Good afternoon, everyone.
Welcome to the 117th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. This meeting of course is in public.
Today, we'll resume our study on the system of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence.
For this, I am pleased to welcome our two panellists for today.
From the Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre, we have Kristal LeBlanc, Executive Director. If I've said that incorrectly, please make sure you change that.
From the YWCA Lethbridge and District, we have Jennifer Lepko, Chief Executive Officer.
We are going to allow each of you seven minutes.
We'll begin with Kristal. The floor is yours for seven minutes.
I want to thank you for the invitation and the privilege of being able to share our experiences in providing services to female victims of violence and their children. I commend you for undertaking this study and caution you that the results and recommendations must include immediate action, as we are certainly at a time of crisis for the sector, and we are failing these women in many ways each and every day.
Women have long been the warriors and crusaders fighting for such services as shelters, sexual assault centres and domestic violence outreach services, to name but a few. In 2018, do we not think it is the time for others to join us in this fight?
When I began preparing for my statement today, I simply could not stop thinking about a quote from Evelyn Cunningham, an American journalist who extensively covered the civil rights movement. She said, “Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors.”
I'd like for each of you to keep this statement top of mind as you continue to understand the realities of our domestic violence shelter system across the country.
The Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre is a registered charitable organization located in Shediac, New Brunswick, whose mission is the elimination of family violence through intervention, prevention and education. The centre opened—
The centre opened its doors in 1997 with 1.5 staff. In 2017, with a staff of five, more than 2,000 interventions were completed, of which more than 700 were with victims of family violence; 78 of those were women, along with 32 children, who remained in the abusive relationship since our organization currently has no—that is zero—emergency beds.
Almost six years ago, in 2012, we began to reflect on the revolving door that was our service delivery model. Female victims would come to the centre for outreach services, but we had no beds. In our rural communities, there are more than 29 fish-processing plants, which employ the vast majority of our victims. As it stood, abused women from our communities had to go to the nearest urban shelter, which led to immediate job loss. Female victims were simply staying in the relationship or returning multiple times because it was too difficult to break free.
I began advocating for change locally but was told time and again that shelters in New Brunswick had not received an increase in over 10 years, and that there was no new money. One civil servant advised me that the day I would get a dime from her government would be the day they paid for her gym membership. Faced with this kind of resistance, the project was constantly delayed, and yet I continued to witness the devastating consequences of not offering housing supports.
Thirty-three women in New Brunswick are our “silent witnesses”—that is, women who have been murdered by their partners. I was not about to stand idly by and add another number to this list.
We are now coming out on the other end of a $4.2-million capital campaign called “Courage”, of which $1.5 million came directly from both the provincial and federal governments. It was not easy to secure, to say the least. I was never more aware that I was a woman in the working world than during the time I spent advocating for this project. I have been called such things as pushy, annoying and persistent, and I simply do not think I would have been so labelled if my name were Larry, Bobby or Joe. It seems that those working in this sector are also the subject of gender discrimination. As columnist Lois Wyse once said, “Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.”
Our new facility will include, among other features, a provincial pilot model of a six-bed emergency relief wing divided into two three-bedroom apartments, as well as an increase in our second-stage housing units from two to seven. We put a nail gun to wood on October 8 and are in the middle of construction, with $600,000 left to raise. It has been the most valuable, albeit difficult, work we have ever undertaken as a grassroots community organization.
The question that women-based organizations are often asking themselves is why it has to be so damn hard. Women have been fighting since the 1970s for domestic violence services, and it's discouraging that this has not changed. There is, however, a beacon of hope in New Brunswick, as this past year domestic violence shelters in our province did receive a 10% increase, the first since 2010. Further, our provincial government supported a portion of our capital cost and will be providing an operational grant to help cover the cost of the emergency wing.
Much like other expert witnesses who have stood before this committee, I too must enforce that women across the country are not receiving comparable access to services since each shelter operates independently. This reality also makes it next to impossible to look at outcome measurements since services and supports vary widely across the country.
As pointed out by Lise Martin, executive director of Women's Shelters Canada, rural women are at an increased disadvantage since shelters in rural regions struggle to fundraise in a catchment area that has high poverty rates. Therefore, rural shelters are often limited in the supports they can provide.
