Shelter from the storm


Lurana offers a safe haven for women and their children escaping abusive relationships
By -- For the Edmonton Sun

September 26, 2004

You want the truth?" Jack Nicholson might say. "You can't handle the truth."

It is certainly not something that's easy to accept. While there are a few good men, it sometimes seems like there is no end to the bad ones.

Lurana Shelter is a wonderful place, but it is not a happy place. Video surveillance, fences, bulletproof glass.

Safety matters around here. In fact, it is all that matters. Because some men, far too many men, don't know when to stop.

Lurana is a shelter for abused women and children in an undisclosed inner-city location. For hundreds of victims every year, it represents the first step on the road to a new life. It is a safe haven, an escape hatch where lives that have been torn apart can be put back together.

The facility is operated by the Franciscan Sisters Benevolent Society. Sister Lucinda May Patterson is the executive director of Lurana Shelter.

Hers is a tough job, often a dirty, frightening job, but the rewards make it worthwhile. In fact, "job" is not the right word. It is more of a calling.

"I am humbled by my work," Sister Lucinda says as we chat at the society's main office. There is no question that her words come straight from the heart.

"It's very rewarding, but I don't look at it that way. The women who come to Lurana Shelter are like gold-medal champions to me," she says. "It takes so much courage to leave and start over. Our team only plays a small part in a very long journey."

Between April of this year and March of 2005, the shelter will become a sanctuary for more than 900 women and children. There are 32 beds at the facility, "not counting cribs," she says. They run at or near capacity almost 100% of the time.

"Individuals are becoming better informed, but the problem is not getting better," says Sister Lucinda. "If anything, it seems to be getting worse. I don't know if the incidents have increased, but they seem to be getting more intensive and rougher."

The first step, she says, is taking that first step by leaving or making a phone call. They are allowed to stay three full weeks. The idea is to empower the victims of domestic violence so they can make positive changes and find viable alternatives before it's too late.

Many women stay in an abusive relationship because of blind love or for financial reasons. The shelter offers safety and support, food, medical care and counselling when it's time to escape. Most of all, it offers hope of safer nights and better days ahead.

Sister Lucinda has seen it all in the past five years at the helm. It is the courage she has witnessed that stands out and inspires her.

"It is so difficult to leave and pick up the pieces," says the native of Michigan. As a young girl, she dreamed of having a large family. In a sense, all of Edmonton's families are hers if the need arises.

"The spirit I see gives me hope that a victim will be able to live, love and be free in the future," she says.

There are still times when it's almost too much to bear. Last summer, a woman arrived with two small children. She had been stabbed several times. She had been to Lurana Shelter before, but had gone back to her husband. Making a promise is one thing, keeping it is another.

"We try not to let them see our tears," she says.

There's a reason the shelter is in an inner-city neighbourhood. Most of the abuse takes place there, but certainly not all of it. "The victims come from every walk of life," says Sister Lucinda. "Our oldest victim was 78 and our youngest was just 18. We have had professional women who can't believe such a thing could happen to them. There is no blueprint."

Worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Get out today.

"We had a three-year-old girl call 911 on behalf of her mother," Sister Lucinda says. "I pray with all my heart that there can be a happy ending for these women and children. One person at a time. The cycle of violence is so difficult to break. The main thing is that the victim has to be ready to help herself."

Sister Lucinda is a quiet lady who would help anyone in need. But it's the children who are nearest and dearest to her heart. No child should have to live in fear.

"It's all about the kids," says the former high school teacher who did not answer God's calling until she was 32 - "Very late," she says. She has been making up for lost time ever since.

One incident stands out in her mind. It was as bad as it gets, then it was almost too good to be true.

"It was about three years ago, the day before Easter. We had a young mother arrive via hospital. She had been beaten horribly. She was black and blue, carrying a three-day-old baby boy."

The father had attacked because the child would not stop crying. When the mother moved to protect her baby, the man's anger was directed at her.

"Each day she got a little bit better, and the swelling and bruising went away," says Sister Lucinda.

The young family left the shelter after the full 21-day term, but they did not return to their old life. "A year later, she walked into the shelter to say thank you. She was so healthy and happy, the little boy was walking and laughing."

Teaching high school was rewarding, says Sister Lucinda, "but it wasn't for me. This is where I belong. I feel an inner peace even when it is chaotic."

She was assigned to Edmonton nine years ago, a strange city in a foreign country. She has fallen head over heels in love with the place.

"I love everything about it," she says. "It is a fantastic place. The people here continue to amaze me."

Government funding has increased, so an additional seven beds have opened up. Still, 23% of funding comes from corporate and individual donations. On Monday, the Edmonton Sun's seventh-annual Tiara Classic Golf Tournament at the Derrick raised $25,000 for the Lurana Shelter.

Before dinner, Sister Lucinda did a mime act to the song, The Tears Of God. The generosity of strangers, she says, leaves her speechless.

Anyone wishing to donate to Lurana Shelter can call 429-2002. More importantly, the Crisis Line number is 424-5875. Or call 911. Or call a friend.

"Just call for help," Sister Lucinda says. The door, as they say, is always open.