I call the meeting to order.
Good afternoon. First of all, I would like to apologize to all our wonderful witnesses who have held on. I recognize that we're an hour behind, and I do apologize for the loss of your precious time, especially as we recognize from this study that the work you do is so sensitive to time. I was going to read my comments in French, but I first want to make sure that everything's going well.
We're going to be merging these two panels. Each group or each individual will have seven minutes to present, and then we'll be starting our rounds of questioning.
Welcome to the 118th meeting on the status of women.
The committee is resuming its study on the system of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence.
We have all our groups here. I am pleased to welcome Megan Walker, from the London Abused Women's Centre, who is the executive director. From Windsor-Essex Transgender and Allied Support, we have Jayce Beaudin-Carver, executive director. Donna Mullen and Marilyn Ruttan are appearing as individuals. That is our first group.
Joining them today we have Grace Costa, general manager for Eva's Satellite, on video conference. From SAVIS of Halton, we have Alma Arguello, executive director, and Tara Setaram, who is the crisis counsellor for human trafficking.
We're going to start with Megan Walker for seven minutes. Megan, you have the floor.
The London Abused Women's Centre provides advocacy, support and counselling to women and girls over the age of 12 who are experiencing violence from their intimate partners in sex trafficking or prostitution, harassment in the workplace, or harassment by other means.
We are a non-residential service. We believe very much in supporting prevention, which is of course much easier to address than it is to respond to the issues that women face on a daily basis.
We are not a Housing First agency. We believe that Housing First is really restrictive. We propose “women first” instead, and making sure that we listen to the needs of women and have appropriate services available for them as needed.
It's a very difficult time for women right now. Between January and August, we saw 106 women murdered, almost exclusively by men. Of those 106 women in Canada who were murdered, 33 were killed by their intimate male partners, and 70% of them were killed in their own homes. We know that the most dangerous place for women is not in a back alley but in their own homes. We have to work to change that.
We have a major issue with referring women who require shelter to shelters. Shelters are overflowing. We are now transporting some women and paying to accommodate them in agencies across the country. That shouldn't be.
Women are arriving at shelters with their children and with their clothes in the trunk of the car, but they can't access those shelters. It creates an extremely dangerous situation for women and girls. We are very concerned about the lack of shelter space.
We also know from a Housing First perspective that in the municipality of London, Housing First means that every woman gets into a home and not a shelter. We are now seeing the beginning of the end of Salvation Army shelter beds for men and women, because they are going to have to close those beds over the next three to five years to accommodate the principles of Housing First.
It's very difficult for women and girls to access housing, even when they have rent supplements. Through the provincial government's trafficking fund, we have been given rent supplements of up to $600 a month to give to women who are leaving trafficking. Combined with the city and the Ontario Works allowance, they have around $1,100 to $1,200 a month, yet there are problems, because a one-bedroom unit in London is $847 a month; a two-bedroom is $1,055; and a three-bedroom is $1,193. As you can imagine, there's very little money left to spend on food, clothing, or care for your children when you're in that situation.
We also find incredible discrimination by landlords against women who are being abused or trafficked. Many women are turned away by the landlord, even when they find a home they can afford. This is very difficult for us, because those women then are literally left homeless. They have no shelter bed and no accommodation in an apartment.
We are fundamentally supporting a recommendation that goes to the source of the problem, which is that male violence against women is an epidemic. If we were talking about violence in any other format except against women and we knew that 106 women were murdered this year, largely by men, with 33 murdered by their intimate partners, all bells and whistles would be going off. If it were an epidemic with respect to a flu or SARS or anything like that, we would be taking immediate action, yet for some reason we still continue to minimize the lived experiences of women and pretend it doesn't happen.
It's time to get our heads out of the sand and realize that we all have a role to play, especially government, in preventing women across this country from being murdered, particularly when they're being murdered by a man who is supposed to love them, and in their homes, which for most of us is the safest place we can be.
That's our first recommendation: we want the Government of Canada to recognize this as the epidemic it is.
Further, we want the government to respond to this epidemic by including full core funding for all services that are helping women live their lives free from violence and abuse.
