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Barrie shelter experience gave woman the chance to change her life’s course

Katrina Clarke, Special to the Examiner

The Woman and Children's Shelter of Barrie moved from this Berczy Street location to a new, larger facility in 1991. SUBMITTED

The Woman and Children's Shelter of Barrie moved from this Berczy Street location to a new, larger facility in 1991. SUBMITTED

This is part of a series of articles marking the 30th anniversary of the Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie


Jo-Anne David remembers packing her belongings into garbage bags as she prepared to leave her partner two decades ago.

She didn’t know where she was going to go.

She was a francophone who wasn’t originally from Barrie and had two children to take with her.

She just knew she had to leave.

“After years of putting up with emotional abuse and threats … I thought, ‘I’m out of here,’” David said.

As she was throwing the bags into her car, she received a fateful call from a colleague, suggesting she go to the Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie.

Twenty years later, David is now the executive director of the Francophone Prevention Centre for Violence Against Women and Sexual Assault where she works as a partner with the Barrie shelter and helps women like her younger self.

As a former client and current partner, David has seen the shelter progress through an “amazing journey” over the years.

This journey includes the celebration of a 30th anniversary and the launch of a new $3.5-million project called New Beginnings.

The project’s aim is to fund the development a new affordable housing apartment building in Barrie.

It’s expected to be completed within three years.

The apartments will be second-stage homes for families who have either stayed at the first-stage shelter or who have left an abusive situation recently.

Women and families will be able to reside in one of the 20 units for up to a year.

“During that time they can more forward in their lives,” said Heather Croft, the shelter’s community development co-ordinator.

“Whether it’s going back to school, finding a job or having their rent be less so they can put that money towards moving forward.”

Croft said she’s found more families have been staying longer at the shelter, partly because it’s difficult to find affordable housing in Barrie.

“A lot of the time people are feeling like there’s no hope,” Croft said. “This gives us a chance to say … capture your dreams and this community will be behind you.”

David understands first hand the importance of having a supportive community and a safe place to stay. The five weeks she and her children spent at the shelter in 1993 provided her with newfound peace and security.

She refers to the shelter as her sanctuary and to the staff as angels.

“I’d never seen people that calm,” she said. “I came from an environment where everybody screams and yells.”

The staff offered her support and information about practical matters like legal rights. Instead of forcing the assistance, they helped her empower herself.

“They would let us discover and put words to things,” David said.

This is how she began to see her life more clearly. She realized that violence had become her norm.

While she spent time at the shelter gaining a new peace of mind, the clients and staff became her new community and support system.

During the evenings, David would help out around the shelter, just as a family member would at home, and during the day, she continued on with her life, going to work and dropping her kids off at daycare.

When she was ready to leave, the staff helped her prepare for a fresh start. They sent her off with essentials, like dishes, and pocket change for items she might need.

But most importantly, they helped set her on the path to finding peace.

This wasn’t always easy to achieve in the years after she left.

“I did a lot of going into silence and figuring out my life,” David said.

In 1998, she made a five-year plan and decided to pursue her dream of attending university. Still supporting her children,

she knew this would be difficult, but she took a leap of faith.

“It was like jumping off the CN Tower,” she said. “And free falling.”

She landed on her feet. After graduating from York University with a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in law, David was offered her current position at the francophone prevention centre.

For six years, she’s been able to do what makes her happy.

She now calls herself a “welcome wagon for the francophone community” and takes on a supportive approach to helping others. She’s caring, not overbearing — similar to what she experienced at the shelter.

“I love helping people. I’m about empowering them,” David said. “But I’m not a martyr. I’ll give them the tools, resources, references and say, ‘Go girl.’”

Her past helps her relate to the women she assists and she’s also now able to share her new perspectives with them.

“For women it’s often about family, traditional family, and not being a failure. So when you leave a relationship, that’s considered failure,” David said. “But I call it sucking it up. If I create kids and create that environment for them, I’m only creating that for the next generation.”

Today, she’s achieved a peace that the shelter helped her discover 20 years ago.

“I love life. I always did. But it was just being snuffed out,” she said.

“Now, I’m happy.”

For information on the shelter, visit


The shelter in the 1990s:

  • • The early outreach office was small and cramped to the point that one staff member’s office was in the old safe.
  • • The shelter moved from Berczy Street to the new, larger facility in 1991.
  • • There was little money to purchase furniture for the outreach office so staff begged and borrowed to furnish the space.
  • • In 1999 the agency changed its name from the Women’s Crisis Centre to the Women and Children’s Shelter.
  • • Shelter staff made a close connection with YMCA immigrant services in the 1990s when the Barrie demographics were changing.
  • • The shelter hired a victim services co-ordinator to work with the Simcoe County District School Board and teach principals, teachers and their support staff about domestic violence.
  • • In 1995, a young male police officer brought a woman in her mid-70s into the shelter. She was leaving an abusive husband and the officer was very choked up when he told her story. He said the woman reminded him of his grandmother. The woman stayed at the shelter for five months at a time when the average stay was six to eight weeks.

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