A Home in Uncertain Times

When domestic abuse rose with COVID-19, an ECF Rapid Response Fund grant helps an Edmonton transitional home operate at full-capacity

Nisa (pronounced NEE-sa) Homes is a  transitional home for women fleeing domestic violence and abuse, and those at risk for homelessness. As a project under the National Zakat Foundation, a registered Canadian charity, Nisa Homes is culturally sensitive to immigrant, refugee, non-status or Muslim women and children in need.

Arreg Qasqas, house manager at Nisa Homes Edmonton, saw first -hand that the effects of stay-at-home recommendations led to an increase in unsafe and violent living situations for women. According to Qasqas, calls to the national help call centre doubled, going from 200 calls per week to 400.

Qasqas applied for and received a grant from Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) Rapid Response Fund. The $18,400 grant made a huge impact on the lives of the Edmonton women and children.

“Their lives were already in turmoil,” Qasqas said. The risk of illness with COVID-19 was an added threat, physically and mentally.

This is one of the reasons why ECF decided to fund the program.

“It’s hard for many of us to understand what these women and children are facing,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement, says. “They might be new to Canada, facing language and cultural barriers, and experiencing family violence. Add to that, the challenges created by the pandemic which are hitting the most vulnerable in our community the hardest.”

In Edmonton, Nisa Homes can shelter 12 women and children in need. Generally, the stay is three months to help women establish an independent life, but “we will not send anybody out after three months if they are not ready,” Qasqas said.

With safe and supportive housing at its core, Nisa Homes also provides food, medicine, and transportation, as well as language skills assistance, community resource links, financial assistance, mental health, short term supportive and confidential counselling, as well as spiritual support.

The grant covers the hiring of two extra relief workers for four months, to assist with the increase of the pandemic-related workload for the five permanent staff of two social workers, a relief worker, a counsellor, and a house manager.

The funds also helped with added cleaning and sanitizing protocols with COVID-19. And to minimize their clients’ risks of exposure, funds are being used to purchase food and items that otherwise are left up to the women to purchase. This way ,the women don’t have to leave the house as much, making an already stressful transition a little less so. Bit by bit.

The health, safety, and assistance needed for clients to rebuild their lives are things that Qasqas takes very personally.

“This organization makes such an amazing impact on so many people’s lives. People, who at some point wondered to themselves, ‘Is this it? Is this as good as it’s going to get for me?’ And then they arrive here and realize that the best is yet to come.”

Comments from the women who have passed through the shelter range from “Nisa Homes made me feel like I had family,” to “I now have everything I need,” to “Happiest time of my life.”

It’s a dramatic transformation as women arrive in distress and walk into the house. Within moments, Qasqas says, she hears the words “thank you.”

“And you can tell that it’s not just them being polite. It’s the sense of relief, and that it’s a new beginning — a better beginning — for them.”