and abuse services

FearIsNotLove, formerly known as the Calgary Women’s Shelter, has made big changes to combat the increasing demand for domestic violence and abuse help in the city.

The former name is not gone forever though, as it remains a program within FearIsNotLove to continue to provide shelter for women in need.

CEO Kim Ruse spoke with Calgary Citizen to discuss how the change was necessary to expand upon the services offered.

The Calgary Women’s Shelter moniker was no longer reflective of the number of services that have been added over the past few years, Ruse says.

A much-needed rebranding

“Last year, we served over 20,000 people in and around Calgary and only 687 went through the shelter itself,” she says.

“There were conversations with stakeholders and clients that were having trouble seeing themselves in the brand of the Calgary Women’s Shelter if they felt they didn’t need shelter.”

Rebranding the facility as FearIsNotLove allows it to open its doors to help more people who will no longer mistake it for just a shelter.

“By shifting the name, we’re inviting more people into that movement and into that conversation to understand how [domestic violence and abuse] impacts more people,” Ruse says.

Open to men and youth, too

Men were among those who felt as though they were not able to identify with the old name.

“Our largest client group is actually children, and so to have women in the name was discouraging dads,” Ruse says. “There’s a lot of men who come to our Caring Dads programs who are now reaching out and saying that they find [the new name] inclusive and welcoming.”

Ruse says abusive relationships are most prevalent among the 15 to 24 age group.

To combat this startling statistic, the FearIsNotLove team works with young adults to better understand what abuse is and how to spot it in relationships.

“We work with adolescents who are in those really important formative years,” Ruse says. “We’re in 21 schools right now and providing support to youth through education.”

Time to have difficult conversations

Ruse advises that parents and families need to be open to having difficult conversations about abuse to better prevent young adults from experiencing it.

“[Families should] be available when kids come to you, creating that safe space where they can confide and connect and be able to take a breath,” Ruse says, adding it’s important to create a safe environment where they will feel heard.

However, rebranding was not only a way to promote inclusivity and clarify the services offered; it was a call to action.

“The first three months of this year compared to the same three months of last year, we received 1,000 more crisis calls,” Ruse says. “The shelter is full, all the programs are operating at full capacity, but we’re still taking new intakes.”

Calls for help are higher than ever

The demand for services and calls to the police are high, while fewer charges are being laid.

“It’s not a good time,” Ruse says.

During the first few weeks of the pandemic, it was very different. FearIsNotLove saw a drastic drop in demand for services and calls for help.

“Services went fairly quiet for about the first six to eight weeks of the pandemic,” Ruse says. “When we had the lockdowns happen, I think people were trapped in situations that were not the healthiest for them.”

Now that life is slowly returning to normal, the calls for help and the number of people seeking services are rising again.

“In the last few months, we’ve seen requests for shelter continue to rise and be strong and the crisis calls are growing as well,” Ruse says.

We can all make a difference

While FearIsNotLove offers services and support to those who need it, Calgarians are also capable of making a difference in the lives of those facing domestic violence and abuse.

“One of the most important and impactful things you can do is learn how to be a great social responder,” Ruse advises. “When someone discloses that they’re experiencing violence or abuse, if people [receive] a great response, they’re more likely to continue with their help-seeking behaviour.”

FearIsNotLove is aimed at combating domestic violence and abuse within and around the city.

“I’m very proud of the work that my team does,” Ruse says. “Every day, they’re saving lives.”

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