At the beginning of the 1980’s, needs were identified in the Durham Region for specialized services for abused women and their children. Community members formed the Women’s Hostel Committee who in turn applied for a grant from the Federal Government. Funding was received for the research required for a needs assessment, completed in February 1982. A strong need was identified for a facility for victims of violence against women; providing such services as safe shelter, counseling, and access to community resources and services.
Once the needs study was completed funding was acquired from the Provincial Government and the local community raised a total of $20,000. The original committee was incorporated on August 3, 1983 as Sedna Women’s Shelter and Support Services Inc. and the first Board of Directors was elected. In August of 1984, the original shelter of ten beds was opened on Division Street in Oshawa and was named Auberge. Funding was provided in part by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Region of Durham, local charitable organizations, and private donations.
Our original shelter operated at full capacity from the beginning and a consistent and lengthy waiting list indicated greater needs in the community. A new building was purchased and renovated with assistance from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The new shelter offered fifteen beds for women and children, and opened its doors in May of 1986.
In 1988, the tragic reality of our work became apparent following the murder of an ex-resident by the name of Denise Penny. We desired to recognize the life of a woman who had made a strong and lasting impact on our lives and consequently the shelter was renamed The Denise House. Possessing a strong will to build a new life, free from violence, Denise exemplifies our hopes for all women. The Denise House establishes a permanent memorial to the life and friendship of Denise Penny.
On July 25, 1991, The Denise House officially opened an expansion to our facility with the financial support of the Ministry of the Community and Social Services, Ministry of Housing, the Region of Durham, local charitable organizations and generous community donations. The shelter can now accommodate twenty-seven women and children and provide safety and resources for the families who reside with us.
All of our programs have grown over the last 30 years, a more comprehensive in-shelter children’s program as well as a community support program in recognition of the crucial ongoing needs expressed by previous residents and by women and children in the community who choose not to reside at the shelter.
Facts and History of Women Shelters
- In 2016/17 over 2,000 women and children relied on The Denise House shelter and programs: 1,345 crisis and support calls were received, 450 women and children received help and supportive counselling in our Community Outreach Programs, and 237 families lived in the shelter.
- In 2016/17 The Denise House served 237 families – 32% more than we are funded for and 11% increase over previous year
- In 2016/17 the support of our community helped The Denise House to provide 9,118 “Safe Sleep Nights” in the shelter.
- There are four shelters for women and children in Durham Region; 90 beds serve a population of 608,124 (2011) throughout 2,500 square kilometres. Two shelters (42 beds) are located in Oshawa: The Denise House and Y’s Wish (operated by the YWCA).
- Canada has a shelter system international experts consider one of the best. The first formal shelters, or transition houses, were established in the 1970s in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Most were started by women’s groups, charitable organizations and religious orders. In the 1980s there was a recognized need for larger facilities that were safe, provided space for children and professionally staffed.
- Every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner in Canada.*
- Police arrest 40,000 domestic violence offenders annually (12 per cent of all violent crime in Canada). But only 22 per cent are reported to police, making the real number much higher.*
- According to Statistics Canada: 80 per cent of women are fleeing abuse, of them 70 per cent experienced physical violence, 47 per cent flee from the threat of violence, 20 per cent suffered sexual abuse; 64 per cent experienced violence from a spouse or partner, 21 per cent from a former partner or spouse.
* The Facts About Violence Against Women, The Canadian Women’s Foundation
Early 1970s – First documented transition houses (British Columbia) and Oasis House (Alberta)
1973 – Interval Houses in Toronto and Saskatoon built
1975 – 18 shelters across the country
1975 – ‘79 Another 57 shelters were built
1988 – 265 first and second stage shelters
1994 – 380 shelters and transition houses
1997 – 520 shelters and transition houses
Early 2000’s – New programs to support women and children both in and outside of the shelters
Mid 2000’s until now – Community driven capital campaigns to build the first purpose-built shelters in Canada, designed to serve the women and children and the programs shelters offer (instead of old buildings and houses)