Thank you for this opportunity.
I'm pleased to be speaking to you from the traditional territories of the people of Treaty No. 7 region in southern Alberta. The city of Calgary is also home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, region three.
I'm here in my capacity as president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. I have some expertise in preventing and ending homelessness, but I can't and won't claim to be an expert in domestic violence. I'm also aware of the fact that I'm a middle-aged, middle-class white man whose privileged personal perspective is not the most important in your study.
Before I get started, I would like to strongly encourage the committee to get out into the community, if possible, to visit shelters and speak directly to women and children with lived experience of domestic violence. They are, I think, your most important experts.
To prepare for this meeting, I reached out to the women on the women's homelessness advisory committee of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. This committee consists of 35 women from across Canada who work in domestic violence, mainstream homeless services, and family shelters and transitional housing, as well as many leading academics and women who are working to help other women who want to exit sexual exploitation. Importantly, our committee includes women who have experienced homelessness, indigenous women, and women from racialized communities. If there is any wisdom to be gleaned from my presentation today, they deserve the credit. I think your committee should meet with these brilliant women and hear directly from them. I would be happy to help you arrange that meeting.
I want to share a few quotes from emails I've received from colleagues on our advisory committee, just to paint a picture of the challenge ahead of us. I'll begin with this one:
|| In general, at our local domestic violence shelter where I work we are seeing women whose extensive histories of trauma manifest in mental health and addictions concerns which are beyond the capacity of the resources in our system. We have extremely long wait times for mental health and addictions services and this situation ultimately contributes to homelessness.
||We have no women-only shelters for women over 30 aside from the domestic violence shelter, so there is no continuum of services for women who are homeless but do not fit the domestic violence mandate. We have 4 female beds at one of our local shelters, serving the Avalon Region of 250,000 people. We also do a very poor job of serving individuals whose gender identity falls outside of the binary.
This situation is mirrored in Winnipeg:
|| In Winnipeg there are no women only homeless shelters or 24/7 safe spaces and access to violence against women shelters is often refused due to capacity issues, high acuity of cases and experiences of homelessness. This leaves women with literally nowhere to go besides the street or into precarious situations. Co-ed shelters are common spaces for abuse and victimization and generally not accessed by women (hence the hidden aspect of women’s homelessness). This also has a direct link to the MMIWG epidemic in this country.
For indigenous women and girls, the situation is even more acute:
||Indigenous women and girls experience violent victimization at twice the rate of non-Indigenous women. They also experience spousal violence at three times the rate of non-Indigenous women and experience more severe forms of abuse. For marginalized and victimized women, housing and safety from violence are inseparable and efforts to address either must recognize their interconnectedness. Investing in women has an immediate impact on her family and community.
The committee is examining the gap between the number of beds required and the number of beds provided in shelters and transitional housing, and the possible solutions to close the gap. Without question, there's a need for domestic violence shelter beds in Canada, but I think we'll find ourselves with an infinite demand for new shelter beds unless we start talking about prevention and long-term solutions.
Long-term solutions, in my view, will be found by involving women with lived experience of domestic violence at every stage of the policy process. In the homelessness world, we've applied rights-based approaches like “housing first” with significant success. Housing first empowers people experiencing homelessness with agency, voice and choice. By doing that, we achieve far better long-term outcomes then ever before. By listening carefully to them and reflecting their input and needs in our systems and programs, we design more effective systems and programs to serve them.
It's clear that many women and children involved in the domestic violence system have very acute needs—needs that are often beyond the capacity of organizations to support. We can't talk about shelter beds without addressing the critical need for mental health, trauma, addiction treatment and other supports essential to the well-being and long-term success of women and children fleeing violence.
It’s worth noting here a point one of my colleagues made to me in an email yesterday. She said:
||...the chronic under-funding of women's programs and services is in itself a form of violence against women. This is ten-fold for those women at the intersections of multiple forms of inequality: women who are Indigenous, women who identify as part of the LGTBQ Community, women who are new Canadians, women who are entrenched in chaotic drug use, women who are sex working or survivors of sexual exploitation.