We want to see major public awareness and education programs so that future generations of girls and boys grow up knowing that this is wrong, that the value women and girls have is not from the attention paid to them by boys and men, but in fact from who they are as people.
We want men and boys to know, growing up, that being macho is no longer something that we talk about. In fact, what we talk about is being a man who considers women to be human beings, to be respected and loved and cared for.
We also want to see a heavy investment in prevention. As I say, I think if we can see the results of one woman being alive today because of preventive action, we've done our job. We need to do that with much more frequency and with a much greater investment.
I also should say that we do provide service to many trafficked women. Overall last year we provided service to 6,000 women and girls, and of those, 1,400 identified as being prostituted and trafficked. We have no safe house anywhere in the region, and these women don't want to go to shelters, where it's like a flophouse where they have to go and leave, and go and leave. They also don't want to be in a domestic violence shelter, because their needs are so different. They want their own space, a place they can call their own, where they are safe from their pimps.
In your discussions around shelters, we would like to see that you are also including safety for sexually exploited and trafficked women and girls.
I did it with one second to go.
I want to thank the committee for asking me to participate in this important conversation regarding the state of shelter services for women and children.
I was confused by my invitation to address all of you here today. Yes, I am a woman who has worked in the women's homelessness sector, and yes, I am a woman with lived experience. However, the only narrative I can provide for you today is from the marginalized perspective of the most underserved community in Canada. I am the founder and executive director of Canada's only transgender and family support centre, based in Windsor-Essex.
Our agency is completely unfunded by any level of government, and operates solely by donation and contract services to other organizations. I'm also a transgender woman who has experienced homelessness, and I have first-hand knowledge of the barriers faced by my community when attempting to access services.
This year, for the first time, the Windsor community added gender identity, with transgender being one of the options, to the list of questions asked during the Point in Time Count. Even though our community chose to gather this information, no level of government requests this information outside of the binary choice of male or female for any sort of data collection. The administrators of the count were surprised to see that 3% of the community identified as being part of the trans community.
To the larger community, 3% may not sound like an alarming number, but we know trans-identified people are still afraid to self-identify for fear of not being able to access gendered services and of what they may experience when accessing those services.
Having worked in a women's shelter, I know these shelters are always at capacity, and in Windsor we actually have just 12 beds for single women. This has required shelter operators to be creative and use crash mats to accommodate additional women above what they are funded for.
For trans women who are accessing emergency shelter that is already at capacity, asking for any kind of accommodation to feel safe in and accessing that vital service is impossible. Our community is also one of the only ones I've ever heard of that does not have a family shelter program and does not use a motel program, which most communities use as an overflow program.
We know that there is no research currently that can give accurate statistics on homelessness and domestic violence in trans communities. There are very many systemic reasons for this. Even if shelters are asking about gender identity in an inclusive way at the service level, we know our government is not requiring shelters to actually keep statistics on trans people accessing services.
The most accurate portrayal of the needs is found in the Trans Pulse Project done in southwest Ontario. Even when studies are completed, they lump trans identities in with lesbian, gay and bisexual groups, which do not face the same barriers to access as we do. If we continue to research and keep statistics only on the LGBT community as a whole, we will never have an accurate portrayal of the barriers faced by the most marginalized of our community.
Trans women are still being turned away from women's services every day, although it is illegal to do so. We are still being told that our presence in women's services is triggering for cisgender women who have faced violence at the hands of men. Trans men who have faced violence are being sent to men's homeless shelters, and many report experiencing sexual violence while staying in these shelters. Many of these instances go unreported to authorities and to shelter staff because they are aware that this is their only option for a place to stay.
We hear them, though. We see them come into our centre, hopeless and without options. They are not just stories to us. These are our friends, people we share common experience with, people who matter.
Non-binary people are bring forced to choose either male or female when accessing any services, as our communities will still only serve people within the binary concept. Not only is this a disservice to our community, but it also does not give an accurate portrayal of the needs of marginalized people who require access to these services. Because our government does not ask about gender identity, we will never have a real understanding of the needs of our community. This means that our government will continue to fund women's beds and men's beds, instead of safe beds. After coming out, many of us lose our support systems, our families, our jobs and our homes. The trans community has a 43% suicidality rate.
