Construction begins for new women’s shelter in central Cambridge
At the Haven House shelter for women in Cambridge, space is tight.
Abused women and children are spread over multiple floors. They share bedrooms. They share bathrooms.
It’s not a tenable situation, says Mary Zilney – although in a sense, she does see it as a positive.
As CEO of Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, she doesn’t like to hear of women being abused – but she prefers it to letting them suffer in silence.
“We want women to talk about it and to reach out, and not to keep it hidden,” she said.
“The more we raise community awareness about the services, the more women come forward. This is what we want.”
Enough women have been coming forward for long enough that Zilney and her organization decided several years ago to look at a new site.
Land was acquired on Acorn Way, next to Christ the King Catholic Elementary School.
Necessary permits were obtained, and contracts signed – and Monday, dignitaries gathered for a ceremonial groundbreaking to mark the official start of construction.
“It’s been a four-and-a-half-year journey,” Zilney said.
“We’re elated that we’re finally here.”
Through the process, some people living on Acorn Way have been much less than elated.
Karinn Martel says the shelter’s impending arrival is directly responsible for her decision to put her house up for sale, and likely move out of the city altogether.
“I’m not going to feel safe here anymore,” she said in an interview.
Martel says she’s concerned that children taken to the shelter will be made fun of if they attend neighbouring schools, that traffic will increase and that abusers will try to get into the shelter.
On the last point, Zilney says it’s highly unlikely – but cameras and other security measures will be in place.
“Abusers are interested in their partner, and not the community at large,” she said.
“It’s controlling the woman that’s important to them.”
Other people in the area said they have fewer concerns about their future neighbours.
“There is a need for it, and it has to be somewhere,” said Samantha Wiltshire, who recently moved to Cambridge and said she didn’t learn about the shelter until the last few days.
“It feels like we’re in a safe community. Hopefully they’ll feel safe here as well.”
Atamjeet Kainth said he had concerns, but that his issues – property values and a loss of greenspace – would be the same whether it was a shelter or something else built on the parkland.
“I understand the need for it, and I understand the principle behind it – it’s just (that) I wish they’d done it somewhere else,” he said.
Out of the total $9.4-million cost of the new Haven House shelter, $3.5 million had been raised as of Monday.