Providing permanent, safe, decent and affordable housing is a critical step in achieving better outcomes for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Positive outcomes are a result of wraparound support that helps women build self-reliance and heal from their trauma. We’re seeing that interventions borrowed from the homeless system, like housing first, achieve significant success for women and children fleeing violence when the model is adapted to their unique and specific needs. A great example of this approach here in Calgary is the community housing program at Discovery House.
For indigenous peoples, providing access to indigenous-focused, women-centred, trauma-informed community supports and care solutions, coordinated between violence prevention and housing programs, creates an inclusive, holistic approach to addressing homelessness and domestic violence, which allows indigenous women access to services and the ability to maintain their housing situation.
We have to address the multiple and compounding structural barriers that harm and systemically disadvantage women. For example, homelessness and domestic violence systems in Canada operate completely separately across the country, often leaving women without any support from either system. Homeless women often can’t access the domestic violence system, despite violent victimization being pervasive for homeless women, and will have few options in the homeless systems, which are designed for and serve mostly men.
Thanks for the invitation. We commend you for this study.
Following Monday's session, however, we are concerned by the fact that there was quite a bit of misinformation circulated and that there appears to be some confusion in terms of the focus of this study, which is violence-against-women shelters and transition houses. Part of my presentation is, in one sense, a violence-against-women shelters 101, which I think will be good to set the context for this study.
I believe you are aware of the statistics on violence against women. The only one I will remind us of today is the fact that, in Canada, every six days a woman is killed by someone she knew.
To make the last two weeks real, on October 8, Nathalie Blais, a 48-year-old woman, was killed by Pierre Chaperon in Drummondville. On October 14, a 16-year-old woman died in Regina and a 15-year-old boy was charged with second-degree murder.
According to our internal database, there are approximately 550 shelters in Canada today, of which two-thirds are first-stage shelters and one-third are second-stage shelters. It is important to note that there is no single model or governance structure for violence-against-women shelters. All operate individually, and all are governed by their own board of directors. Their creation was and continues to be the result of the determination and perseverance of feminists across the country.
Across Canada, how we refer to violence-against-women shelters varies greatly. For the purpose of this presentation, we will use the term “shelter” to refer to all violence-against-women facilities.
First-stage shelters provide women and their children with accommodation and safety, along with various programs. Length of stay may be days, weeks or months, depending on the shelter and location. Women do not need to stay at the shelter to receive services such as counselling and safety planning.
Second-stage shelters provide longer-term accommodation to women who still require vital security as well as other supports. Residents pay rent geared to income for their unit, and accommodation may be months or years, with the maximum length of stay rarely exceeding two years.
Shelters contribute much more than a safe place to stay. They provide vital services and resources that enable women and their children who have experienced abuse to recover from the violence, rebuild self-esteem and take steps to regain a self-determined and independent life. Shelters also contribute to awareness raising and social change as part of broad efforts to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.
The distribution of shelters across the country varies widely. To be noted is the low number of shelters in the three territories, despite the fact that rates of female victims of violent crime are eight times higher in the territories and nearly three times higher in the provincial north than in the south. There are four shelters in Yukon, five in the Northwest Territories, and five in Nunavut.
Also of significance is the fact that Indigenous Services Canada provides funding for 41 shelters to serve the 634 recognized first nations communities in Canada. The National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence speaks to their needs, and I do hope they are meeting with you.
For the 53 Inuit communities across the north, there are only 15 violence-against-women shelters. I must note our deep disappointment in the fact that the committee has not invited Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women's organization, to appear.
Given that the policy and legislation that informs the work of violence-against-women shelters is largely governed by provincial and territorial governments, how shelters operate and are funded also varies widely across the country. The result is that women often do not have access to comparable levels of services and protections.