Lack of funding and adequate services and spaces to meet the ever-growing demands of shelters for female victims is a reality in New Brunswick. Due to our aging population, more and more women over 55 are seeking shelter services, yet the original shelter system built in the 1980s was mostly designed to accommodate a younger generation.
Many of our female victims are turned away if they have complex mental health and addiction issues since shelters lack the capacity to deal with these issues. Furthermore, due to a large newcomer population, it can be increasingly challenging for shelter staff to accommodate the various linguistic and cultural needs because of limited resources.
I also urge the members of the standing committee to invite women with lived experiences to speak. While front-line providers can certainly offer you important insight on the realities of the sector, I would recommend that you also listen to the very women who wish to be truly free from violence.
In closing, I harbour the hope that one day soon the entire shelter system will be flipped on its head and that we will go boldly into uncharted waters, much like Interval House in Toronto did, the first women's shelter in Canada. This must involve a strong commitment from our federal government to invest heavily and consistently not only in capital contributions but, more importantly, in a cost-sharing arrangement with the provinces for core operational support. Domestic violence is a social disease, and it needs to be treated as such.
Thank you for your time.
Lethbridge is located in southern Alberta. We are a city with a population of just under 100,000. We are neighbours to the largest reserve in Canada, and per capita have one of the highest populations of immigrants and new Canadians.
The YWCA Lethbridge and District has been providing supports and services to southern Alberta for nearly 70 years. We specialize in domestic and sexual violence, housing and homelessness, crisis prevention and intervention, leadership and empowerment, and advocacy and awareness.
I would like to share some numbers: 6,490, 519, and 2,094. These numbers are from our YWCA Harbour House women's emergency shelter. Our outreach services provided support to 6,490 people in our last fiscal year; 519 is how many women and children we were able to provide safe beds for in our shelter; and 2,094 is how many women and children we did not have safe beds for.
The need in our area is great, and we do not have the resources we require to meet the needs in our community. We currently do not have transitional housing in our area, which is a significant gap. We are only subsidized by the government to run our shelter and require nearly $50 per day, per bed of donations in order to provide these services.
Statistics, although important, are just numbers. We are working with humans. Numbers and statistics dehumanize the individuals with whom we are working. We are talking about lives; we are talking about human beings. We need to remember that we are working with and supporting people, not numbers.
Imagine having to run for your life in the middle of the night to escape being beaten to death. For many, escaping is the time when they would be most at risk of losing their life. You show up at the front door of a shelter with nothing but the clothes on your back. You then have to share your story with complete strangers, and tell them about the horrors you have experienced, all the while blaming yourself for much of the abuse you have endured. You are then told that the shelter is full. Now what? You will likely return to your abuser, not because you want to but because if you had any other option you would have tried it before coming to a shelter.
Or maybe there was a bed available. You get shown to your room. It is a crowded room with six beds. You are now sharing your space with five complete strangers. You are safe, possibly for the first time in your life. Now you can take a minute to breathe, but not more than a minute, because you have only 21 days to completely reinvent yourself, overcome the trauma you have experienced, find somewhere to live, clothes for the next day, and so much more. By the way, you've been beaten, belittled, and made to feel that you have no value. You have no money, no friends; you feel like you are nothing and you have nothing. Now, go. I know I certainly wouldn't be able to do it, and I have resources and have not been subjected to extreme terror, trauma and violence.
I am sure you have heard the phrase, “Give a person a fish and they will eat for a day; teach them how to fish and they will eat for a lifetime.” That is what we need to do. We need to teach them and provide the time, support and resources for these human beings to restart.
The first thing we need is more shelter spaces, and along with that we need to ensure that there is supported transitional housing available for all shelters. We need to start at the beginning and teach, rebuild, and empower. The national housing strategy is a great start. It is investing in capital with the aim to build more affordable housing, but if you simply build more places to live and do not adequately support the individuals, there will not be success. There will be more empty, damaged houses.
We need to create homes. We need to walk alongside these individuals to provide them with the supports they need to succeed. When you moved into your first home, did you know when to take the garbage out? Did you know how to change the furnace filter? Were you gifted with the knowledge of how to cook a healthy meal? Did you have more than $30 left at the end of the month to feed your family?
