We have quorum, so we're going to get started. I'd like to welcome everyone to the 119th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
I'd also like to welcome some visitors sitting in the audience today. We have some officials with us who are the equivalent of Status of Women in other countries. We have the Canada-U.K. working group on gender equality and women's empowerment, as well as a representative from Australia's Office for Women.
Welcome. I hope you enjoy our meeting.
Today we're resuming our study on the system of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence.
I'm pleased to welcome, from Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga, John Gerrard, the chief executive officer. Via video conference, we have, from Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine, Marie-Ève Surprenant, who is the coordinator, as well as Fabienne Héraux, external services social worker, from Lina's Home.
We also have with us in the meeting room, from the Shield of Athena Family Services, Melpa Kamateros, the executive director.
You have seven minutes for your presentations.
John, I'm going to turn it over to you for your opening statement.
My name is John Gerrard. I'm the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga, a Canadian charitable organization with a vision to provide everyone with a safe and decent place to live.
You might be asking yourself right now why a representative from Habitat for Humanity is here in front of you today. I'm here because I'm passionate about housing and shelter for the most vulnerable. I'm here today speaking on behalf of my board of directors about thinking outside the box and about the collaboration and change we will need to make in order to build more housing for all.
I would like to spend my time today not addressing the stats, the people or the circumstances, but to spend our time thinking about the solution and what we can do to provide more beds faster in a way that creates the long-term supports necessary for organizations that will continue to provide these critical services for years.
Sometimes a solution is so simple we don't see it because we all have blinders on. I'm here to tell you that a solution is very simple. It can be found today, but it requires organizations, including not-for-profits, charities like Habitat, to change and modernize, but more importantly, to identify what we're good at and what we should focus our limited resources on so that we can all work to deliver in collaboration.
Being different is challenging. It's risky and requires us to be disruptors. I would like to tell you why I think it's simple and why collaboration in recognizing skill sets is key to solving our problem here today.
What is the gap in my opinion? I believe the gap is where we ask shelters and transitional housing providers to become developers and builders versus program support delivery experts. How can we possibly do both things well? It's a question we've asked ourselves at Habitat for Humanity since I joined in 2012.
We have learned we cannot do everything and, by trying, we move further and further away from the goal line. We ourselves have to make the hard decisions and be focused on what I am proud to say our board wants to do, which is be a builder and developer in our communities for all organizations. This doesn't mean we have moved away from our mission, but what it means is that, by focusing our resources, skill sets and limited items, we can simply build more and faster.
I would like to tell you a little bit about an example. In 2012, we built one home per year on average. Today, in 2018, we have started 24 two- to five-bedroom homes with over 42 units in our pipeline today. The most exciting part is that many of these bricks and mortars will now be built and given to local community partners, including women's shelters and transitional housing.
Is this a change? Not really. Our applicants are the same as many of the organizations with which we partner today have. In fact, most of the people on our 100-person waiting list are the same individuals on the lists of 12 other organizations in our communities. This is not to downplay the need, because although we have duplication, we also know there are likely 3,000 to 5,000 people still in need of housing.
Why is this story important and important to tell? It's important because it starts to identify why I know the gap can be closed. By simply collaborating with our partners, we can focus our resources and spend more time doing what's best, reducing the need for more government funding and allowing funding and government donors to also focus funding in specific areas.
In fact, in 2017, we partnered with Halton Women's Place to provide units for their outplacement programs. We've just finished housing for Community Living and are in the process of building housing for Milton Transitional Housing and working with both Kerr Street Mission and Home Suite Hope, all charities that deliver excellent program supports for those in transitional or women's shelters.
This focus wouldn't be possible if we didn't have an engaged and passionate government helping to direct us to think differently. Without innovation and directed collaboration, our limited resources spread out to the masses will continue to deliver very scarce outcomes. We need government to drive organizations to be more collaborative and to ensure that limited resources are focused to the right organizations at the right time and serve the right part of the integrated puzzle.
Today, Habitat for Humanity can build a four-bedroom home for $200,000 because we mobilize our community, volunteers, local businesses, government and strategies to serve more families. We have developed a social enterprise developed to grow our skill sets and grow our capacity all around construction and development. Now as we build 18 more units in Burlington, a project that will take three years to complete, we will see the community raise $4.3 million of the $7-million project, and $2.7 million will come from the federal and provincial IAH programming.
Once the project is completed, Habitat for Humanity will carry the mortgages and manage the properties while our 12 community partners will manage and support the clients through their journey.
What I will say now may not put me in good standing with my peers in other not-for-profits. I'm here because we have to build more faster and the only way to do that is to focus limited resources to those that can deliver a long-term financially responsible solution. Giving us scale is what we need.
Solving the crisis cannot be done quickly and requires hard decisions at all levels of government and the front-line providers. It's important as I talk before this committee today that you understand we have already started a journey to come up with solutions to make this a reality. We have streamlined our processes and those of the other 12 working community groups. We have signed MOUs talking about how we will streamline our resources and services to work together collaboratively to build more homes, more beds and more shelters.
As a collaborative partner, we can provide the physical building, skills, capacity and build it more cost effectively. Halton Women's Place will focus on what they are good at—providing the much needed essential services to the women and children who come to them for help.
Today, this Liberal government has invested in one of the most important and critical elements of our society: housing and shelter. With the introduction of Canada's national housing strategy, “A place to call home”, government has recognized the significant value and importance of housing first. My organization applauds the bold and decisive leadership you have taken. Your committee has the opportunity to engage the national housing strategy, make recommendations to engage and direct funding, and voice the concerns to streamline to allow us to build more resources for the folks that need it the most.
