Ernestine’s Fight Against the Shadow Pandemic


Photo © Courtesy of Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter

There’s no place like home, but for some, Ernestine’s Women Shelter is better. Amid a global pandemic, women and children have been facing the darker, quieter pandemic of domestic violence.

Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter is a 32-bed emergency shelter that offers support to women and children escaping abuse and violence. Since opening its doors in 1983, Ernestine’s has supported over 15,000 women and children, providing shelter and life-saving outreach support to women and children across the GTA.

Ernestine’s knows that home is not a safe place for everyone, and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the rise of what has been referred to as the “shadow pandemic of domestic violence.” During the pandemic, shelter requests from women received by the Assaulted Women’s Helpline increased by 400 percent.

“We have a pandemic on top of a pandemic,” Angela MacDougall, Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), told CTV News. Between April 1st and December 31st, 2020, BWSS saw its call volumes rise by as much as 300 percent. Canada’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline received 71,633 calls, compared to 36,362 over the same period the previous year. Many shelters and transition houses across the GTA reported purchasing new technology to offer connection and virtual support to women and children in need.

“I take this opportunity to express how grateful I am to Ernestine’s for allowing and creating a safe and comfortable living space for my son and me for an entire year. Every woman who comes through the doors of Ernestine’s is certainly changed and impacted in a positive way. Thank you so much.”

Ernestine’s provides a range of holistic services, including 24-hour crisis-line assistance, individual and group-based counselling support, legal, housing, and immigration support and advocacy. Ernestine’s equips women and children with the essentials they need, from new bedding to clothes, school supplies, loaded Presto cards, and even prescriptions not covered by OHIP. Ernestine’s also operates on-site donations, clothing, and food banks, so women and children can have access to everything they need in an environment where they feel safe.

Ernestine’s believes that children’s needs are separate from those of their parents, and their voices need to be heard. The shelter provides supportive and sensitive programming for children who have witnessed or experienced violence. Child and Youth programming focuses on healthy emotional expression and creating a safe space to discuss their experiences.

“Being at Ernestine’s has made a big difference in my brother’s and my life. Ernestine’s has helped us to get back as a family. After seeing what my mum had gone through, the rough times, it was hard for us. Ernestine’s staff make us feel at home and comfortable in everything we do.”

To learn more about Ernestine’s and support the cause to end violence against women and children, visit

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Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter was opened in 1983 by a group of community members who saw a need for a safe place for women and children fleeing violence and abuse.


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