by Shelbey Hernandez
The Lance – News Editor
The face of the Hiatus House has changed drastically the last 40 years it has existed, but its overall purpose has remained the same.
Upon first opening in 1976, the Hiatus was a nine-bed shelter on California Street. The facility was given $15,000 in funding for six months. At its start, it had one staff member responsible for hiring and training all the volunteers. That same staff member, Donna Miller, became the executive director for the house and remained in that position for 31 years until her retirement.
After moving two more times, the final location, a purpose-built building was decided upon. This is where the now 24-bed building located on Louis Street is today.
With so many changes and improvements over the years, staff of Hiatus decided it was time to celebrate. So for its 40th anniversary, a celebration dinner was held at St. Clair Centre for the Arts where close to 300 people were in attendance.
“When we started back in 1976, we were one of eight shelters in Canada so we were one of the first shelters to start,” said Tom Rolfe, who has been the executive director at Hiatus for almost a decade. “There hadn’t been services for abused women for a long time. So forty years may seem like a long time for a social service agency, but it’s not a long time in terms of being able to provide service to women and children that need it.”
The shelter didn’t just change in its size—it also changed in terms of what it can offer. Rather than just being a refuge, it provides services and programs to make a difference in the family life. There are nine programs, some for women, some for men and some for children.
Even with all the services available, Miller said that doesn’t make domestic abuse any less real today.
“In some ways, we failed. In some ways, violence against women is still happening,” said Miller. “So while we want to be able to have prevention programs and certainly the agency does, the bottom line is women still need Hiatus House and women are still being abused by the men in their lives.”
According to Rolfe, Hiatus serves approximately 4,000 people every year and the occupancy of the shelter is always somewhere in the 90 per cent range.
He also said about 40 per cent of those who go to the shelter live in the county which can make it difficult for them to go to the shelter when it is so out of the way. That is why Rolfe said Hiatus is currently working with the Leamington District Memorial Hospital to build an additional shelter on the Leamington Hospital campus.
Plus, the shelter is working with Royal LePage to raise money for a new playground at its current location. So far, $70,000 has been raised and if the trillium grant comes through, the playground is expected to be completed possibly by next year.