Congregate living means more bathrooms and increased kitchen space necessary

Article by Bill Hornbostel

Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre was recently given a grant of $147,600 by the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) to upgrade their women’s shelter.

Nancy Johnston, Cornerstone’s Executive Director, going into the details of what this means for the shelter says, We received a grant through the Resilient Community Stream in response to the impact on our organization from COVID-19.” 

Nancy Johnston

She mentions the impact of COVID-19 on the shelter. “As you can imagine, in a congregate living setting, we’ve had to reduce our occupancy rate in the shelter in order to abide by public health guidelines to physically distance, and just [for] basic infection prevention and control, you don’t want a full house,” Johnston says.

“One of the measures for infection prevention and control as a result of COVID – and really, at any time – is trying to reduce shared space of all kinds,” continues Johnston. “Bathrooms are one of the shared spaces that we were trying to limit. We looked at the footprint that we already had and thought, ‘How can we add bathrooms to our second floor and shelter?’ There was a way to do it; we worked with contractor to figure that out, so we’re adding three new client bathrooms on the second floor.”

Cornerstone new kitchen layout

To give a better idea of how the grant will affect the shelter, Johnston talks about the spaces the shelter currently has and how those have been affected by pandemic health measures. “We have a total of eleven bedrooms,” she says. “There is one bedroom on the main floor that is accessible; we have had to turn that bedroom into our isolation unit so that if anyone has symptoms – we screen everybody twice a day – or gets tested positive for COVID-19, they have a fully isolated space that they can quarantine in.”

“Then upstairs, we’ve got a total of ten bedrooms, and we have four bathrooms,” adds Johnston. Six of the bedrooms have three shared bathrooms – three pairs of rooms each with one shared bath – and the new bathrooms are going to put in between the remaining rooms. “It will allow us to add some more people into the shelter, the exact number really depends on the configuration of our families. Because families can obviously be together in one room, we can’t have two single women in the same bedroom.”

“Presently, we have twelve people in total in the shelter, and we’re able to accommodate that quite nicely; we have some families and we have some single people,” Johnston continues. “Staff are having to juggle a lot of extra things; they have been truly amazing throughout this. But we often have to move people around, according to how we can accommodate and if we get a call from a woman who really needs to come in. We’ve also had to be creative and sometimes move women into motels; those would be women who have been with us for a period of time and are stabilized and there’s no safety concerns.”

Cornerstone new staff kitchen area rendering

“But anyone who’s high-risk in our community,” adds Johnston, “we will bring them in no matter what and we will figure out space later. I don’t want anyone to be dissuaded, I want to continue to emphasize that we are here, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and we haven’t stopped being here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so certainly if anyone is in in need or they know somebody who is please don’t be discouraged; reach out, get help. Staff are available and always helpful and wanting to help out.”

Another part of the shelter that is being renovated is the kitchen. Johnston says, “We also had to reconfigure our kitchen space to abide by physical distancing and figure out, in a congregate living setting, how can women be most comfortable but also ensure that we’re following those health guidelines.”

“We’re trying to figure out how to continue to make it as simple a setting as we can, because we think that that’s really important,” Johnston says. “We want it to be home-like setting.”

“We do have staff who prepare food, so we are going to reconfigure our existing kitchen space, so that staff can have a separate area. stuff can be in there, but it will be nicely distanced,” continues Johnston. “Then clients can also just come and go in their kitchen space.”

Johnston describes how the kitchen will be renovated. “It will be almost as a separate kitchen; essentially, there will be two kitchens in one area,” she states. In addition to masks and face shields, Johnston says, “An additional space will be really helpful for us to be able to make healthy and delicious meals for clients and clients can come and go in their own kitchen space as well, we don’t have to worry about the distancing and limiting.”

“We have to put limits on all of our spaces, including our offices, of how many people can be in one space. In the kitchen, the maximum right now is for a total of four, including staff,” says Johnston. “That can be challenging if you’ve got a mom with three kids, and then another woman who’s wanting to come in and make a cup of coffee. That’s not always a great home-like setting, and certainly an extra burden on staff to monitor the numbers in all the rooms and ensure that we’re following all the [health] guidelines.”

“We were really pleased that OTF saw that need and understood what this impact of COVID has been for us and responded so generously,” states Johnston.

For more information on Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre, you may visit their Web site, You may also follow them on Facebook at (@CornerstoneFamilyViolencePreventionCentre), Twitter (@CornerstoneFVPC) and Instagram (@cornerstonefvpc).

Support for sufferers of domestic violence is available through Cornerstone Connect by texting 289-210-4774, or through the web portal at Cornerstone also has a twenty-four-hour support line for those needing support, 905-372-0746 or 1-800-263-3757. For emergencies, call 911.

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