Healing Gaia

Women's Shelters and Transitional Housing Need More Support

Canadians deserve better funding of emergency and second stage shelter services. They also deserve a national housing policy to address affordable and safe housing for all Canadians. The icing on the cake would be a national action plan on violence agains

By Doreen Nicoll
Published June 22, 2015

In April 2015, the Canadian network for Women's Shelters and Transition Homes released their report, "Shelter Voices" [PDF]. It documented one day in the life of Canada's women's shelters and transition houses. This report is a wake-up call for all Canadians.

Founded by grassroots women's organizations, women's shelters - also known as transition houses - began proliferating across Canada in the early 1970's. Transition House in Vancouver and Ishtar in Langley, B.C.; Oasis House in Alberta; Interval House in Saskatoon; and Interval House in Toronto were the first to open their doors to women and children in 1973.

Run mainly by volunteers from the women's movement these safe havens often received assistance from charitable organizations and some religious groups.

Today, there are close to 600 emergency shelters and transition houses serving women and children across Canada. Funding comes from various levels of government, corporate gifts, sponsorships, donations and fundraising.

Services offered have expanded over the years to include crisis line counselling; counselling for residents as well as women living in the community; court support workers; connecting women to services; providing public education, advocacy and awareness; and some work with men.

Many also have specialized services for Aboriginal women, women with disabilities, women dealing with substance abuse and/or mental health, and for trafficked women.

On Nov. 25, 2013, the Canadian Network of Women's Shelters and Transition Houses asked its 350 members to complete an identical questionnaire detailing a typical day in the life of women's shelters. A total of 231 shelters participated.

Participating shelters included 81 percent emergency shelters; 10 percent second stage housing where women transition from emergency shelters to long term housing; 9 percent mixed accommodation.

The distribution of shelters was interesting with 19 percent located in large urban areas while smaller cities, towns and rural areas made up the remaining 73 percent. Remote areas accounted for 6 percent and reserves only 2 percent.

Here's a sample of the findings:

There is a shortage of second stage housing, also known as transitional housing. There is also a critical shortage of affordable housing, as well as social housing, in many parts of this country.

This means women may find themselves living at emergency shelters for long periods of time. In some areas of the country it can be a year.

This slow turn-around limits capacity and means that shelters are unable to accept new women and children as quickly as is necessary.

If you're turned away from the shelter because it's full, imagine how much more difficult it will be to try to leave a second time.

In Hamilton 1,200 women a year are unable to find emergency shelter. This problem will only worsen when Honouring the Circle transitional shelter closes its doors in June. Home to fifteen women and their children, the shelter has had its annual federal funding of $200,000 cut.

Phoenix Place, another transitional shelter in Hamilton, is home to ten women and their children. The annual budget is $220,000. The provincial government contributes 30 percent of the budget and the City of Hamilton 5 percent. The remaining 65 percent comes from donations and fundraising.

The shelter has a $3,000 monthly deficit. An anonymous donor recently gave Phoenix Place $35,000 to keep the shelter from closing its doors in August, but the shelter will return to its precarious financial situation unless it finds adequate reliable funding.

Halton Region covers a large area, but is known for having two cities considered the top two mid-sized cities in Canada, Burlington and Oakville. Yet, even this affluent region turned 390 families away from its two shelters in 2014.

These shelters were at capacity because women are having an increasingly difficult time finding transitional and affordable permanent housing. Emergency shelter stays are averaging upwards of a year.

Canadians deserve better funding of emergency and second stage shelter services. They also deserve a national housing policy to address affordable and safe housing for all Canadians. The icing on the cake would be a national action plan on violence against women.

These are all great issues to raise when candidates come to your door canvassing your support during the federal election.

If you are a woman experiencing abuse, help is just a click away.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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By Dylan (registered) | Posted June 22, 2015 at 17:14:59

Growing up my mother would donate all of our outgrown clothing to women's shelters. When women are forced to turn to a shelter they often have little or no time to pack, and as the stats show above, they very frequently have children. I think it a very thoughtful thing that she did, and it's something others might wish to consider rather than giving to the usual recipients.

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By hurt themselves (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2015 at 01:19:30

We have had, for a long time, Martha House as our pet charity. We have donated many boxes of clothes linens toys and household items. When we could afford it we would leave a couple of bills in the pockets of jackets or jeans. They have made it more and more difficult to do so over the years. To the point that not long ago we had a bunch of stuff and we could not find a way to get it to them. They no longer accept donations at their location on Emerald. The place at Mary and Cannon is closed and at the place on Cannon it's tough to find a time that works. Seems they are closed more than they are open. Now we have a new pet charity. The street youth place on Barton. Not because we don't want to support the women's shelter but because they made it difficult or impossible.

Before you complain about funding and support look at how and why your support is dwindling.

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