Statistics from the T&T Police Service's Crime and Problem Analysis Branch (CAPA) revealed that an average of 25 women were murdered every year in DV/IPV (domestic violence or intimate partner violence) cases in 2018.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline received 25,257 calls between October 2013 and September 2018.
Many abused women seek a safer place. Setting up a shelter for abused women provides safety for women and their children escaping domestic abuse. This process entails finding a secure location, obtaining government permission, obtaining funding, getting the right workers, and networking with related agencies.
The Shelter for Battered Women and Children was established in 1987 by Diana Mahabir-Wyatt as a safe haven for women and children who are victims of all forms of
domestic violence. Its mission is to support victims in their transition from victims to survivors and survivors into success stories.
The shelter was created in response to growing awareness of domestic violence and a greater need for support of victims. The shelter operates a safe house, granted to it by the Government of T&T, providing accommodation for residents, staff quarters, a counselling room, children's activity room, and training room.
As a registered charity, the shelter is run by an executive committee of volunteers. Although it receives quarterly subventions from the Government, as well as donations, both corporate and private, the funds generated are usually inadequate given the growing need and the extent of the services that it currently provides and wishes to provide to the victims. The shelter therefore actively fundraises by hosting several events throughout the year.
Over the years, the shelter has become the leader in developing a range of services necessary to transform the lives of its residents. Because of the protocols and systems it has developed, other shelters often rely on this shelter for advice and guidance.
Shelters closing down
Although a 2018 National Women's Health Survey for T&T found that one in three women in the country said they experienced intimate partner violence, out of 14 shelters in Trinidad and one in Tobago, four shelters were closed primarily due to a lack of funding.
Founder of Conflict Women, Asiya Mohammed said while the Government promised new shelters would be built in the 2019/2020 budget, there needed to be more state support for the shelters that currently existed.
President of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Roberta Clarke said Madinah House was closed, the Shelter for Battered Women and Children was closed for renovation,and the Hope Shelter had to reduce its intake by 50 per cent.
Chairman of the Shelter for Battered Women and Children, Scott Hamilton said there was one more—Bertha House which was not fully closed but heading that way.
Speaking at Guardian Media's office on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, Hamilton said "What we need is funding, it's always the most integral part of any shelter. To run a shelter is extremely expensive, and it takes a substantial amount of funds and volunteers to make it work.
"Although we have increased and expanded our fundraising and outreach initiatives quite substantially over the years, it takes lots of money to maintain the women and children on a daily basis—from giving them nutritious meals, clothing, transportation, healthcare, placing the children into schools, medical and mental health needs, as well as assisting the women in finding housing and gaining employment."
He said the Government wanted to open more shelters, but what about the shelters that were already in operation and were not receiving adequate funding.
He said committee members were all volunteers, they were not paid and did this "out of the goodness of their heart."
Hamilton said it was very difficult as the shelter needed to provide so many services to these women and children and there were so many social and economic problems that had to be dealt with.
He said right now the shelter was closed to residents because the house was over 60 years old. Other shelters are also very old.
Hamilton said such houses may be loaned to stakeholders or given to them through a Cabinet minute but they needed extensive repairs.
"When we reopen the shelter, we will have space for 19 women and children offering them a safe, clean and welcoming environment with well trained professional staff that can cater to their special needs consisting of counsellors and social workers. This cost is exorbitant.
"The Government gives us a monthly subvention of $7,500, but while we are grateful, it is not enough.
"That is one of the reasons why many of the shelters have reached that point. We can only do so much. It would take an average of $500,000 plus to run a shelter properly.
"For example, the cost of renovations for our shelter is over $1.4 m which does not include what was completed before. I am appealing to private citizens, the corporate world as well as the Government for help."
Hamilton said major renovations had to take place from the roof, electrical wiring, interior remodelling, flooring etc. For the last year and a half the shelter had been raising funds through various events such as the shelter’s Wine and Cheese Experience which is usually held by Australian High Commission in March, a Back in Time party in September and a golf tournament in November.
He said funds were also raised via donation tins distributed throughout the North West and through the kind donations of good Samaritans, deeds of covenant from several people and public donations through the shelter’s bank accounts.
Hamilton said they reached out to architects Maureen Legge and Colvin Chen who gave them major support in redesigning the shelter. Last year a part of the shelter was completed and named the Samantha Isaacs Learning Centre. Isaacs was a victim of domestic violence. This was achieved through donations from the Australian High Commission and the Digicel Foundation.
He said, however, that renovations will commence once they receive government approval from the Ministry of Public Administration and the renewal of the Cabinet minute that granted the property to be used as a shelter. This was also holding up the process, he said.
Hamilton said they were hoping to get a meeting with Camille Robinson-Regis, the new Minister of Social Development and Family Services (MOSDFS).
Hamilton said they also reached out to MP for North/St Ann's West Stuart Young who helped them tremendously by putting forward their request and letters to the Ministry of Public Administration (MPA) and to Claudelle Mc Kellar, the acting Permanent Secretary. Once all the approvals are ready renovations on the shelter will start in earnest, he said.
When Minister of Social Development and Family Services (MOSDFS) Camille Robinson-Regis was contacted via Whatsapp on Thursday for a comment on whether the government subventions for shelters can be increased, she replied "Noted. We shall revert imminently."
How to get help
If you or someone you know may be a victim of domestic violence, there are resources to get help:
•Trinidad Shelter for Battered Women and Children
•Safe Horizon (621-HOPE/4673)
•The Halfway House (650-2684)