In a country with laws that are so progressive in observing the rights of trans identities, why are our systems still set up to only serve cisgender people? Because our systems are not set up in a way that is inclusive of trans identities, 92% of trans-identified people are too afraid to access public spaces.
Seventy-seven per cent of the people in our community experience homelessness at some point throughout their transition, but they stay in dangerous living situations for longer periods of time to avoid accessing services, and 40% of our community members do not access emergency health care or residential addiction services when needed.
Our organization has been in operation for a year. We got the keys to our drop-in centre on May 1, 2018. Of course, there are no concrete statistics that supported the opening of a transgender-specific centre, which also means that we were unable to secure funding for operations or services.
What I believe is that if you build it, they will come. Since our opening, we've had 1,500 visits to the centre for various reasons, such as our food bank, clothing bank and counselling services, but most of all for advocacy support in gaining access and accommodations for services in the greater community that feel safe.
I am disappointed that in 2018, I still have clients calling me to report being pulled out of bathrooms at shelters for using the wrong bathroom, being forced to share accommodations that match their ID, or feeling unsafe in accessing the shelter system. They would rather sleep in the doorway of my centre until we open and catch some sleep there.
I'm appalled by the need for me to call shelters and advocate for why it is appropriate for our client to access that particular shelter and what their duty under the law is to accommodate that person. How comfortable would any of you be in having me call for you to access a shelter, where you know that I first had to argue for your right to be there? How would you be able to trust the staff, administration, or even the environment, knowing that you would not even be allowed to be there unless someone advocated for you first?
Even recently, I had a client report that their accommodation under the code, which we advocated for, was removed. They were returned to a bed that does not match their lived gender after breaking a minor rule.
Accommodations are not rewards; they're required under our law for safe access.
Some of these very things that I bring to you today are part of my own story and the stories of many of those in my life. Many other marginalized populations have been a target for additional funds and resources to change their outcomes and lower staggering statistics; the trans community is tired of being erased in service delivery.
Our people are dying, and it's time for this to stop.
—especially since last January, when the new mortgage stress test was introduced. It is difficult enough for a two-income family to qualify, let alone a single woman or a single woman trying to get back on her feet after having been in a stage one shelter or a stage two shelter situation. Women can't buy a home without first qualifying for a mortgage, and the big banks are not at all accommodating or welcoming.
I asked if I could bring Donna with me so together we can give you a picture of the challenges that women are facing. Donna and I are both hands-on in our respective careers, and we deal directly with the end consumer on a daily basis.
We received a follow-up email from the committee with the request to tie in with your study on the network of shelters and transition homes serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence.
Donna and I started brainstorming. We gathered as much information as we could, and then we interviewed several women. We interviewed a woman who worked at our local shelter in Collingwood, which is called My Friend's House, and who has worked for the past 25 years in the Collingwood office of the Ontario Works assist program. As well, we interviewed local counsellors to discuss the new social housing construction projects that are under way in Simcoe County.
Donna and I have a few recommendations that we feel, if implemented, could help transition some women, maybe even just 20%, out of stage two shelters—
Right now, when you apply for a mortgage to buy a home, the rules have never been so stringent and inconsistent from lender to lender. I started working in the banks in 1982, when rates were 20%, so I've been through every crash.
To rent a three-bedroom home of low builder grade, generally with no finished basement and no extras, in Simcoe County, the average cost is $1,800 to $2,000 per month. This can be replicated throughout the country, based on population. A woman could buy a three-bedroom home for between $359,000 and $399,000, and costs would be similar to rent. This confirms “needs” versus “wants”. You cannot build a low builder grade home on a fully serviced lot that has no finished basement and no ceramic tiles, marble or granite for less than $350,000 in this country.
We looked at the employment base in Simcoe County and the average wages based on a health care professional—RN, RPN, newly graduated, 90% women—personal support workers, and manufacturing jobs that are connected to the auto industry.
