National Post

Monday, January 25, 1999

Canada's only men's shelter closing amid public apathy
Lack of funding: Three-month-old facility in Victoria is essential: operator

Donna Laframboise
National Post

Canada's only shelter for abused men will close its doors at the end of the week because of public apathy and a lack of funding, says Lynda Middlestead, the woman who has been running it.

For the past three months, the Elk Lake Lodge, in Victoria, B.C., has provided refuge to men who have been physically and verbally abused, as well as to those who find themselves temporarily homeless as a result of a marriage breakdown.

''You're talking about bus drivers, accountants, computer programmers, cops,'' Ms. Middlestead says. "These are the good guys. These are the guys that are making the world go around.''

When a marriage ends, society expects the man to leave so the children can remain in the home and suffer as little disruption as possible, she said.

"But he's still having to maintain the mortgage payments and the bills -- plus pay child support,'' Ms. Middlestead says. "At the end of all that, he's flat broke. He can't even afford to feed himself. These guys are sleeping in their cars, they're sleeping in their workplace. They're out on the street with a suitcase -- and nobody cares what happens to them.''

While some have been abused by their wives, "Nobody wants to talk about that," Ms. Middlestead says. "Nobody wants to deal with it. In British Columbia, we have 87 transition houses for women; we have none for men.''

Last fall, Ms. Middlestead and three other people rented a fully furnished former bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Victoria. She estimates that, between them, the four have contributed $25,000 of their own money to the project. Initially, the plan was to offer supportive, low-cost room and board to men who required short-term accommodation until their affairs could be put in order.

Although the lodge has the capacity to house 15, Ms. Middlestead says a maximum of six men have stayed there at one time, most of whom have paid the lodge at least $350 a month. She has had to turn away twice as many as she has been able to help, she says, because, "We can't feed them for nothing. We were just overwhelmed with guys that needed a place to stay who couldn't afford to pay.''

Attempts to secure financial assistance from both public and private sources have fallen on deaf ears.

"We've faxed every government office, we've talked to everybody, and nobody's listening to us,'' she says. "Everybody just gets this blank look on their face. It's like: 'You're doing what? For men? Why?' '' With no help in sight, she says, she has no alternative but to close.

As the mother of two sons, Ms. Middlestead believes society can't afford to ignore these men. "You're taking productive members of society and demoralizing them to the point where you're creating deadbeat dads,'' she says. "You're creating the guys that don't care anymore. The message that we're giving to our kids is: 'Something happens to your family? Mom's OK, [but] dad -- who cares?' ''

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