Monica Lamb-Yorski photo Penny Stavast, program manager of community-based victim services at Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo Chilcotin Branch says the association’s alarm system for people at high-risk for domestic violence continues to be in full use for the Williams Lake area.

Domestic violence alarm program utilized fully in Williams Lake

With recent funding and grants the number of alarms has increased to 10

Several silent alarm systems for individuals at high-risk of domestic violence are installed in Williams Lake homes.

“Very rarely do we have an occurrence where the five alarms are not out in the community,” said Penny Stavast, program manager of community-based victim services at Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo Chilcotin Branch.

“In fact there are times when I have had to assess the need to remove one alarm to put into a higher risk situation. We don’t like to do that very often but it has been done.”

The program has been around since 1996, after the Violence Against Women in Relationships Committee and CMHA recognized the need for it.

“At that time it was basically a partnership with the RCMP, Kenar Alarms and Telus,” Stavast told the Tribune.

That first initiative allowed for five alarms to be in the homes of five clients who were recognized have high-risk to domestic violence.

“High risk is for death or bodily harm,” she explained, noting they are a portable alarm system that is installed in a person’s home.

Residents are given a panic alarm that can be initiated anywhere in the home or the yard.

If the alarm is pushed, RCMP are dispatched immediately to the home.

Read more: Purple Ribbon Campaign raises awareness about violence against women

Through the years the first alarms became antiquated and worn out and technology has changed with cell phones and fibre optics.

CMHA recognized the need to change the program and in 2014 worked with Kenar Alarms to make some changes.

The City of Williams Lake gave CMHA a $5,000 grant in 2014 for five new panels to replace the existing ones from 1996.

Eventually new alarms were installed to have the option of land lines or cell service.

Last winter, community policing gave CMHA funding for five new alarms, which brought the total up to seven with land line and cell phone technology and then CMHA fundraising paid for another three, which means there will be 10 available for the city.

Gay Sanders, president of CMHA, said the organization is not government-run, but is a non-profit.

“Most of our contracts are contracts or grants and we get them through Interior Health Authority, BC Housing, Solicitor General and Multiculturalism,” Sanders said. “Through our two major fundraisers — Strawberries for Valentine’s Day and a scrap booking weekend — pay for extras, such as three alarms.”

Read more: Upcoming CMHA workshop tackles mental illness

Criteria for the alarms

To be eligible a client has to be at high-risk of death or bodily harm.

There also has to be a protection order in place, meaning an offender or the perpetrator cannot have contact directly or indirectly with an individual.

The order can be made through the Family Relations Act through the courts or the criminal justice system.

So far, Stavast said, there have not been any incidents where a woman has been hurt or killed, but there was one incident in 2001 where some changes were made to the existing program.

When RCMP arrive they will stay until the offender is located or found in the community.

It is also available for anyone involved with family violence.

“We recognized there can be violence in same sex relationships, in a heterosexual relationships, we recognize it could be the man that’s the perpetrator or the woman that could be.”

Procedure for getting an alarm

A client requesting an alarm undergoes an interview with Stavast.

After acceptance, the client signs a contract to be responsible for the alarm as it is the property of CMHA and will be returned after it is no longer needed.

Any damages incurred due to negligence are the responsibility of the client, however, there are sometimes circumstances where CMHA recognizes the intent may not be there so they will not be held responsible.

“Sometimes there are false alarms, and the RCMP will still respond because there is no way of cancelling an alarm,” Stavast said. “The police will arrive and still do a complete inspection of the resident to ensure there is not anyone in the house forcibly trying to have the alarm stopped.”

Once the client has the alarm in place, they carry the key fob at all times, but it only works when they are in the residence.

“We test the alarm every time we do a set up so the client knows the distance to which she can utilize the alarm within her property. Yes, it usually works on the outside of a residence and may even work two houses away. We don’t want a client to feel like they have to hide in their house.”

Increased demands due to wildfires

Looking back before the 2017 wildfires, Stavast said her normal case load was between 44 to 50 clients.

Since October 2018, she has seen a “significant jump” to between 100 to 118.

She has also seen an increase in the number of residents needing the alarms.

“We have eight people on high-risk status of bodily harm in our community and every one of these alarms should be in their residences.”

Because of that higher number, CMHA has the capacity to apply to the Crime Victim Assistance Program for full-house alarms for the victims.

“The silent alarms we have then become a temporary system until we can get the full alarms in place,” Stavast said. “They are not just put into a resident’s home for peace of mind, they are used in the event the offender is anywhere near the property or having contact with the victim.”

There is also a $25 monthly monitoring fee for each alarm panel because most often clients do not have land lines anymore.

“That again is a fee we have to fundraise or find funding for.”

Upcoming programs

Thanks to some new grants, CMHA will be offering a number of programs in the near future.

The organization was one of 10 communities to receive a grant from the Solicitor General and will be using the $30,000 for violence prevention and intervention training for perpetrators.

Another $25,000 grant from Civil Forfeiture will go toward delivering a human trafficking and sexual assault awareness program focused on Aboriginal and school-aged youth.

Stavast said recently they have offered the program to Grade 9 and 10 students in the schools and hope to deliver it to other communities.

“We will be working with elders and the bands as we recognize some of the youth coming into Williams Lake for school are vulnerable to human trafficking. We will work with the Foster Parents Association and the Ministry of Children and Family Development,” she said, noting it will be a wrap-around approach with community partners to develop a toolbox. “It will be brand new for Williams Lake.”

There will be a series of men’s violence programs running in eight-week segments offered four times in the calendar years.

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