Many of the individuals who are homeless or at risk of being homeless are living in survival mode. How do we expect them to understand all that it takes to live in and maintain a home when we don't provide them with the tools to do so? When someone is fleeing violence, their control has been taken from them, their ability to make decisions removed. They have been terrorized, and yet, we expect success in a short period of time.
What is required is programming that focuses on steps or stages: a step to heal from the bruises; a step to realize what just happened and to grieve what you have lost; a step to discover what the cycle of violence is and how it affects you and your children; a step to figure out what's next.
We need to provide safety and ongoing support. Just like children, they reach milestones and have to grow and develop. We don't expect them to do things before they are developmentally ready. When you have experienced trauma associated with violence, you are not developmentally ready to do the work required to start over again. We are forgetting the building blocks. Abuse is not an event; it is a process, just as it is a process to recover from the place that violence has taken a person. We need to teach them to crawl, to stand, and then to walk on their own.
The solution is that we need to invest in people. We need to make sure that shelters are provided with the necessary resources to provide that initial shelter, but also have the opportunity to transition them along their journey on a timeline that works for them. This isn't about deciding how long it takes. It's about empowering them to know they are capable and they are worthy. It's about starting over. This may seem very simple, but sometimes that's what we need to go back to. Just like when a child starts school, they don't start in grade 9 or 12. They start at grade 1 and build on the skills they learn at each step of the way.
What is needed? Support. But in order to be able to offer the support, what we need to do is invest.
Invest in the staff. By investing in the staff, we are able to effectively train staff, reduce turnover, provide reasonable wages, and support them through the vicarious trauma that occurs. They can't unhear a story. They live this life with their clients.
Invest in shelters. Shelters should not be rooms with multiple beds. Personal space and boundaries are one thing abusers take away from victims, and then we put them in a shared space. We need to invest in the physical space of shelters. They are not holding cells. They are places where an individual has an opportunity to regroup. We need to be strategic in the design of shelters.
Invest in people. We need to support individuals through programs that teach, understand, and empower. We need holistic programming that develops skills, from basic living skills to employment training.
Invest in supported transitional housing. Transitional housing should be available wherever a shelter is available. This is a crucial step in fleeing violence. This is where the growth and empowerment can happen. This is where they learn and grow.
Invest in the organization. Organizations know the work. They are invested in the people they serve. We need less filtering of the funds through multiple agencies. The organizations know how to most effectively meet the needs of the people they serve.
Again, this may appear as a simplistic view, but the solution is simple; it is support. Through support, we help people who have been broken to heal. By investing in people up front, we reduce the long-term costs. If we teach them to fish, they will eat for a lifetime.
First, we need to teach individuals a bunch of different skills. When people have experienced some sort of trauma or come from a traumatic experience, they're living in a survival mode and they don't necessarily look at what's happening around them. It really is about what is happening right here, right now. We need to be able to give them the skills they need, and it's going to be very individual as to what types of skills they need to move forward. It might be learning about how the violence has affected them. It might be learning how to cook a meal that isn't just a quick and easy get-away type of meal. We need to provide skills, actual real-life skills.
On rebuilding, we need to rebuild this individual. As I stated earlier, they've been stripped down. They've had their decision-making processes taken away from them. Abuse is about power and control, so they're starting fresh, and it's about how we rebuild that individual so they know they are capable of making these changes, learning these skills, moving forward, and doing it on their own.
As for empowering, each of us needs to be empowered. We need to have purpose. We need to feel like we're valued, and that's how we're going to make it in our life. It's about those opportunities of being empowered.
I would like to return to the topic of transition housing, and maybe each of you can comment separately on this.
Ms. Lepko, you mentioned, of course, that it's lacking in our community.
Ms. LeBlanc, I missed part of your presentation and I apologize for that. I'm not sure if you referred to it at all.
From my estimation, that is a really key component. We don't want individuals to reside in a shelter as a long-term solution, so that transition housing is really important. Ideally, we'd want people to move along the housing continuum to a place where they're in independent housing that is safe and secure, where they feel empowered to live a life of dignity, worth, value and significance.
Maybe each of you can comment on that for a moment.
