The Legend of Cythera
Cythera Transition House was named after the Greek Island of Cythera. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, rose from the sea foam at the time of the wounding of the Greek god Uranus. She was carried upon the waves by the west wind to her first haven ~ the Island of Cythera. Later, during war times, Greek women fled there to seek refuge.
In 1982, Millie Norrie, a RCMP officer working in the Crime Prevention Unit in Maple Ridge, and her colleagues were frustrated by having to transport distraught women and children to shelters in other communities, by slow social service response and especially by a high recidivism rate of women going back to their abusive spouses because they felt unsupported on their own. Ms. Norrie also worked with a local group call the Justice Council on a number of projects and issues, which included looking at the possible need for a transition house in the area. The Justice Council was in general an instigating group, rather than an organizational group. By the fall of 1982 they had started to hold meetings in the back of the police station for people committed to looking toward setting up a transition house in Maple Ridge. From these meetings a group of women developed who were particularly interested in the project. They included Suzanne Stacey, who was working in community services in Maple Ridge, Alycia Hayes and other students from Douglas College. The Douglas College group was preparing a proposal for a transition house in Maple Ridge as a course requirement for the Community and Social Services Worker program. This proposal was a mock profile for a transition house and included surveys and research. In this hypothetical project, the transition house was called Cythera House and the proposal included a logo of an island and the symbol for women. This logo is still used and is easily recognized by the community.
After initial meetings to develop interest in the project, a larger group was established to start-up the transition house. The group included Suzanne Stacey, Millie Norrie, Lillian Seigo, Alycia Hayes and Laura Levan. Bernice Gehring and Carole Lazar were available and interested as resource people. During the winter of 1983, this group had many meetings, usually in the coffee room at the police station. Eventually they were meeting weekly to help keep everyone informed and motivated. Ms. Stacey put together a proposal and Ms. Norrie solicited letters of support from Helen Bonham, Public Health Supervisor, and Inspector Pat Wilson. The group formed the Cythera Transition House Society, which was incorporated as a society in December 1983. Also during this time they were trying to find further funding, locate an appropriate house, apply for a tax number as a charity (which was approved in January 1984), and complete adminstrative functions such as designing letterhead and a brochure.
Ms. Norrie’s job with the RCMP included giving talks and presentations on crime related issues and she used these opportunities to promote the house. She gave twenty to thirty presentations to both large and small groups, but the most successful was at the Maple Ridge Council meeting because it piqued their interest, and most importantly, it piqued the interest of Mae Cabott, an alderwoman, who eventually became a driving force on the board of Cythera. In addition to presentations, the founding group set up a booth at the local home show and had cards made up and left them with contact people at a number of agencies.
The Cythera House Society applied to the Ministry of Human Resources at that time for a start-up grant and some commitment for a monthly sum of money. MSSH was very sympathetic and supportive, but they didn’t give start-up grants any more and wanted instead to pay on a 30-day delay basis for the number of women using the transition house. However, MSSH did have a surplus of funds that was earmarked for something to do with women and children in the community, but someone had to step forward as a society and submit a proposal. The Cythera group submitted their proposal to MSSH and were given the money to use for a combined transition house and late teen and adult emergency shelter. The group knew this money was not enough to operate the house, but it was a starting point.
The Need for Cythera Transition House
The inspiration for starting up Cythera Transition House was an increasing need in the community of Maple Ridge for a safe place for battered women to go. Ms. Norrie, through her work at the RCMP, saw women the police were helping to leave an abusive situation and who had no shelter to go to in Maple Ridge. There were physical barriers between Maple Ridge and the other transition houses which seemed like psychological boundaries as well. Per the original proposal, the RCMP staff in Maple Ridge estimated five successful referrals were made to other transition houses over the past six month period. In addition, twenty women were placed overnight at a local hotel or at the homes of friends and thirty women were advised to contact MSSH for counselling. The RCMP staff expressed frustration when beds were not available at other transition houses or when a social worker was unable to drive in from these houses to pick up and transport a woman. They estimated that ten women per month would use a locally based transition house. Over the same six months, MSSH had counselled three battered women who had stayed in their abusive relationship because they thought they had no place to go.
The community of Maple Ridge was growing quickly and the founding group believed that women deserved better than a motel room and “take-out” food. The geographic area to be served by Cythera Transition House was to be Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Whonnock, Ruskin and Hammond, and also Mission if space existed. The founders predicted that a transition house and support service in the local community would be an accessible resource for the area’s 39,000 person population.
The Target Client Groups
The target client groups indicated in the original proposal were:
- battered or abused women and their children
- mothers and children requiring emergency accommodation while making more permanent arrangements
- young women 19 and over who are transient or temporarily alienated from their families
- women in marriage breakdown crises
- women in emotional crises, but who do not require hospitalization
- female hospital patients on day or weekend passes who have no home or family in the area