Hopefully you have never been in the situation of living in an abusive relationship where you have no power, no money, and no friends or family to help you out. Unfortunately that situation is one that far too many people (mostly women) find themselves trapped in not knowing where to turn for assistance. Thankfully there are many good organizations in and around Leduc including RiseUp House, the Camrose Women's Shelter and FCSS to name a few, that can help women suffering from abuse. Leduc also has one more organization that's maybe not quite as well known but filling a very important role in this community: the Night Angels.
Night Angels was formed about 6 years ago through the Leduc Shelter Assoc. which was a small group of people headed up by current City Alderman Dave MacKenzie, who had come together to do a needs assessment study on whether Leduc needed a Women's Shelter. At that time it was determined the demand was not great enough to pursue the shelter idea but it was still acknowledged that there was a need for an organization to exist that could assist women in abusive situations to escape their abusers; hence, Night Angels began.
Night Angels is an organization that has no building, no overhead, and no paid staff. They operate with just six dedicated volunteers and have created a network using local business services and partnering with other relief organizations to get these women to safety and start them on a new path in life.
Acknowledging that Night Angels volunteers do not have the training or facilities to help women in high risk situations, which are better handled by such organizations as the Camrose Women's Shelter, Dave shared that they focus on women in low risk situations that may, or may not, come with special requirements that could rule out assistance from other organizations.
Charlie was a woman that fit that bill exactly. Living in an abusive relationship where she did not have a job, no money of her own, no vehicle, had been completely isolated from family and friends, and had three dogs (one of which was over 20 years old) that she could not leave behind.
"The organizations I called trying to get help would not entertain the idea of my dogs." said Charlie. "I just couldn't leave them behind. They are like my furry children! But organization after organization said they could only help me if I got rid of my dogs. Then I read a little article in the Pipestone Flyer about the Night Angels and hoping against hope I decided to give them a phone call. I tracked Dave down through the City and when I finally reached him and explained my situation he never hesitated. He simply said I needed to get me and my dogs to Leduc and help would be waiting. He was as true as his word."
Charlie's abusive boyfriend was returning from working out of town at the end of the weekend so by the time she had tracked Night Angels down she had a very limited time to get out of the house. She threw together a bag of belongings, gathered up her dogs, called an acquaintance to give her a ride to town and was met by local realtor and Night Angels volunteer, Jackie Truitt.
"Shortly after I arrived they had everything taken care of." said Charlie. "They managed to find a kennel that would house two of my dogs free of charge for a couple of weeks until I was situated, and they even worked with the hotel they placed me in so that I could keep my one dog that suffered from seizures with me. And I simply can't say enough about Jackie! Every morning she called me and the first words she said were always the same; 'How are you doing?' It was incredible to know that these people cared about me so much!"
Like so many women who get trapped in abuse, all Charlie needed was the opportunity to escape and get safe, and she wasted no time in creating a new life for herself. "Within two weeks I had a place to live and two and a half jobs!" she laughs. She also had her dogs back at her side and has been able to pickup the pieces and move on with her life.
"I cannot say enough good things about Night Angels." Stated Charlie. "They are doing a difficult job that needs to be done, giving people the opportunity to get out of an abusive situation. Especially people with pets. That is why I stayed so long. I just couldn't leave my dogs behind. I know there are other women out there like me. When your pets are all you have, you can't just abandon them."
It takes a lot of courage to leave an abusive relationship and Dave shared that when the women show up they generally "Don't have two nickels to rub together. They show up in a state of shock, emotionally distraught, with just a small bag of belongings to their name and that's it."
Before being accepted into the Night Angels program the women must complete a risk assessment done by the Camrose Women's Shelter which is just one of the organizations that Night Angels partners with and refers women to the program.
The women are then set up in one of the five hotels that gives Night Angels a special rate, and from there they are walked through the process of receiving emergency assistance through organizations such as The Hub, 2nd Glance, the Leduc and District Foodbank, and counselling through RiseUp House.
"The local churches have been amazing and our corporate sponsors have been extremely supportive of the program." Said Dave. "Since starting we have provided more than 330 nights accommodation to women in distress. We are very lucky in that due to the fact we have no overhead costs our fundraising dollars have stretched pretty far but there is such a need out there you can never have 'too much' funding." He said with a smile. "Domestic violence and abuse definitely exists here and I think the City needs to be aware that it's a real problem. There are lots of people moving to Leduc that do not have any family or support systems here so if they have a problem where do they turn? This is not a simple problem to solve."
In the meantime, Night Angels are making all the difference for a lot of people one life at a time. Charlie can certainly attest to that. "I'm sure Night Angels has saved more lives than they know. I'll be the first to admit that they saved mine."