The RPN and RN are starting at $28 per hour. There are no benefits, and your job status is casual. Please remember that term in this committee: casual status of employment. A PSW's starting average is $18 per hour. There are no benefits, and your job status is casual.
The car manufacturing plant in Alliston is on perpetual contract hire. The average starting wage is $18.92 per hour, and we just gave $1.1 billion in forgiveness to Chrysler.
The auto glass manufacturing jobs start at $16 per hour. The average starting wage when working for the municipality or county is $18 to $20 per hour, and it's not easy for women to get these jobs.
The hospitality industry is our biggest employer in our county, Simcoe County. Since tips were paid, the waitress has not claimed them on her tax return. This type of job allowed the women to get out and work while the man was at home. There was no day care and usually no stress with the man at this point.
This cash allowed the woman to pay for gas for the vehicle, extra groceries and extra things for children, and maybe save some cash for her to be able to get out of an abusive relationship. This cash could not be tracked by the man. These waitresses and bartenders take a lesser wage than minimum wage because they get tips.
I understand now that CRA has been looking into auditing the registers to see how much a waitress is being paid via a debit card or Visa. This is not an area that should be a priority to CRA. There are many bigger fish to fry in our country beyond scrutinizing the women who work in this industry.
When a woman is leaving a spouse because of abuse, assets are involved, such as the home. The woman is generally entitled to 50% of equity upon separation or divorce. She may also be entitled to spousal support and child support. Upon separation or divorce, she is also allowed to have her child tax benefit recalculated.
You're going to cut me off, so I've got to get into some recommendations.
Eva's Initiatives for Homeless Youth is an award-winning Toronto-based organization to provide shelter and transitional housing for young people ages 16 to 24 who are experiencing homelessness. Our hope is to help them reach their potential and lead productive lives.
Eva's Place is a 40-bed emergency shelter and the home of the family reconnect program. Eva's Satellite is a 33-bed emergency shelter that focuses on harm reduction for youth who are substance users and are dealing with mental health issues. Eva's Phoenix is townhouse-style supportive housing for 50 young people. It provides educational and employment programs as well.
Charity Intelligence selected Eva's as one of Canada's top 10 impact charities. Eva's serves homeless young people of all genders. They become homeless for many reasons. However, it is clear that young people face systemic difficulties when impacted by violence against women and intimate partner violence; they seek supports from youth-servicing shelters and transitional housing providers that are ill-equipped to help them.
There are a couple of research points that I want to highlight that show the intersectionality between homelessness and gender-based violence.
The first one is that evidence shows that the majority of young people experiencing homelessness come from homes with high levels of physical, sexual and emotional abuse; interpersonal violence and assault; parental neglect; and exposure to intimate-partner violence. The lack of safety in the streets may cause young women to stay in living situations where they are at risk of gendered violence as well. Young men typically outnumber females in youth-serving shelters. It's a two-to-one ratio, more or less.
Evidence supports the view that many young women stay in violent situations because the streets feel much more unsafe. Homelessness exposes young people to extremely high risks of violence. They are nearly six times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population, and they are targeted more than anyone else for all kinds of violent crime, including sexual assaults.
LGBTQ and two-spirited youth, indigenous youth and youth who become homeless at a younger age are at the highest risk for violence. Homeless young people are especially vulnerable for being trafficked as well.
Covenant House Youth, the Field Center for Children's Policy, Practice and Research and the Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project of 2017 found that 68% of youth who had either been trafficked or had engaged in survival or commercial sex had done so while homeless.
Other information they found about high risk was that one in five of all cisgender women experienced a situation considered to be sex trafficking. LGBTQ youth accounted for 36% of the sex trafficking victims. Youth with a history of involvement in the foster system accounted for 27% of all youth engaged in the sex trade and 26% of all youth who were labour trafficked.
The Canadian Women's Foundation, in 2014, noted five factors for experiencing sex trafficking: being female and young, being poor, having a history of violence or neglect, having a history of sexual abuse, and having low levels of education. Other risk factors included the lack of local employment opportunities, being migrants or new immigrants and/or having low levels of social supports, being indigenous, being homeless, living in care or group homes or foster care, being involved in substance use or mental health issues, and having a history of criminal justice system involvement and gang association.
