Victoria Times Colonist

For men only

Society believes men can fend for themselves, emotionally and financially. Those who have witnessed someone going through difficult times know differently

Katherine Dedyna
Victoria Times Colonist
Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Times Colonist
Bob Waters, left, and Gary Brandstadt are attempting to start emergency services and a shelter for men in need

There are critical times when men need somewhere to turn for support, advice and a roof over their heads when their world is falling apart. They could be the victims of spousal violence either physical or psychological; on the verge of committing violence to themselves or their families or may have volunteered to leave to leave the family home after police respond to a domestic dispute.

But while women's transition houses have rightly become part of the landscape of social support in the last 20 years, there are no comparable facilities for men, say two advocates proposing the Victoria Men's Emergency Services and Housing Project.

"We want to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable of society's men,'' says project manager Bob Waters, whose personal experience with the downward spiral after a high-conflict divorce fostered his belief in the need for such a haven. "They've reached a point in life where their vision of their family has shattered. They've lost their family, and their residence and possibly their job.''

The advocates are calling on people who support men to accompany them Wednesday at noon when they hand-deliver a copy of a new video Also At Risk: Men Who Are Abused, to Premier Gordon Campbell's office. The timing coincides with a national news release the same day to bring attention to the male victims of spousal abuse.

As it now stands, the province is not living up to its responsibilities to treat victims of violence equally given the emphasis on female victims served by a ministry that includes women's services in a $50-million mandate, says Waters. Focus on men in difficult domestic situations tends to be as perpetrators, not male victims needing support, he adds.

Society assumes that men can always fend for themselves emotionally and financially, even though family breakup often impoverishes men as well as women, says Gary Brandstadt, a social worker who has led support groups for men since 1990.

Their proposal has no funding thus far but the duo have applied to both the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the federal government for $50,000 in start-up financing.

"There's not a lot of public awareness of the issue. We want to get the message to clients, mentors, volunteers and funders,'' says Waters.

The proposal has the strong support of Esquimalt MP Keith Martin who said Friday he would like to see it receive priority funding. "I don't want to pit women's shelters against men's shelters -- that is absolutely what cannot happen. I think we should be ensuring the care is there for people in need, who are abused, regardless of their gender.''

In a letter of support to Waters, Martin says that men who suffer from grief, anger, shame and isolation as a result of separation from spouse and children are often devastated emotionally and financially, at times leading to domestic violence and suicide.

In June, Statistics Canada reported that men are almost as likely to be the victims of spousal violence as women, but suffer less severe consequences.

Seven per cent of men and eight per cent of women reported being attacked by their partners during the past five years, with women twice as likely to have been beaten, but men more likely to have been assaulted with a weapon.

Only 17 per cent of men turned to a social service agency for assistance compared with 48 per cent of women, who were five times more likely to required medical help.

In a recent letter to Minster of Health Services Colin Hansen, Martin said that three-quarters of local suicides in recent years were male, with the second leading cause the break-up of the family. "This, coupled with the typical custody orders that relegate fathers to become weekend visitors in their children's lives, has placed extreme stress on men.''

Replying to Martin, Hansen said that health system restructuring leaves it up to regional health authorities to establish the delivery of services to meet the needs of their populations.

So now the proposal is "in the hopper" with about 100 other funding proposals that will be reviewed by a committee, and no decision made until October, says Cathy Dargie, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

There has been no word as yet from the National Crime Prevention Centre run by the federal Department of Justice.

Regardless of government funding, Waters and Brandstadt plan to forge ahead with a few fee-based programs in the range of $15 a session at a James Bay house beginning today with a view to billeting men in homes in the immediate future.

They hope that will at least lay the groundwork for what they envision as a 24/7 crisis facility with a hotline, accommodation for men and their children, support, early intervention and programs in personal growth.

Initial counselling sessions and support groups are expected on such topics as anger management, a dads helpind dads group, career management and life transitions.

Benefits to such a safe house include the reduction or elimination of violence to women, children and men, and the associated demands on the health care system; a reduction of male suicide after marital breakup, less job absenteeism by distraught men, better male role modelling for children and less fear of violence on the part of men's families as fathers receive support, their proposal states.

As far as they can determine, there is no public funding for transition houses for men in Canada, although another men's safe house is under discussion in Calgary.

The effort has the backing of Victoria psychologist Jim Ricks, founding director of the Well Foundation, who says a transition house would provide a good cooling-off time and place with the potential for reducing the need for high-priced professional response to conflict.

"It's certainly fair to be considering the needs of men's health and well-being in particular. In a time of across-the-board cutbacks in all kinds of social and health services, we need to be looking and programs that are not expensive to run, like this one. I think it has got real potential for making a difference. And it's something that government needs to be looking at.''

How great the need is for a men's safe house is yet to be determined.

"It's something that's not measured today and what doesn't get measured, doesn't get done,'' says Waters.

He wants to build strategic partnerships with agencies such as the Single Parent Resource Centre and the Need crisis line.

They're starting very small with a bed and a couch but could provide emergency accommodations within 30 days of start-up funding.

The facility should signify safety and respect and support -- not "a bunker for angry men,'' says Waters. "We're not providing shelter for people who have committed a crime but might have and they need help now.''

The men do not challenge the need for women's services in the face of violence but believe that men also deserve government consideration.

"It's as if there's only one set of victims,'' says Brandstadt. "The resources are there for women to get out of an abusive relationship.''

Men in a marital breakdown often do not manage grief appropriately. "It translates as rage or 'get away from me' or 'nobody cares about me.' " It's hard for men to cry, or to reach out for support, and for some services, the support isn't there so men can get "stuck in themselves" rather than dealing with their emotions.

"Men are not as verbal as women and may not learn verbal skills to express frustration. They need retraining not to express it physically.''

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