MONTREAL — Pamphlets are being distributed across Montreal’s west end – including at Jewish community organizations – to publicize a non-denominational centre that serves as a refuge for seniors who have kept a traumatic secret to themselves out of shame, fear and embarrassment: their abuse.
SAVA Centre-West, a residential shelter launched one year ago, houses two apartments in an undisclosed west-end seniors residence. “There is a very strong demand for it,” said Léa Talafré, a co-ordinator with the Shelter and Assistance for Victims of Elder Abuse (SAVA).
Talafré believes it to be the first such shelter – for abused seniors only – in the west end.
“It is something that seniors do not like to talk about,” Talafré, a psychotherapist, told The CJN, “but abuse of the elderly happens in all forms – physical, psychological, financial, even sexual.”
The names of individuals at the centre are kept confidential in a secure environment. There is no charge to stay at the shelter and meals are kosher, Talafré said. She estimated that 15 per cent of the elderly – within both the Jewish community and the general population – are subject to some form of abuse.
“Sometimes it can be the person they are living with, a son, or daughter, or other relative,” Talafré said. “We see cases where bones have been broken, or there is bad bruising, or money stolen.
“Ninety per cent of the cases are female. Often, they are ashamed to tell anybody, which is why we exist.”
SAVA operates with a network of trained volunteers who minister to the needs of SAVA’s clients. The organization has few salaried employees.
These volunteer seniors have the training and expertise to provide an essential “accompaniment” function, Talafré said, by helping the centre’s clients navigate their way to recovery – legally, medically, psychologically, financially and physically.
“We have two volunteers assigned to each client,” Talafré said. “They do everything, from helping them get in contact with a lawyer, to making the right CLSC contacts, to making a specific plan of action during the time they are with us. They are their advocates.
“Sometimes you have a case,” Talafré added, “where the client is not able to open up about their abuse for the first three weeks they are at the shelter. They do not like to speak about it because they are embarrassed and ashamed. They wait until they feel comfortable and can trust again.”
Clients have a right to spend up to 90 days at the SAVA shelter, but may leave sooner if they wish and feel they have rebuilt their dignity and self-esteem.
SAVA has been collaborating with Jewish agencies such as the Communauté sépharade unifiée du Québec (CSUQ), as well as non-Jewish ones like the CLSC René-Cassin, CSSS Cavendish and CLSC NDG, and local police in the effort to coordinate support and help for abused seniors.
SAVA also has facilities in the east end of the city, Talafré noted, but no shelter.
In the west end, SAVA has been distributing flyers at the Cummings Centre, synagogues and other locations in Cote St. Luc, Hampstead, NDG and Montreal West.
A flyer about SAVA also appeared as an insert in a recent issue of the CSUQ publication La Voix Sépharade.
“We are putting the pamphlets everywhere,” Talafré said, “trying to make SAVA well-known by everybody within the next six months.”
SAVA is funded by the Fondation pour le Bien-Vieillir and is now also seeking subsidies, Talafré said, from federal and provincial sources such as SIRA (Soutien aux initiatives visant le respect des aînés).
One year into its operation, “the structure is in place,” Talafré said. “The shelter is a concrete solution that can work quickly. It shows results.”
For more information about SAVA, call 514-903-3550 or 1-888-489-ABUS (2287).