How shelters are funded varies widely across the country. There is a distinction between operational funding and capital funding. With the exception of on-reserve shelters, the federal government does not provide any funding to cover the operational expenses of violence-against-women shelters. The bulk of federal funding for shelters is from CMHC for capital expenses, which is renovation and new builds of shelters.
One commonality is that the funding provided is insufficient for the work carried out. A number of provinces, among them Manitoba, B.C., Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, have not provided meaningful increases to violence-against-women shelters for over 10 years. Running a shelter is like running any other home: There are utilities to pay, insurance, property taxes, food, you name it. As you know, all these expenses have been rising over the years, but not the funding for them.
I must also note that on-reserve shelters receive less operational funding via ISC than shelters funded via provinces.
Given that levels of fundraising often determine the extent of services provided, shelters in rural, remote and northern areas are clearly at a disadvantage. Fundraising in impoverished areas is extremely challenging.
Once again, women across the country are left with varying levels of services. Who pays the price? It is the workers, the great majority of whom are women. Retaining qualified staff is a significant issue for shelters. Ultimately, it is the women and children fleeing violence who pay.
I would now like to speak to the issue of capacity, or rather lack of capacity. Although many provinces have set standards, the reality is that shelters must often exceed these time limitations as women have nowhere to go due to the serious lack of safe and affordable housing across the country. Because of this, VAW shelters are far too often at capacity and are having to turn away women and children on a daily basis. These are but a few of the challenges facing shelters. It has also been widely documented, and I am sure you will hear first-hand from shelters, that the complexity of the work is increasing daily. Central to the situation that shelters find themselves in is the fact that their work is not considered an essential service. The government’s own data clearly show that this is a societal issue of concern to us all, not just those fleeing abusive situations.
Before I speak to the recommendations, I'd like to say that Women's Shelters Canada believes the federal government has a leadership role to play in addressing violence against women, and this includes, of course, the work of shelters.
Our first recommendation is that the government take a leadership role in addressing gender-based violence beyond the scope of its current gender-based violence strategy. This includes developing a national action plan that includes the provincial and territorial governments and addresses the fact that women do not have access to comparable levels of services and protection.
In terms of addressing the gap between the number of beds required and the number of beds provided, we have several recommendations:
We recommend that funding from the national housing strategy’s co-investment fund encourage the expansion of the number of first- and second-stage shelters across the country. To be successful, the gap that exists between capital funds provided by the federal government via CMHC and operational costs provided by the provincial and territorial governments must be addressed.
As part of the national housing strategy, the federal government is partnering with provinces and territories to develop a $4-billion Canada housing benefit, beginning in 2020, to provide affordability support directly to those in need. We recommend that there be a specific stream within this program for survivors of domestic abuse and that the federal government ensure that this is enforced within all provinces and territories.
Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for inviting Mortgage Professionals Canada to speak to you today. My name is Paul Taylor, and I'm President and CEO of the national association.
I'm joined today by mortgage expert and Mortgage Professionals Canada member Jacquie Bushell of Ottawa.
Mortgage Professionals Canada is Canada's national, non-profit industry association representing mortgage brokers, mortgage lenders, mortgage insurers and industry service providers. We have 11,500 individual members and 1,000 business members, and we generally speak on their behalf with regard to all aspects of commercial and residential mortgage origination processes. Collectively, their hard work represents about $80 billion across Canada.
Coincidentally, yesterday we met over 50 MPs and senators to discuss the various Canadian housing markets, housing affordability, and the impact of recent legislative changes to the economic well-being of the younger Canadian middle class.
That said, this invitation clearly focuses on studying the network of shelters and transition houses that service women and children affected by violence and women affected by intimate partner violence. Your invitation led me and my staff to reach out to some female members of our association to see what insight they could provide with regard to that matter.
