Source: Leader Post 

Sarah Valli

REGINA — Lives have been changed … and saved.

For 25 years, SOFIA House has been providing second-stage housing, counselling, education and facilitation services for women and children victims of domestic violence and abuse.

To celebrate a quarter-century of the shelter supporting families that are rebuilding a home of their own, a gala fundraiser will be held Oct. 25 at the Conexus Arts Centre. Internationally renowned designer Hilary Farr, of W Network’s hit design show Love It or List It, will be on hand to provide home design insights and answer home design questions.

“Because we are in the temporary housing business, we are always trying to help people create a warm, inviting environment.” explained SOFIA House executive director Sarah Valli.

The fundraiser is an opportunity “to show how you can transform homes while you transform lives,” she said.

SOFIA House is located in “a family-friendly, nice neighbourhood.”

“You would never know it’s a shelter if you walked by,” insisted Valli.

Demand has remained high.

“In the last five years that I have been there, the occupancy has been 93 to 97 per cent,” she said.

What has changed is the length of stay. Families are staying longer because it has become more and more challenging to find safe, affordable housing, Valli said, adding there are long wait lists for subsidized housing.

The upside to the longer stays, she pointed out, is that families are benefiting from the stability.

SOFIA House has 10 apartments: two three-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments. There’s also a communal playroom, office and counselling space.

The shelter, which was started by Sister Yvonne Toucanne, was originally housed in a four-apartment duplex that could accommodate three families, as well as the nun supporting them.

The programs and services provided by a second-stage shelter differ from those at a crisis shelter. After leaving an abusive home, women and children normally go to a crisis shelter, where they receive shelter, counselling and have their basic requirements met for a period of weeks.

A second-stage shelter like SOFIA House provides safe, affordable housing in self-contained apartments, so families can experience independent living in a safe and supportive environment. Ongoing counselling is provided, and families are given time to deal with legal issues before moving into the community. While there, some women deal with addictions, while others continue their education or enter job-training programs. The length of stay ranges from several months to a year.

“I think that shelters have a real valuable place in helping people who are involved in domestic violence situations,” Valli said. “People need to have a safe place to go to that is confidential and supported  so that people can feel safe during the night and during the day, and kids can go to school.”

“My wish is that there will be a time where the shelter will be a pivotal part of the community, where everyone will know that that is the safe place to be,” she said. “And that it will be celebrated.”

Valli praised the women who seek refuge at a shelter “because they are the ones that don’t want to live a violent life.”

“The women that take their children away from that violent situation are heroes in my eyes,” she said. “And they need to be able to be celebrated and supported by our community.”

“These women need to be able to walk out of that shelter with their heads high and be celebrated and cheered for their courage,” Valli said. “Because it takes so much bravery to leave everything that you have and start all over again with nothing.

Tickets for the SOFIA House 25th anniversary gala and fundraiser are $125, available from the Conexus Arts Centre box office.

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