MONCTON -- Some Maritime domestic abuse shelters in the Maritimes say they are at full capacity, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult for women and children to escape domestic violence.

Moncton’s Crossroads for Women Shelter is at full capacity, and staff say there’s been a spike in occupancy since COVID-19 restrictions were loosened a few months ago.

“Our crisis calls have increased significantly from the lockdown, because while we were in the lockdown, we were only at like six or seven people, with a capacity of 38,” explains Samantha Lewis, co-ordinator at Crossroads Transition House. “Crisis calls were very low too, but now it’s at least tripled.”

Staff at Crossroads say, since lockdown protocols have eased up, more women are in a safer space to seek help.

“We often had phone calls where people would just automatically hang up, and we weren’t even able to speak to them,” says Chantal Poirier, the shelter’s executive director. “Now they’re able to get out more and call our helpline, or reach out to friends, and get out of the situation that they’re in.”

Fleeing domestic violence is challenging, and COVID-19 has only made it more difficult.

“A lot of times in the lockdown, clients mentioned that they were more stir crazy, so their mental health is coming out a lot more because you’re stuck in one place. A lot of people weren’t able to call for help because they were with their abuser,” says Lewis.

Last year, 91 women had to be turned away from Crossroads due to the shelter being at max capacity.

Plans are in the works to increase space for more clients -- something Poirier says is badly needed.

“Right now we’re looking at adding 10 tp 14 beds, but nothing is set in stone,” says Poirier. “It depends on how we can figure this out and where our funding will lead us.”

Women and their children are permitted to stay at the shelter until they find affordable housing, which often takes between 30 to 60 days.

But now they’re here in a safe haven, ready to begin a new chapter.