We asked them for some specific examples of how new, more stringent lending rules, more formally known as stress tests, have impacted some of these women. I wish I could list the names of all of the contributing folks who we reached out to. They went out of their way over the weekend to share some compelling experiences. I can't share them all now, but I have asked some of our members to send some of their feedback directly to this committee so that you can read their responses as well.
We heard from Veronica Love-Alexander, who is regional vice-president of MERIX Financial. She donates to Interval House and Yellow Brick House, two women's shelters. She shared some personal stories.
Through Veronica, we heard from Kathy Gregory, who is Paradigm Quest's CEO. She leads our industry support of the Canadian Women's Foundation in many ways.
Also through Veronica, we heard from Lorris Herenda, the Executive Director of Yellow Brick House. She said that in Ontario, we're experiencing a tremendous gap in the number of needed shelter beds and transition homes and the number available. Yellow Brick House, with 41 beds and 10 cribs between two shelter locations—16 beds and three cribs were added in 2012—was able to accommodate 234 women and 132 children last year. Sadly, 344 women and 488 children could not get a shelter bed in her region and chose not to leave the region in search of an available bed somewhere else in the province. The addition of beds and cribs in 2012 also received only one year of government funding through the province, and only at 50% of the cost. Their shelter really has been relying entirely on fundraising to keep the shelter beds open.
One of her suggestions to us for this committee was that for every housing or condominium development approved going forward, there should be some units dedicated to abused women and children and victims of violence.
I'll ask my colleague Jacquie to provide some further details.
Hi. I'm Jacquie Bushell.
We received feedback from a member, Frances Hinojosa, the AMP mortgage broker and managing partner of Tribe Financial Group. She said that since the B20 rules, the qualifying standards in lending policies for most of the major financial institutes, or A-type lenders, have been removed, along with the ability to use the child tax credit and non-taxable spousal or child support. Therefore, very few lenders, and only a couple, ICICI and Manulife, will allow a variation of this type of income to qualify. The choice of lenders has dramatically been reduced since the introduction of B20, removing options and competition. Lenders are required to prove affordability with provable income or income that is allowable under their guidelines. Most of the major lenders removed the child tax credit as they felt it was not sustainable over the long term and, therefore, could not be used to mitigate affordability. When the child tax credit or the spousal support is used, it is often cut back to 20% to 40%, depending on the lender policy and the age of the children. As you can guess, this hampers the applicants in their ability to qualify when a large portion of their income includes spousal support, child support and child tax benefit.
She said that the bottom line is that the options for the lenders that allow these types of incomes to be used is greatly reduced since the change. This, in turn, gives the consumer fewer lending options and terms, and they typically receive higher interest rates for use of these programs. Not only can they not use income that helps them move on in their new life, but they are also penalized for this by getting a higher interest rate. The new rules do not allow for character-based lending, common-sense lending, or cash flow based on real income figures.
While her association would like to give more insight into the desperate shelter issue, they have to consider the government's stress test. It indeed stresses this particular group of applicants far more than others. It stresses quite a few of those you are studying: the women who want to move on from awful conditions, but are limited by regulations. Their members and their clients clearly tell them these rules have made it harder for the Canadians for whom this committee is seeking to find the freedom and independence that they need and deserve.
One of the key differences is the level of violence, I think, that women will experience when they're homeless, and also their vulnerability on the streets and in homeless systems, but I think it's important to understand that we tend to look at domestic violence and homelessness through the prism of the system that we're looking at it from. If we're doing a study on domestic violence, we're looking at the women in the domestic violence system. If we're looking at homelessness, we're looking at women who are in the homeless system or are not in the homeless system.
The fact is, these women are very similar, right? They all have seen very high levels of violence. Many are dealing with very complex mental health and addiction needs. They all are struggling with housing and housing affordability.
We have to be careful not to get trapped in an approach to policy-making that has us looking at these women by virtue of where they appear in the system, because they are not a homogeneous population. The women who appear in the domestic violence system are very similar to the women who appear in the homeless system and very similar to those who are among the hidden homeless.
