Greenhaven Shelter for Women – A Vital Way Out

LuxuryOrillia Contributor Nikki Cole says community support is vital to Orillia’s Greenhaven Shelter for Women


Deciding to leave an abusive or violent relationship takes an enormous amount of courage, so knowing you have somewhere safe to go once you make that decision can make all the difference.

Greenhaven Shelter for Women in Orillia Ontario has been offering that safe space for local women for nearly three decades. Recently, the shelter took an enormous step forward, moving out of the converted house where it had been based and taking ownership of a new 14,000 square foot facility in the city’s north end.

The shelter provides a variety of services, ranging from short-term emergency crisis intervention, outreach community support, transitional housing support services, and a children’s program offering support to kids who are exposed to and witnessing violence against their mothers, explains Executive Director Liz Westcott.


Fundraising Plays a Key Role in Greenhaven’s Success


While Greenhaven did receive significant government funds towards construction, they were still obligated to raise $1 million towards the new building in addition to what they must raise annually towards the overall operating costs.

“For us to keep this building operating, we need to fundraise each and every year for groceries and operations. Just to pay the hydro bill is done with fundraised dollars. Everything helps and we are incredibly grateful to our community for their support,” says Liz.

“We get about $680,000 for operating the shelter which covers close to 80 per cent of operations, but we need to fundraise $250,000 annually. That just keeps the lights on and doors open. There is no luxury in those numbers.”

That’s where events like Greenhaven’s annual charity golf tournament come in, having raised over $300,000 since the first tee time 21 years ago. This year’s event is slated for Monday, July 6, at Bonaire Golf Club in Coldwater and Liz is anticipating it will be the best yet. The cost of the event is $150 per golfer or $600 for a team, and sponsorships are accepted.

“We have a variety of ways in which to sponsor the tournament,” says Liz, adding the event typically brings in between $15,000 and $20,000 each year.


Greenhaven Helps Women and Children Create New Lives After Abuse


Liz has been with Greenhaven since before the doors opened 28 years ago. She has witnessed numerous women and children who were able to create new lives after receiving help from the staff and services at the shelter.

“The success stories are pretty amazing. A woman came back once and asked for a staff member by name. She had left her relationship seven years prior because she’d spoken to this person on the phone who made her feel empowered to do it,” says Liz, adding the woman explained her life had changed in every way thanks to the help she received.

“She said she was now in a relationship that feeds her soul and in a position where she can now give back. The only place she wanted to do that was at Greenhaven.”

Another success that comes to mind is of a young man who approached her at a fundraising event.

“I was standing chatting to some folks and all of a sudden I felt someone put something in my hand. I looked up and saw this young man standing beside me – and in my hand was a $100 bill,” she says. “He told me he’d lived at the shelter when he was eight years old and said he just had to come and give me the money. I thought ‘wow!’ That experience had a profound impact on that young man’s life. It’s stories like these that get you up in the morning.”


Drive and Determination Helped Build Orillia’s First Shelter for Women


The shelter officially opened its doors in late 1991 after a group of local women joined forces to investigate what was available in Orillia for women experiencing violence in their home.

But its roots went back several years before that. Women had begun coming forward and talking to social workers and counselling agencies about the fact they were in dangerous situations and didn’t know what to do. But there were few services available to them in their community.

“There was a shelter in Barrie but nothing local,” notes Liz.

So this group of activists got together and discussed what needed to happen to build a shelter in Orillia. Shortly after, in December 1989, there was a mass shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique (an event that became known as the Montreal massacre): 14 young women were murdered by a lone gunman.

That event shook the country, launching a nation-wide campaign that prompted the federal government to look at enhancement dollars that would be available to communities to see how, when and how many shelters could be built.

Locally, the group of women was even more intent on creating a shelter in Orillia, and submitted an application to Project Haven, a federally sponsored government initiative which provided funding towards the construction of a new shelter.

Even with help from federal funding, it took incredible drive and determination to get the shelter built.

“Four women in that group went and took out a personal loan to buy a property. And in October 1991, Greenhaven Shelter for Women officially opened,” Liz recalls. “The building was a renovated single-family home that had become a multi-person unit housing up to 13 women and children, staffed 24-hours-a-day and operating a crisis line. The program has evolved since then for certain, but we continue to offer support and services to women with dependents who are experiencing or subjected to violence.”


Dreams of a New Shelter Finally Come to Fruition


The biggest change to the shelter took place this past December, with the culmination of a project to more than triple the size of the shelter.

“Our operating dollars have had to remain the same, so we weren’t able to grow the number of women we could provide services to, but this new facility has allowed us to provide services in a much more respectful, engaging and healing way. Being able to offer our community-based programs, as well as the residence all at one location, being able to offer groups and actually support women without having to be overcrowded creates a far more responsive environment for women to get away and feel safe,” says Liz.

“When we consider we have 14 beds, are full 80 per cent of the time, serve in excess of 150 to 175 women and kids in our residence – and another 150-400 women in our community-based programs – this all suggests we have some work still ahead of us.”


Community Partnerships Could Help Meet the Needs of Women


The epidemic of violence against women in our communities has been beyond imagining, she continues.

“A woman is being murdered every third to fourth day in Canada by someone who professes to love her, so we definitely still have some issues to deal with,” says Liz.

In the future, she says, the shelter has an opportunity to closely look at the diverse needs of women being subjected to violence and begin working with the community in a collaborative way to ensure those needs are met.

“We need to look at how power and control rolls out in a relationship, and how we can replace that with equitable partnerships from a caring and respectful place.”

In the early days, Liz says there was the expectation that things would change if only people realized that abusive behaviour is not OK. Over the years, she has learned that’s actually not the case.

“I am kind of stunned it exists, but it truly does. The trauma women experience from violence is life changing – and for some life ending. It’s incredibly disturbing.”

Orillia is extremely lucky to have a facility such as Greenhaven, notes Ray Snoei, a financial planner with Manulife Securities Incorporated. He is one of many people in the community who supports the work of Greenhaven.

“Unfortunately, there’s a need for a place like this, but we are extremely fortunate that those families have a place they can go to where they can feel safe and get the help they need,” says Ray. “The staff at Greenhaven do an excellent job providing comfort and help to families so they can feel safe when they need it the most.”

The best way to help support the work at Greenhaven is to contact Liz directly by telephone 705-327-7383, ext 223; or by visiting their website at, or the shelter’s Facebook page.

A golf tournament on July 6 is one of several fundraising events planned for this year.




Nikki Cole is a Contributor with LuxuryOrillia