Work begins on Elizabeth Fry housing complex

The ground has been broken and heavy equipment is now on the site of an ambitious $16.5-million project to provide safe spaces for women and children fleeing violent relationships.

If all goes well, a combination of transitional and second-stage housing and townhouses at 2855 14th Ave. - next to Studio 2880 - will be ready to take in clients by fall 2021.

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"It's a very, very well-thought-out project," Mitzi Dean, the provincial Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, said during a telephone interview this week.

The transitional housing will consist of 18 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, where women and children typically stay for 30 days. Second-stage housing will account for an additional 16 units where they can stay for a further 18 months.

"We quite often seen a bottleneck in transition housing and so, being able to offer that second-stage home space for women as they're continuing to rebuild their lives (is helpful), " Dean said. "They can still have some support there."

Rental housing in the form of 21 townhouses ranging from one to three bedrooms will also be available on the 0.65-hectare site for those ready to move into more permanent housing.

Dean said the complex, which will be operated by the Prince George Elizabeth Fry Society, will serve the region around Prince George as well as the city itself.

"We were hearing that many women from those smaller communities were looking for anonymity and wanting to find somewhere that's safe and where they're not going to be found," Dean said.

Dean, who worked in child protection and family services for 30 years prior to becoming the MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, hopes the project will go some way to reducing the number of preventable tragedies.

"I have worked with lots of families where there have been very horrific stories of violence and abuse and I know that across the whole of our province, we still need to be providing safe spaces and opportunities to build their lives," Dean said.

"Nobody should have to face violence at home or suffer homelessness. Nobody should have to make that choice."

Dean said there has been some indication of a rise in domestic violence since the novel coronavirus pandemic has taken hold, although it's too early so say if there is a connection.

She also noted that people working in the sector have continued to provide services and that the provincial government has invested in 300 hotel rooms across B.C. to provide safe spaces while also ensuring physical distancing at the transition houses.

The VictimLinkBC hotline also remains up and running in 150 languages at 1-800-563-0808 around the clock and seven days a week.

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