Again, we do not have in Canada a very good visibility or understanding of homelessness and housing instability for women.
I think you're exactly right. I will give you an example of one of the things that we're learning. We've seen the housing first approach applied at the community housing program at Discovery House in Calgary. We've also seen that model replicated in, I think, eight or nine different cities around the country.
There's a lot to unpack here, but we have to look at the flow of people into the domestic violence system, what happens to them while they're there, and the movement of people out. I think you cannot separate housing stability and the support services that they need to address their trauma, make sure their kids are well, deal with their safety, help them address their mental illness, and help them address addiction concerns. I think that wraparound support in housing is very critical, ultimately, to their success.
If I were to redesign the system, I would look there. I would also look at rights-based approaches. The homeless system is built around the funding in the system. We talk about sectors in the homeless system. We have addictions, mental illness, new Canadians, indigenous, etc. What happens is that the homeless system is organized around the funding in the system, not the people in the system.
I think it's critically important. That's why I keep pushing to talk to these women of lived experience, because I think those of us working in the system need to be challenged and to listen to what these women are asking for, what they're needing, and what they think should happen for them versus what we have to give them.
I think if we were to reorganize and redesign the system, the homeless system and the domestic violence system would be one system. It would be coordinated across.... Everybody moving through would be visible to us. We'd know them all individually. We'd be able to provide individual support, and we'd understand what's bringing them there, and could better problem solve towards prevention. Then we'd have individualized solutions and we could test whether they're effective.
Most importantly, and this is why I'm a huge advocate for the right to housing, we need to respect their individual rights and choices and presume that these women and their children know what they need. They're competent, capable, smart, resilient women and they need to be supported, and they're capable of making choices.
I can't speak to the domestic violence system, but the homeless system can be very paternal. You'll get what we have to offer as opposed to what you need. A system designed around rights, that looks at long-term housing stability and recovery based on many of the principles of housing first....
There are a lot of different strategies that you could use.
It's important to remember that a lot of these women remain hidden, and we need to think about why. I think they're hidden because they don't want to risk losing their children to child and family services authorities—child welfare—in the provinces.
They are afraid of the mainstream homeless system. The mainstream homeless system, to be perfectly blunt, is a very, very dangerous place for women. There are very few services specifically for women. Outside of the domestic violence system, where would you go?
About nine years ago, I met a young girl here in Calgary at a homelessness event. She was 19 years old. She had a black eye. I asked what happened and how she got the black eye. She said, “Well, I was staying at a shelter here in town and one of my friends was raped in the bathroom. I had my boyfriend punch me in the face so that I could go to the domestic violence shelter.”
Women are taking extraordinary measures to avoid the dangers of the mainstream system and of homelessness. If we want to understand who those women are, we have to have services designed for women. We have to make the homeless system safe and accessible to them.
Imagine indigenous women and their interactions with child welfare or policing. They're not going to trust any of these organizations or mainstream systems.
We have to find a way to build systems that are responsive to the needs of these women and make it safe for them to access them.
I'll try to. Thank you.
I'm glad you mentioned, Ms. Martin, your final point. Mr. Richter brought up a similar one. We men should go out and meet with women and visit shelters. I was a downtown city councillor in Hamilton. Mr. Serré, my colleague, was also a councillor, and we do a lot of work at the council level.
Frankly, I was very disappointed in the community housing that was available, because the transition out of the shelter.... Women are in Phoenix Place in Hamilton and different places, and at some point they're going to have to leave. Quite often, because of the mortgage issues and all that, they will go into a city-owned building. Those buildings are not the best situation. I saw vulnerable senior women living next door to drug activities and all kinds of things.
Do you see a continuum here that we could exploit with our municipal backgrounds to encourage better responses?
I'll tell you, when I was on that housing board, they would argue about how they could turn the empty units over more quickly so that they wouldn't have so many vacancies, as opposed to the issues, personal issues, facing women who were living in very quiet desperation.