The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Increased domestic violence and stress in aftermath of last year's Alberta flood

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CALGARY - Social agencies are reporting an increase in domestic violence and a need for more counselling a year after devastating floods destroyed parts of southern Alberta.

Robbie Babins-Wagner of the Calgary Counselling Centre says the number of people seeking help jumped 14 per cent in the months following the floods and spiked again last week when heavy rains led to some flooding in several communities.

She says the numbers are still higher than normal and many of the demands for help are a result of domestic violence and are starting to come in now.

"We thought we'd get a bump in referrals after the flood and realized we didn't get it because a lot of the issues were basic needs at that point," Babins-Wagner said Wednesday.

"We're starting to see it now as people move back into their homes. Some people have two mortgages — they're paying on their old property and their new — so family stress really makes people vulnerable to violence and the stress of a disaster is more stress than usual."

Babins-Wagner suggested the emotional toll from the floods could continue to be felt for years.

The Alberta government announced Wednesday a total of $2.03 million to provide more counselling and outreach services.

"Last year's southern Alberta floods resulted in personal trauma for many families and individuals directly impacted by this natural disaster," said Manmeet Bhullar, minister of human services.

"When there's a significant triggering event such as the loss of safety or security, loss of a home, that increases a lot of tension, that causes a lot of stress and, unfortunately, some people respond to that stress with a lot of aggression and potentially violence."

There are no firm figures documenting any increase in mental-health issues, Bhullar said, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence.

The executive director of Rowan House Emergency Shelter said the facility is normally full of women and families seeking shelter from violence. The situation has worsened over the last year, she said.

"We support women and children that are leaving abusive situations. We've seen a huge increase in the number of people coming to us and we've seen a real escalated volume of trauma in the women that do come to us," said Sherrie Botten.

"We certainly have seen double the numbers of women coming to us for support throughout the last year."

Funding is to go to several family violence agencies including the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter Association, Strathmore's Community Crisis Society and the YWCA of Calgary.

An additional $644,000 is to be provided to the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

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