A women’s shelter is getting some help from the Town of Okotoks in finding land to expand its second-stage housing.
Rowan House Emergency Shelter approached the Town to request assistance in securing land suitable for transitional housing as women leave the High River shelter, and Mayor Bill Robertson brought a notice of motion to have Town administration act as a point of contact between Rowan House and developers in July. The motion to assist the emergency shelter was passed on Aug. 21.
Sherrie Botten, executive director of Rowan House, said it’s exciting to be taking the first step to establish a second-stage housing for women and children fleeing domestic violence. She said Okotoks is the most suitable location for transitional housing.
“The study that was done last fall certainly shows the most central area and the best choice for a larger second-stage shelter for women no longer in the same kind of emergency setting, the best place for that to be would be Okotoks,” said Botten. “So for the Town to now commit openly that it’s what they would like to see as well, that’s huge for us.”
With Okotoks council on board, Rowan House can now begin leveraging dollars as it moves toward constructing a new building, she said. It will involve a new capital campaign to raise the estimated $6 million needed to build the second-stage shelter, she said.
The building will take up about three to four city blocks and include 16 separate units with enhanced security, she said.
It’s important for women to have a safe and affordable place to go as they leave the emergency shelter, she said.
Women often have to stay beyond 30 days in the shelter because there is so much to get done legally and financially, she said.
“What we have been finding is we cannot move the women out of the emergency shelter as fast as we would like to into safe and affordable housing,” said Botten. “So what has been happening is we’re turning away women coming to us in crisis because we have women in the facility who may be ready to move into something a bit more community-oriented, but there isn’t anywhere else for them to go.”
Turning away women from the shelter usually means trying to find somewhere else for them to go, which could mean sending them to Calgary, she said. A lot of women aren’t prepared to leave their community entirely and end up going back to their situations, she said.
With transitional housing in place, Rowan House would be able to help women move from the emergency shelter into something just as secure, but without the communal living aspect, she said. Women can stay for six to 12 months before transitioning into a home of their own, she said.
Robertson said it makes sense to have the transitional housing building located in Okotoks because with the highest population in the Foothills it’s likely the town’s residents access Rowan House’s services the most.
He said working with developers is just the Town’s way of doing due diligence for its residents.
“There’s certainly a need for it and if there’s a need in public services then we need to address that need,” said Robertson. “This is an easy need to address, in that it’s not really going to cost the Town anything other than perhaps some time and effort, but it will certainly benefit a segment of our society.”
His vision is to have the Town provide information about Rowan House and its current need to developers who come forward with future plans to build in Okotoks.
Coun. Tanya Thorn said she wasn’t convinced it was the right way to go. There is a need for affordable housing in Okotoks, she said, and the Town should be looking to developers to help address more than the needs of the emergency shelter.
Affordable housing assists victims of domestic violence and seniors, low-income families and youth, she said.
“If we’re as a municipality going to go out and talk to our developers about land donations and things like that, I think we need to be going out with the bigger picture,” said Thorn. “For me [domestic violence] is part of a bigger umbrella and I don’t think that piecemealing it and going to our developers with just elements of that umbrella makes sense.”
She said developers will have limited land they’re willing to donate or allocate to projects like the transitional housing, and it’s important to know what the Town’s total needs are in order to best use land.
Robertson said Rowan House could be a fit under the affordable housing issue, but he said it still deserves it’s own attention because it’s a different situation.
“It’s a little different because the transitional housing wouldn’t be for the general populace, which is the affordable housing part of it,” said Robertson.