Youth shelters and transitional housing need support to increase capacity. In general, federal funding programming toward youth-serving shelters and transitional housing is very low. In Eva's case, we receive very few direct federal supports, even though we are one of the largest youth-serving shelters and transitional housing providers in Canada.
Young people escaping gender-based violence come to Eva's on a regular basis. These include those who face this violence themselves or are exposed to it at home. Adult women's shelters may be unavailable to them because of their age, because they are unaccompanied by a parent or a guardian, or because they don't know that they can access them. As well, in our experience when we have tried to access those beds, there is no space for them, even in Toronto where there are a lot more resources.
Even though young people come to service providers like Eva's, we do not often qualify for funds for gender-based violence alleviation, federal or otherwise. This presents a serious barrier to young women in particular, because it means we cannot reserve a shelter or transitional housing space, and most days or nights we cannot find them support from Eva's, because we are at capacity.
We're not certain about the hidden figures of young people who stay in situations of gender-based violence for fear of the streets. However, approximately 2,000 youths are homeless in Toronto each night, of which 600 are found in shelters or transitional houses and 123 are at Eva's. We know this means that young women may require youth shelters and transitional housing beds to escape gender-based violence but cannot access them.
Shelters are often the last place funders consider for meaningful programs, yet it is in the shelters and with the staff there that many young people disclose experiences of violence and trauma and reach out for support.
In the shelter we witness what so many young people need in terms of what we call “life skills”, but it's so much more than that. In our shelters, we meet young people where they're at, and slowly, ever so slowly, they begin to open up about years of violence, and we often have to transfer them to someone else in the community for support. When we do so, we often shut down that very young person, leading them back into the old patterns of shame, fear, isolation and denial.
For us doing this work, it is more than clear that places like Eva's and other youth and housing providers need government funding, not only to provide spaces to assist young women but also to maintain teams that have the experience, skills and sensitivity to support those young women escaping gender-based violence.
We're splitting our time.
SAVIS of Halton is the only sexual assault centre in Halton Region. We service folks who have been sexually assaulted. We also do public education programs and have long-term counselling programs for them. We also have the anti-human trafficking initiative, a complete exit program and long-term support through which we support women who are ready to start living a life, rather than just surviving their life.
This brief is strongly recommending that survivors of human trafficking be conceptualized as distinct from survivors of domestic violence, and that instead of addressing the housing needs of survivors of human trafficking through a domestic violence, violence-against-women model, housing support cater directly to the unique, multi-faceted experiences of survivors of human trafficking.
In Halton region, a geographical area made up of Oakville, Burlington, Milton, Georgetown and Acton, minimal housing supports are available for women and children who have experienced domestic violence. There's only one shelter, Halton Women's Place, that is specifically for women and their children seeking refuge from domestic violence. As it is the only women's shelter in Halton region, many of the women seeking housing support services there are not survivors of domestic violence but survivors of human trafficking.
Survivors of human trafficking face distinct barriers when accessing housing supports. The trauma that survivors of human trafficking have been through is different from that of survivors of domestic violence. For this reason, the housing needs of survivors of human trafficking diverge from the needs of survivors of domestic violence.
Currently one of the most glaring gaps in housing support services of the shelter model is that many service models homogenize survivors of human trafficking and survivors of domestic violence, ultimately failing to fully address the distinct needs of both groups.
The following brief outlines some of the barriers that are unique to survivors of human trafficking when accessing housing support services.
Black women, indigenous women and women of colour who are also survivors of human trafficking are less likely to access a VAW shelter and resources, as they do not feel their experiences and distinct needs are reflected in this service model. Housing support model shelters need to be operating from an intersectional foundation to better address the needs of survivors of human trafficking who are black, indigenous or women of colour. This experience is especially exaggerated in Halton region, as demographically it is largely white.
We also recommend a centralized shelter intake in transitional support that shows where all beds are found and who can provide the individuals with safe transportation.
Shelters should not be the only places that have or get funding for transitional support. Folks who seek support are not all deemed to have had domestic violence or seeking support in shelters, and sometimes the old definition of intimate partner or head of a traditional family unit excludes same-sex partners or abusive siblings in the case of some human trafficking survivors.