I think that core funding is always going to be something that women's organizations are going to fight for across the country. I'm sure I'm not the first to say it, nor the last in this committee study, because at the end of the day, we can't do our jobs effectively if we don't have that core funding. The amount of bugging and pushing in trying to get a small grant to operate our first transitional housing in a rural community is unbelievable, when we were turning people away.
Perhaps someone else who has been a witness at the committee has already mentioned it, but when the adequate supports aren't there for wraparound services, we know that statistically women will come to a shelter and leave seven to eight times before they leave for good. Perhaps if we had that core operational funding to get the job done right the first time, we wouldn't have that statistic of them coming and going. Not only does that impact them for their trauma and the long-term consequences, but think about what it's doing to child witnesses.
First and foremost, it's core funding, and doing what's being done today, listening to experts who work in the field and deal with clients. We were told year after year that there was no money. We got to a point where a woman came to see us and she was in extreme danger, but we couldn't offer her a bed because we just didn't have one. She chose to go back home. She thought she was safe to do so, but she wasn't. He shot at her repeatedly through the house and if it wasn't for her child, she'd be dead today.
We built our building from that consequence, saying that we have to do something, and it's going to be hard, but we can't keep going with the status quo.
I have less than two minutes left, I think.
I wonder whether, after the committee meeting, you could provide a submission to this committee to give some examples of what adequate funding looks like, so that we could actually have something. Would it be your recommendation for this committee, with the budget coming up, that this be in budget 2019, with no more stalling and saying, “It's not me, but the provincial government” or someone else, everybody else except for us? We all have responsibility; let's get on with it.
Could you do that for us, please?
Ms. Jennifer Lepko: Absolutely.
Ms. Jenny Kwan: I want to touch on something else. I think I still have one minute.
I come from the non-profit sector. I dealt with a woman fleeing violence, a Chinese woman who didn't speak English very well. We didn't even have access in Vancouver to that language capacity. She went back to the abuser.
Maybe you could expand on that, the crucial supports that are necessary for the cultural differences and the language capacity.
Yes. We work very closely with a number of first nations organizations around our community. One thing that we at the YWCA take into consideration is that we are not specialists in being a first nations organization; we work in trauma and in domestic and sexual violence. We partner with our first nations communities in order to provide effective services.
I think we sometimes have to be careful. We have a project, a child recovery program, which is a trauma program, running on the reserve in Stand Off, right next to us, at multiple schools. One young boy was asked to tell us about his culture. He said, “My culture is about addiction and violence.” That throws you back. That's how he defines his culture. So we need to be careful about saying, “You need your culture”, when that's how he's defining it.
Again, we need to speak to the specialists, the people who understand that culture, the people who live it. Instead of trying as an organization to give them their culture, we need to connect them with the elders in their community.
That being said, we have a large population of first nations clients—I'd say more than 50% of those we serve—simply because of our location.
There is a shelter on the reserve, right next door to us; however, we hear from many survivors that they do not like to be there simply because everyone is well known. It may be their aunt who's providing the services; it may be a friend. It's too close, so they come to access the services in Lethbridge.
Thank you very much for inviting me to present at this meeting.
First, I want to talk a bit about the context in the Northwest Territories. We are remote, and women describe that remoteness as having no place to hide and no place to go. They are isolated. They have no telephones. There's limited transportation, and it's an expensive place to live.
Remoteness makes you think of places that are far away with sparse population, and that is for sure the case in the Northwest Territories. Twenty-seven of our 33 communities in the NWT have a population of 1,000 or less, and 15 communities have less than 500 people.
Barriers that women face include not having access to telephones and not having a central emergency number. We don't have 911 in the territory. In fact, if it's after hours and you phone the RCMP from your community, you get the dispatch in Yellowknife.
Community helpers cite struggles in remote communities for women to access shelters. These include logistics, anonymity and weather dependence. Imagine yourself as a woman with two or three small children in a tiny airport in a community, waiting to fly out to a shelter. You're not sure if the plane is going to be able to land or take off again. What will you do if it can't? What are the challenges you have to face in leaving that community?
The geographic isolation is the reality in many northern communities, and it creates risks for women above and beyond what you would see in southern Canada in the more populated centres. We've had women skidoo out or walk out and have somebody extract them.
