Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter has been supporting the social needs of victims and homeless for 25 years.
“The women’s shelter was first opened in February 1992 to provide a safe haven for women and their children in need and to flee abuse,” says director Beryl Willier.
More than 1,100 women and close to 2,200 children have been served by the 21-bed shelter over the years.
“The shelter’s goal is to ultimately work ourselves out of a job as we want an end to family violence, all people matter,” Willier says.
“Although we are situated on a First Nation, any women and child that are in need are welcome as we know violence has no color.”
Women age 18-and-over come from surrounding communities, around the province and even from other provinces if safety is an issue.
“Women come to the shelter for a safe environment free of abuse for herself and her children if she has any and they also come to the shelter when they have no other safe place to stay,” Willier says.
The Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter was designed to support women in crisis, women and children fleeing abuse, addictions, and homelessness.
“We have seen an increase in the severity of abuse suffered by women and children,” Willier says.
Physical, mental, emotional, verbal, and sexual are the most common abuses women face.
Some women come with five children, some come by themselves, she says.
Before they come to the shelter, women need to call in to reserve a bed for herself and her children.
Beds can be saved for 24 hours in case the women face travel or transportation issues.
With 10 crisis-intervention workers, the shelter provides counselling, programming, transportation, one-on-one services, and child care.
Recently, the shelter started to include elders who come in to talk with the women and children.
Those who come to the shelter value the services and support.
“Many women say they have never seen such a beautiful building, they are happy if they come with nothing and receive clothing and household items to start a new home,” Willier says.
“Some like the fact they get to see others going through the same issues as they are and are making different choices as a result of their stay with us.”
On average, women usually stay for the maximum 21 days.
Besides the main building, the shelter includes a living room, toy and play room, and outdoor playground, next-step units, laundry facilities and donation rooms.
Originally constructed in 1992, the main building has grown with two extensions while the next-step units were added in 1996.
Sucker Creek Women’s Emergency Shelter was established after the band administrator at the time applied for the funds through a Safe Haven project aimed to help women and children, and then the chief and council formed a board of directors to oversee the project.
Currently the shelter is operated by a board with six directors selected by the chief and council and one councilor from the First Nation to represent council.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) provides federal funding to the shelter.
“We do have many community partnerships that help ensure exceptional service and we also fundraise every year to cover any deficiencies as they come up,” Willier says.
Before the Sucker Creek facility was opened, women had to travel as far away as Grande Prairie for the nearest shelter, besides going all the way to Edmonton.
Now, shelters are located in Slave Lake, Peace River, Grande Prairie, Whitecourt, Fairview, with the closest on-reserve shelter in Bigstone First Nation by Wabasca-Desmarais, northeast of Slave Lake.