Transitional supports should also be extended to organizations that work with the most vulnerable: sexual assault centres, women's centres, settlement agencies, indigenous friendship circles—which we don't have in Halton—PSN, LGBTQ2+ and transitional support, trans support services, and seniors and advocacy agencies. The language needs to be changed. We need to look at the programs and the funding we provide from an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, intersectional approach.
We are still leaving behind the most vulnerable, even in the language and how we use it. What is the definition of “intimate partner”? Is it someone who has sex? That has to be changed. What is cohabitation? Is it someone with whom you have to live? If we just look at it within the traditional family unit, we will leave behind the most vulnerable of our population.
With regard to the transitional support, a lot of our clients are seeking housing, but we're not able to provide it because we do not have a crisis unit. What happens is that we need to relocate them very quickly, so we're putting them up in a hotel, which isn't sustainable. They're not able to access the shelter. Some of them have been blacklisted from the shelter, which means that we have to move them out of the region, and when we move them out of the region, we move them away from the supports they have.
In terms of accessing housing through the region, if they are approved as special priority, they get portable housing benefits. What happens is that they need to seek an apartment rental, get a lease, and provide first and last months' rent, and then the region will step in and start making that assistance payment.
Unfortunately, what happens with some of our clients is that when they seek out that rental agreement, they're not given a rental agreement because they do not have first and last months' rent. They have low credit rating scores and their income is inconsistent or too low to sustain the unit. What happens is this perpetual cycle of looking for an apartment, finding one, and not being eligible.
We've tried working with the regions to create some sort of format, because this is creating barriers and a hopelessness for our clients that they can be housed.
In terms of any purchase over $750,000 in the GTA, Toronto to Highway 9, east to Highway 412 and west to Hamilton, and in Vancouver and Montreal, have no stress test there below $750,000. Eliminate it. Any purchase of $500,000 and below in all other areas outside of those types of centres should not have a stress test.
These are needs; they are not wants. You need to talk to some developers to see what the real cost of building housing is, from a serviced lot up to a house.
I have done the comparisons. Right now, we're all told that this stress test is going to help people in the future. It's actually hurting more women than you can imagine.
I'll go back to the casual status. Most of the employees in the health care system seem to be women working as personal support workers, nurses and RPNs. Due to the aging population of workers within those fields today and the fact that those workers years ago did not have equipment to help in lifting and some of the other heavy work, their bodies are breaking down.
To protect them, we put some rules in place, such that you can bring new employees into those fields—long-term care and other fields—but they can't be there to replace an aging population of workers whose bodies are breaking down. What's happening is that we have so many on short-term disability that these casual workers who are hired are working 40 hours a week all year long because you have people on eight-week vacations or on short-term disability. Guess what? Those women can't buy a house. They have to be there for two years to show an average income before they can qualify for a mortgage.
My first recommendation, knowing those industries, is that for six months of continuous work at 40 hours a week you can get a mortgage and buy under the $500,000 mark with no stress test.
Could I just respond to that first?
It's not specific to any profession. We have a huge crisis, and we need to be providing every sector with education and opportunities to help women. Whether it's the hotel industry, the taxi industry, the health care sector, the real estate sector—whatever it is, we need to be making sure that everybody knows how to respond to a trafficked woman who appears before them. That's always about choices.
When women are trafficked and controlled by pimps—their whole lives, sometimes—and they decide to exit, there should never be a wrong door. Every door should be the right door, and women should be provided with choices, whether it's a choice to be served in their community of origin, or in another community, or safe at home.
Of course, like everybody, I am all in favour of women owning their own homes. I can tell you that of the 6,000 women we served last year, there would not be one woman who could afford a house around the $500,000 range. In fact, the majority of the women we serve are struggling to pay $1,300 per month in rent when they have children to support and everything else. I think just a moment of reality and reflection is important—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm going to ask some questions in French.
I'd like to begin by thanking you for your input, which will be very helpful to the committee in writing our report.
