Community grant helps Black women escaping domestic violence

By: Kathy Mueller, senior communications advisor, Canadian Red Cross
“I believe that when you understand the person you’re interacting with, you’ll be in a better position to help them.”

Imani's Place founder Lisa OgboleLisa Ogbole, pictured right, is a survivor of domestic violence, an immigrant, and a woman, but she says one of the most important supports she can provide to Black women who are escaping domestic violence is that she too is Black.

“When I was going through my ordeal it was so hard for me to be able to find services that had people who look like me, or people who could relate to my culture,” says the Nigerian-born Ogbole. “I felt it was important to have a place that serves Black women.”

In February 2019, Ogbole opened Imani’s Place in Alliston, Ontario, a community of about 20,000 just over an hour’s drive north of Toronto. It is a transitional home for women escaping domestic violence or human trafficking. Its doors are open to helping anyone who identifies as a woman, but it focuses on supporting Black women, women of colour and Indigenous women.

“It’s not just about reflecting who they are,” says Ogbole. “Food plays an important role in the healing process and here they can have Jamaican food, African food. There’s a different connection if, as an African you see fufu on the table. All of a sudden you’re happier.”

A picture of a bedroom with two beds and large windows.Besides a safe place to stay, Imani’s Place provides counselling, case management, job readiness and immigration settlement support. It will also refer women to community services as needed.

Since the pandemic was declared in March, Ogbole says they have received at least 200 calls for help; a 60 percent increase from the previous year. With the holiday season now here, the ongoing stress of coping with COVID-19 and, in some cases, loss of work and income, she expects that trend to continue.

“The festive period is not a blessing for everyone. The pandemic has made home very uncomfortable for people. Women are being asked to stay home with their abusers.”

Imani’s Place is preparing. Currently operating with a five-bed capacity, work is underway in the basement to add two more beds so they can accommodate more women and their children.

A Christmas tree pictured standing in a living room with two couches.Ogbole is also hoping a new hotline, which is open to all, will help calm tensions before anyone has to cross the threshold of Imani’s Place. Volunteers answer the hotline and refer callers to a social worker or youth counsellor who were hired by Ogbole using funds received from the Canadian Red Cross as part of the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund.

“There is a lot of need in the Black community right now to address mental health issues related to the pandemic,” explains Ogbole. “People are depressed. They’re stressed. They may have lost their job. They might be in custody battles with their ex. This hotline has done a lot to educate the Black community on why it’s important to seek help and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

When the hotline began operating in September, Ogbole says they set a target of receiving 150 calls by November. They exceeded that.

“I want to send a big thank you to the Red Cross for providing the funding for this hotline. It’s really beneficial to our community and it’s gone a long way in instilling confidence in us as a Black people that there are organizations that are looking out for us.”

Imani’s Place Hotline can be reached at: 1-800-507-6860.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or are in immediate danger and needs help, call 9-1-1 or the emergency phone number in your area. If you are experiencing domestic violence and abuse, most provinces and territories have a domestic violence phone line and crisis lines available to provide support.

Need help in a crisis? - Text CONNECT to 686868 to reach Kids Help Phone; or call Crisis Services Canada toll-free at 1-833-456-4566.

This program was supported thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada's Emergency Community Support Fund.
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