Domestic Abuse Services Oxford (DASO) celebrated the reopening of its newly renovated emergency shelter for victims of family violence on Friday, Dec. 7.
“We have been able to expand living, play, kitchen, dining and program space,” said Barbara Wright, development and communications manager with DASO about the changes to the 21-bed facility at 975 James St.
Accessibility and security has also been enhanced at the shelter, which provides transitional housing and services for women and children 365 days a year.
When it was established in 1974, the Oxford facility was the fifth shelter in Canada to welcome women and children fleeing domestic abuse.
The $600,000 renovation project received $504,000 in funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
It is the first major facelift to the facility since it was established at its current location 22 years ago.
“We've done a lot of little renovations here and there, but this is the most significant expansion,” Wright said.
The changes include the addition of a 300 square-foot sitting room, which freed up the existing living space for larger kitchen and dining room facilities.
“People aren't tripping over each other anymore,” said Wright.
Plans are also in the works to enhance child and youth spaces at the shelter.
“It's an ongoing priority to make sure the facility meets the needs of clients of all ages,” Wright said. “This renovation goes a long way to make sure we're providing that comfortable, welcoming atmosphere to women who are looking to leave abusive atmospheres and start a new life.”
Rhonda Hedel, executive director of DASO, said the improvements “mean everything to residents and staff.”
“This is not only a place people come for services, it's also a workplace. It's warm, it's welcoming,” she said.
A former client who toured the renovated shelter said she felt valued because of the investment that has been made in the facility.
Hedel said the updates help send a message to women trying to rebuild.
“Life isn't great for you right now and we're going to work for you until it gets better,” she said. “If you can have your own space, it's a start.”
The reopening of the newly renovated shelter is welcome news for the community, said Oxford County MP Dave MacKenzie during Friday's celebration.
“Our government is pleased to be a partner in the renovations to this shelter,” he said. “Women and children in need of a hand up have a safe and supportive place to live, as well as the services they need to begin a new chapter in their lives.”
The changes don't only make the shelter more attractive and comfortable, but also support the diverse needs of residents, said Marlene Van Ham, president of DASO's board of directors.
“They can enjoy the camaraderie of cooking, dining and socializing together, but quieter spaces for reading, reflecting or meeting one-on-one with staff are also available.”
As a member of the city's police services board, Woodstock Mayor Pat Sobeski pointed out that domestic abuse and drug issues are two of the key items that police deal with. They are not limited to one social segment of society and can go unacknowledged by some people.
“Nobody wants to talk about it, that (happens) in other communities,” he said. “We do have problems and we have to concentrate the resources in that direction.”
Tillsonburg Mayor John Lessif said that while the shelter and its services are located in Woodstock, DASO serves people across the county.
“There are no borders in Oxford County, we're all in it together,” he said.