We've been talking about temporary or transition housing, whether it be for a day or a week. That's the subject of our study. I'd like to hear your recommendations on two issues.
First, we've heard that there's a crisis and that more transitional housing is needed. That means more capital is needed. How could we work with the private sector to build more temporary or transition housing?
Second, Status of Women Canada announced an additional $100 million in program funding. Which programs should be prioritized when that additional funding is being allocated?
I'd like to hear from the representatives of the three organizations. What would you recommend to address both of those points, capital and programs?
For us, it is the supportive housing piece. We don't have access to those funds. Our 50-bed housing unit, which is a townhouse model, is supportive housing. We can provide them with some supports, but certainly nowhere near the supports that the young women who come with these lived experiences need.
Again, because youth shelters seem to be almost lost from the map, we are seldom offered any kind of opportunity to put in a bed for those kinds of youth.
The other piece is that if I have a young woman who shows up at Satellite, which is a harm reduction shelter, and she's in crisis and her boyfriend or partner knows she's coming to Satellite, I have nowhere else to send this young woman. Not only do I put her at risk, but I put the other young people in that shelter at risk as well.
It's a losing battle. It's almost like I'm shuffling.... I'm calling places to try to see if they can move one of their kids over to our place so I can move one of our young women there.
Those are the kinds of experiences we've had.
We partner routinely with the corporate sector. We use the corporate sector money to provide immediate access to service for women and children.
The corporate sectors in our communities across the country are very generous, but they oftentimes want to see upfront government money as well. In fact, most of the corporate sector that we work with want to see the government—for capital expenses—come to the table with at least 60% of the funds. That's not always the case.
A specific recommendation that I have for Status of Women Canada is to make funding available, and not only for capital expenditures. You could have the most beautiful building in the world, but if you don't have the funding for staff to provide service, you may as well not build the building. Operating expenses need to be funded as well as capital expenses.
Specific to trafficking, trafficked women suffer a trauma that is unspeakable. Many of those women and girls will come and go from service. They will exit and return. They require different services at different times. However, one of the things we see consistently is that although nobody wants to live in an institution, those women and girls would like a safe place that they can call their home while they are working on healing. That means living with other women and girls with similar experiences while having access to programs.
Finally, really quickly, I think the government has to stop working in silos. These issues we're talking about today aren't just about Status of Women Canada. They're not just health and they're not just community safety, and until we can get those ministries coming to the table to work toward one solution, we're going to be here in another 10 or 20 years doing the same thing.
We were trying to get at programs that aren't being accessed. These women don't know about them.
There's one right now with CMHC that will give you the down payment for the house. If you sell the house within the first 20 years that you own it, then you have to give them back the down payment. If you keep it longer than 20 years, you get to keep the down payment.
There are so many programs that these women who are coming out of phase two sheltering probably don't even know about. If we had a mentorship and could train these real estate agents and brokers in this course, the ones who choose to take it who want to take sensitivity training could help these women. It might only be 20% of the women, but then that's 20% of the women going from stage one to stage two who could now come to stage two, because you've moved 20% out of stage two.
It's not going to be in every area. Obviously there are some areas where the abuse is a far greater problem than in Simcoe County.
Simcoe County has a lot of programs set up to help a woman navigate if she wants to buy a home. At the same time, CMHC will give you something on this hand and they'll take it away on this hand by saying there are some restrictions to getting your mortgage. We couldn't even touch on them. Donna's come up with restrictions that need to be removed so these women can qualify for the mortgage before they show up at my door and I start showing them properties.
I'm not trying to show anybody disrespect for a $500,000 home, but we have to look at reality and the reality of rent costs for these women when they leave the second stage of transition.
If we want them to be successful, we have to empower them so they can pay their own bills. That is the biggest empowerment for any woman today. She wants to pay her way, buy her own food, be able to provide for her children. That will give the woman the biggest sense of security that she can have in this world today.
If the rents are similar to what the mortgage payment would be, what better way to empower a woman if she doesn't have to fear moving every other year because a landlord wants to sell? She could do well with the profit, given the way that real estate has appreciated. We're looking to give that security. Policies in place right now are so interconflicted that women are shaking their heads, asking what to do.
