Crisis Centre to open local Outreach Office

Women in Fort Frances and the west end of the Rainy River District will soon—and for the first time in about eight years—have easier access to services for victims of domestic abuse.
The Atikokan Crisis Centre has announced it will open on Outreach Office here in Fort Frances beginning Friday, Sept. 2. The office will operate as a drop-in centre located in the Literacy Room of the United Native Friendship Centre at 516 Portage Ave.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Donna Kroocmo, the ACC’s executive director.
For now, the office will only be open on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Crisis Centre used to operate a similar office in Fort Frances several years ago. “It was closed in 1997 due to funding cuts,” Kroocmo explained.  At that time, the office was open five days a week. “Apparently they were quite busy,” she noted.
While the centre in Atikokan does serve the entire district, women in the west end were not making as much use of the facility simply because it was too far.
“We noticed a drop in occupancy. Women in the west end of the district were not accessing our services,” Kroocmo said.
“For professional women, it’s unrealistic to think they’ll give up their job to come to Atikokan,” she added.
With the new Outreach Office located in Fort Frances, women can access many of the services the ACC offers without having to travel as far.
This has been made possible by funding through the Domestic Violence Action Plan, a program run by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
The original office in Fort Frances served mainly to “help women find safe, stable, secure housing,” Kroocmo explained. This service will still be available at the new office, along with others.
“There are so many services we can offer to women that are really unique,” she said.
One of those is help in putting together a safety plan.
A safety plan is a series of questions and steps to prepare for the next time a woman is in a crisis situation. It includes choosing a safe place to go in the event of a crisis, such as a neighbour’s, friend’s, or family member’s home.
It can include making photocopies of important documents like the woman’s health card and birth certificates, and those of her children.
“All too often, when you’re in crisis mode, those things are forgotten,” Kroocmo explained.
Because abusers will often follow a woman to her place of employment, it is also important to know all the exits to the building, or even have a confidante at work who knows the situation and can help in case of emergency.
“The safety plan is self-directed,” she emphasized. “Just because a woman has done a safety plan doesn’t mean she’s safe.”
Professional women who don’t want to miss work can spend the weekend at the shelter in Atikokan with their children then go back to their jobs on Monday.
The drop-in centre here will also offer a crafts program, free lunch every week, and resource information.
“It’s for anyone who’s curious about what we do,” Kroocmo said, adding other service providers are welcome to drop by and learn more about the ACC and what they do.
One of the goals is to dispel some of the myths around the centre and who can access it.
“We had a woman in our emergency shelter, and after three days she said, ‘I can’t believe no one’s asked me to leave yet,’” Kroocmo recalled.
When asked why she thought the staff would want her to leave, the woman said, “‘I don’t have any bruises.’ She suffered from all kinds of different abuse, but none of them physical,” she said.
Many women think they have to be brought to the shelter by police after an incident of abuse, or that they have to have physical marks on their bodies.
In reality, women can come to the crisis centre on their own, or ask the centre to pick them up. Nor do they need to show physical evidence of abuse because many forms of abuse, including intimidation, threats, isolation, and coercion, are invisible.
The crisis centre also provides advocacy services for women who want support when dealing with a doctor, lawyer, the courts, or government offices. That service will be provided in Fort Frances through a partnership with the UNFC’s Health and Wellness Centre and its co-ordinator Peggy Loyie.
As part of its services, the ACC also sends workers to offer workshops at local First Nations when requested, and helps organize a young women’s forum in Atikokan where members meet once a week to discuss issues of importance to them.
“I really do think that’s preventative in nature,” she said.
Kroocmo said she would like to do more public education, particularly targeted at young people.
“If you’re serious about wanting to end domestic abuse, you have to start with the children,” she said. “But it all takes money, and right now we don’t have any.”
While Kroocmo said she does hope they can someday open the Fort Frances office five days a week again, for now the Friday hours will have to do.
“At least we feel we can honestly say that—to some degree—we’re serving the women in the west end,” she said.