It's a real challenge. There's no privacy and no confidentiality in those kinds of circumstances in the small communities. Everywhere you go, everybody knows you and you're visible to everyone. Because of the lack of confidentiality, the gossip, and the shaming and blaming that happen toward women, they're reluctant to share accounts of abuse and violence. They're reluctant to take part in anything where their personal information is going to be disclosed and they might hear it at the Northern store later on.
When they seek help, they often have a different reason for seeking help. They might go to the health centre and say they have an earache or a sore throat, but what they really want is to talk about the violence they're experiencing. Living in northern communities makes it much more difficult for women to seek help.
In 2014-15, indigenous women made up 94% of all the admissions to the five shelters in the Northwest Territories. When you look at reported incidents of intimate partner violence across the three territories, 75% of the victims were indigenous, and 93% of those individuals suffered “the most severe forms of spousal violence, that is, having been beaten, choked, threatened with a weapon or sexually assaulted.” We can certainly say that in the NWT, we see this frequently. NWT shelters serve women who have a high risk of lethality.
There's also the scarcity of resources in the northern communities. For the 33 communities we have, 33% of them, or a third, have no RCMP presence, 80% have no victim services, and 85% do not have a women's shelter. The women's shelters are only in Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith and Tuktoyaktuk.
Women have a lot to lose if they attempt to leave the abusive partner. They worry about whether their children will be apprehended, whether they'll lose their housing, and in communities where there are no police or victims services, they need immediate access to safety and to support, a place to sleep, and food.
Women have been kicked out of their homes in the middle of the night with no shoes or boots in the winter; they've been beaten and left for dead; they've been choked and pursued as they fled for help. We actually did a transfer of a woman from one shelter to the shelter here in Yellowknife by forming a caravan to escort her the distance, because she was being pursued by her partner.
There are five women's shelters in the NWT, with 45 beds and 21 rooms. Shelters are the only resource for women with a wide variety of needs, and they're not well funded. They run at capacity, and two-thirds of women are turned away. For every 300 women we see, we turn away 200 women.
The lack of funding for shelters is a serious issue. There are no shelters in three regions in the NWT, namely the Sahtu, Dehcho and Tlicho regions, and the shelters that are here serve many square kilometres. Funding for the shelters is insufficient to provide ongoing maintenance, operation, repairs, and recruitment and retention of staff.
In fact, we had a recent meeting of the shelters, because we're the capacity organization for the five shelters. The shelter in Tuktoyaktuk was telling us that they don't think they have enough money for food to last throughout this year. Shelters have had to close here for lack of funding.
Even with five shelters, help is not consistently available to women, for several reasons, including shortages in funding, recruitment and retention of staff, and beds.
The recommendation we would have for this essential life-saving service in northern Canada is to find a way to better fund the shelters. I know that the three territorial premiers have asked the federal government to look at whether in fact they can have accessible funding. We don't have reserves; the federal funding goes to reserves in the southern provinces, but that's not available here. Maybe shelter services can be included as a mandatory service in transfer payments.
We need to find a way to have annual growth for the shelters, and we need to continue to fund repairs and maintenance. The money that rolled out for shelter enhancement in the last couple of years was a lifesaver in northern Canada, but only one of the five shelters can serve women with physical mobility impairments. We need to fast-track some construction. The Hay River shelter has demolished its building and is looking to rebuild. We need to be able to do that, and to have shelters in the Dehcho and the Sahtu.
Our other recommendations are to promote affordable housing, consider options for alleviating poverty for women leaving violent relationships, and develop a national action plan on violence against women, with a particular section on meeting the needs of northern Canada.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Ms. Fuller, for your presentation.
“The north has some of the highest rates of family and gendered violence in the country.” Status of Women Canada acknowledged this, saying that there is “a lack of shelter services in indigenous communities” and that “[c]onstruction and maintenance costs lead to crowded living conditions, which are a risk factor for violence.”
They went on to say, “We do know that, despite efforts to date, more than 70% of the 53 Inuit communities spread across four geographic regions of the Canadian Arctic still don't have access to shelters”.
That's the reality, and you have shared some of it with us.
The government knows about the lack of shelters, because Status of Women Canada acknowledges it. The question is why this problem is persisting. Why is there no action taken? Given that budget 2019 is just coming up, in February, what is your recommendation? What do you call on the government to do? What are the must-dos that they have to have in this budget in 2019?