Thank you, Madam Chair.
As you announced earlier, I work with the Bay St. George Status of Women Council as their executive director. I've been in the role since January of this year. It was certainly a baptism by fire come mid-March when a lot of things changed here in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I want to describe a bit of the geography in our area so you can have a full understanding of what women are facing before and during COVID.
As an example, I'll use transportation. There's no such thing as a city bus service within our area. Folks have either their own vehicles or depend upon taxis or the generosity of friends and family to help transport them to where they need to go.
The area is quite large. Out on the Port au Port Peninsula, for someone to come into our area to access services, they're looking at a little over an hour's drive. With the more remote areas as well the access to reliable cellphone service and Internet service leaves much to be desired. There are many areas where there is no service whatsoever for these two ways to connect. When you're looking at isolation, you see it escalates things even more. These things, of course, have a huge impact on being able to access community supports since COVID-19. We have done our best to be able to continue to provide programming through Zoom and other Internet platforms. We have also gone out to a community on a few occasions to offer in-person workshops, but at a reduced rate, needless to say.
What we're seeing and hearing from the women is that the impact of the isolation has been one of the hardest things. For women who live alone, the inability to connect with community services and to socialize in groups has had a profound impact on the anxiety and stress levels they've been experiencing. Where possible, we have been able to partner with other organizations in providing cellphones, tablets and the like, so they're able to connect through the Internet or through cell service. Once again, going back to those women who are living in areas without those services being available, the isolation is profound.
Many women found themselves in the situation where they were at home and, all of a sudden, overnight, became a teacher to their children. The stress levels went through the roof for many women because they were working from home, educating their children from home, and trying to make sure of the level of cleanliness that was required with COVID-19 for anyone going in and out of the home. They had to wear so many different hats that they felt they weren't able to do justice to any of them.
Once again, looking at that stress level and that anxiety level, we're seeing an increase in the number of referrals that we're doing to various supports such as CHANNAL, the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental health and addictions services, and so on.
When we look at domestic violence, we see that the RCMP and RNC within our province have reported that there was an actual decrease in numbers. That doesn't mean there was a decrease in cases. Oftentimes it was not safe to report. Being in isolation with your abuser it's very difficult to be able to make those phone calls. Also, with having little to no access to affordable housing, many landlords were not renting to new tenants during the first few months of COVID, and that escalated things even more.
What we have seen here through our sector is a lot of women moving in with friends and family members, so those numbers are hidden in regard to how many are actually leaving those long-term relationships. We've noticed a spike in the number of women who have been leaving long-term relationships, 15 years or longer, and starting over. We're seeing these numbers through the number of requests that we have received for home-starter kits, for accessing furniture through us, and other referrals through Newfoundland and Labrador housing, our housing support worker with Community Education Network, and so on. We know that the numbers are there and they are indeed increasing.
In regard to food insecurity, Food First NL had reported earlier this fall that the costs of food in our province had increased by approximately 22%—