As for building more units, yes, we definitely need more first-stage transitional spaces. We could never build enough for the need out there today. We have to start building programs that interconnect and move women out of the transition two status, programs that give them security in their own homes.
We have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, whose mandate is homes for all Canadians. Women are the most discriminated against.
I will go back to the casual status of employment. I have included real-life examples in our report that we want to table. They are in there for you to read and know.
I know I'll be cut off trying to give you all this information.
I've done the math. This thing about Canada being a debt nation—I'm very upset about what you're doing to women. We have a Bank of Canada governor saying we all can't manage our chequebooks, and our finance minister thinks we can't walk out the door with a chequebook because we don't know what to spend our money on.
Imagine a woman who has an approval limit of $5,000 who's used her only Visa to give her first and last months' rent so she can move away from an abusive relationship, but that put her $100 over her limit on her credit card. All she's hearing is how everybody's stupid in Canada and can't manage their chequebooks. Is she going to feel comfortable going into her financial institution and asking questions? No way.
That comes back to sensitivity. Mortgage brokers will train themselves for this speciality or be part of this. I am willing to take this across Canada so women know there is a place to go and not feel intimidated or less worthy than the average, to ask the questions and have the same information to make that informed financial decision.
The reference was made to ministries being in silos, and that's true, but also levels of government are in silos.
I spoke at an earlier meeting about city-owned housing. My first experience as a city councillor was canvassing in city-owned housing, looking through doors and seeing how people were living, which immediately raised my priority, even though I was 60 at the time, to single, senior, vulnerable women.
Also in those city-subsidized housing buildings, women were being trafficked and drugs were being sold. All kinds of things were happening. The security of the buildings was ridiculous. One building, a 200-unit building—I could give you the address—you could open by putting your thumb in the lock and turning it. People were coming and going all night. This really upset me.
The other thing we had was a faith-based shelter, which was really terrible. I was stopped by someone asking for change. I said, “Why don't you go there?” He said, “Are you kidding? You'll get killed in there.” We, as a city, finally dealt with that by closing that shelter, in terms of beds, and finding safe, sustainable, secure housing for everybody in there. It was quite a project in the city of Hamilton. Joe-Anne Priel was the head of that project. You might want to talk to her about that.
Could you reflect, Ms. Walker, on those points?
First of all, I was also a city councillor and was first elected in 1994. I ran on a platform of affordable housing and women's equality rights. Here I am, 25 or whatever years later, still advocating for the same positions.
It's easy to say that there needs to be more collaboration among all levels of government. It's much harder to do that, because every level of government has its own policies and rules around governance and around legislation. It's much easier for us to work within the federal system, removing the silos, so that we understand the impact of financial investment on the lives of women who live in poverty.
When I work with women and they go to a shelter, it's the best thing they can do for that first six or eight weeks, because it provides them with enough safety and enough time to seek legal support and family income support and to go and look at apartments or housing strategies to rent, but when we put all of the subsidized housing into one area so that we create stigma for anybody living there, we are failing women. That's been our approach, historically, as a country.
What I'm saying is that we need to have affordable housing. It needs to be legislated that every single developer who builds a building sets aside a certain number of units for affordable housing so that all women can access services across the country and their children can go to all schools and experience life, and other children can learn from their lives.
We're just ghettoizing women right now, and when you ask what we're going to do about it and how we address it, we need to really be setting legislation from a woman-first perspective—something that's not about patriarchy, not about benefiting men, but something that's going to really benefit women, however they identify themselves as women.
First of all, I apologize for all of the delays that we've had today. I've tried to be a little more easy here because the conversation has been so incredible with all of the different witnesses today. On behalf of the committee, I'd really like to thank Megan, Jayce, Donna, Marilyn, Grace, Alma, and Tara for all the great work you're doing in our community.
I hate to do this to you, but we're going to have to exit the room very quickly. The members do have to do about eight minutes of business.
Could we have one assistant per member and one member from each party, if necessary? All the others can exit the room. We will be out shortly. I'm sure many of the members would like the opportunity to speak to you.
Thank you once again.
[Proceedings continue in camera]