A new transition house officially opening in Halifax this week will be the first in Atlantic Canada to serve immigrant, refugee, non-status, or Muslim women and their children fleeing domestic violence.
The transition house is operated by Nisa Homes and Ummah Masjid of Halifax. Nisa Homes also operates other transition houses in cities across Canada. The home in Halifax is one of 10 across the country.
Zainub Beg is a case manager with Nisa Homes and will work out of the Halifax transition house. Besides case management, she takes care of operations of the home.
“Atlantic Canada is quite different from the rest of Canada. We’re much smaller, the community is more tightly knit. We thought we’d start in Halifax since it’s the biggest city and, of course, the needs will be higher,” Beg said. “We will be providing remote support to clients across the Maritimes, but anyone in the HRM is able to access our services, whether remotely or at the actual home.”
Nisa Homes was started in 2015 when its parent charity, National Zakat Foundation, saw there was a need for transition homes for Muslim women. At that time, Nisa Homes had a goal of opening 10 homes in 10 years. Beg said they reached that goal within seven years; the tenth home opened in Hamilton last week.
Beg said the transition home’s services are faith-based and culturally responsive, so Muslim clients will receive spiritual support, too.
“But it could also be able to read the Qur’an freely, praying, having access to food that’s halal, being able to do ablution before praying and not being judged,” Beg said. “Just having access to care where the care provider understands your identify and where you’re coming from and not having to explain who you are before you even get access to care.”
Beg said while the services and home are faith-based, there’s no obligation for clients to partake in practices.
“If they want to, they can. It’s kind of come as you are,” she said.
Existing services don’t meet Muslim women’s needs
Beg said she has spoken to people who said they tried to access services in Halifax and Nova Scotia and because those services were not dedicated to Muslim women, they were exposed to activities that in Islam would be considered forbidden.
“That in itself can be traumatizing,” Beg said. “When you’re coming from a situation of homelessness or domestic violence, you’re already terrified. But then to be in an environment where all of these activities your faith says are wrong are happening, it becomes difficult.”
The home has a space for 10 clients and there’s a separate space for women who have children to give them more privacy. Clients can stay for up to three months, but because of the housing crisis, Beg said they’ve had clients stay at their other shelters for up to five months.
Clients can access remote services such as case work, interpretation, and financial assistance through virtual meetings, a phone call, What’s App, or email. Beg said they will also educate the community on domestic violence.
“We don’t want to just provide shelter for women,” Beg said. “We even want to imagine a future where there is no Nisa Homes.”
She said they’re working to hire a few more staff, including more case workers and support workers. They’re also looking for volunteers.
“We’re looking for someone who is Arabic speaking because we’re anticipating a lot of our clients will be,” Beg said. “That would be helpful with interpretation.”
She said they will provide workshops where they’ll teach and train people about domestic violence. Beg said in December she’ll be providing a workshop on domestic violence as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
“To let people know there is support and what can you do if you also want to support people,” Beg said. “We’re coming from a place of privilege, so knowing how we can help is key in making a difference.”
Beg said they’re hosting a donation drive this week at Ummah Masjid.
“But more than anything, we need the community to get the word out, to make it okay to talk about domestic violence,” Beg said. “The more that it’s okay to talk about it and reflect on it, the more people will feel safer asking for help. The more we’re able to do good and help people understand why abusing someone is wrong, we can talk about it.”
Opening the transition house in Halifax had its challenges. Beg said they struggled to find a house because of the housing crisis. The location also had to be close to transit, grocery stores, and other essential services. She said when they told potential landlords about why they needed the home, there was some hesitancy to rent them a space.
Beg said across Canada, they’ve had people in the community opposed to the Nisa Homes’ presence because they feel it’s doing damage because of Islamophobia or because they think Nisa Homes is breaking families apart and domestic violence is a private issue to be dealt within families.
“Down the road, you often see those same people open up to us and say show their support and ask how they can help us,” she said. “We’ve had success in that regard, too.”
Beg said in about a year, they’d like to assess the needs of the community and expand services from there. She said the goal is to have a transition home in every major city in Canada.
“I am hoping the conversations we have will be important to the cause,” Beg said. “I’m just looking forward to the difference we can make in the community.”