If we are prepared to offer $150,000 to a rental unit, why aren't we prepared to offer $150,000 to the development of shelters and beds? On a per-door basis, we at Habitat are looking for new and decisive activities that government can help direct.
I'm asking you today to recognize that there is a difference between a capital component and a program delivery component. Don't ask the specialists of programming to build housing, the bricks and mortar. At the same time, don't ask your bricks and mortar folks to deliver programming. The traditional players that have provided housing and beds are not going to be the same players in the future. Through government-sanctioned collaborative partnerships, we can provide the much needed support through programming and shelter.
We want government to direct and require collaboration, support and drive it. We aren't going to solve these terrible situations on our own.
In closing, I ask that you think about laying a new roadway to transition and shelter housing. Think outside the box. Government must also lead.
I hope today I've planted a seed that will grow through discussion, and maybe even some debate. I hope to take this away from our talk today.
Finally, I believe we are bigger, better, stronger together. We just have to close the gap.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
We're very pleased to have the opportunity to participate today in this study of shelters and transition houses serving women victims of violence. Quebec must cope with a critical shortage of available places, and the situation is particularly serious in Laval.
Today we want to briefly describe the situation in our region and propose some solutions.
In Laval, as in other areas, many women affected by violence are denied assistance as a result of the lack of available shelter space or resources adapted to their situation.
The situation is quite alarming in Laval. That's why we've documented shelter needs in the region, for the purpose of ensuring safe transitions for women.
Unsurprisingly, the study showed that the services provided fall far short of meeting all the needs. We'll come back to this matter later.
We also prepared a description of women in vulnerable situations, and the results were released in 2015. It was demonstrated that, in 98% of cases, the organizations in the region needed to refer the women receiving support to other resources in order to meet all their needs. In 57% of cases, the women were sent outside the region as a result of the lack of resources.
It should be noted that Laval has no resources for women who are experiencing multiple issues related to violence. If women aren't experiencing domestic violence, there's no crisis or transition shelter for them.
For example, Laval has a population of over 435,000 people, and the city has only nine community shelter resources for people in crisis or transition. Of these nine resources, only three are single-gender resources for women. These three single-gender resources are responsible for taking in and housing women victims of domestic violence and their children.
Only two of the other mixed-gender resources take in people who are homeless or who are experiencing multiple issues. These two resources provide seven emergency places, including two places for less than 24 hours. This gives you an idea of the shelter space available in Laval.
First of all, I would like to thank the committee for inviting us to participate in this survey. It's very important for us.
I'm here today presenting in the capacity of executive director of the Shield of Athena Family Services, as well as for the Alliance des maisons d’hébergement de deuxiéme étape in Quebec. My colleague, Madame Surprenant, mentioned our upcoming second-step project.
The Shield of Athena was created in 1991 by a group of volunteers. Our present network, which is considered supraregional, because it goes from one region to the other, includes two centres where external services are provided and an emergency shelter, Athena's House, that came into existence in 2004.
I just want to say, a little bit off the subject here, that it took us 13 years to get the first shelter, and for the second step, we have been working at this since 2010. It's a very long and arduous process.
We speak 17 languages at the Shield of Athena, and we also do a lot of public education and outreach to communities. It is no accident that we speak in so many languages, because we want to provide access to information and services to as many people as possible who do not speak either English or French. If we look at the multicultural and multilingual reality of Canada, we see that presently one in every five Canadians was born outside Canada. Within 20 years, it is estimated that it will be one in every three. For us, language is a huge issue. It is the door of entry, and it is the thing that will allow people to have a choice of action—not action, but a choice of action.
Should this choice of action not exist for every Canadian? There's a basic inequality in issues pertaining to social justice within the system. We have seen this inequality because we work with a very vulnerable clientele. This vulnerability is particularly relevant in cases of conjugal or family violence, where even if a victim knows perfect English or French, she is often very reticent in coming out to find assistance.
Presently, 60% of our clients at the external are sent to us by the existing health and social services network of Quebec. One in every four speaks only her language of origin. How easy is it for us to send that client to the shelter system or to have her benefit from the system's services? It isn't easy.
Irrespective of that, many statistics show the gravity of the situation with conjugal violence everywhere in Canada, but they only give a partial picture. This is because, as Stats Canada has reported, only 30% of cases of conjugal violence are ever reported. If we add to that 30% the many people who cannot report the violence, not because they don't care or they have no choice of action but because they are limited linguistically and otherwise, that number becomes very great.
How can we diversify and expand the existing shelter and services so that we can provide more options for women victims and their children who come from these very vulnerable clientele groups?
We have heard about the need to increase the number of beds, but in addition to increasing the number of beds and renovating existing shelters, we also have to think seriously about the fact that future federal funding should include the actual creation and provision of new services to accompany these developments.
At our shelter, Athena's House, as in many other emergency resources in Canada, women often come in the middle of the night, often with their children and always in great need of security. What happens to these women? In our case, we have limited beds. My colleagues in Laval spoke about the big need for extra spaces, but what if there are no service providers to provide information in their language of origin? Then all these services that are going to be happening are useless. We have an increased need for more places in Laval, but they also have to cater to a vulnerable clientele.
Regarding renovation, we find that there are huge time lapses from the time funds are requested and when the shelters actually receive them. Years can pass before the funds are accessed, and sometimes important things cannot wait.
As regards the issue of transitional housing, the single most important thing for women, all women, leaving emergency shelters is where to find the transitional housing that provides them with integrated services, with security and with the possibility to create an autonomous life for them and their children.
This brings me to my comments as a member of L’Alliance des maisons d’hébergement de deuxiéme étape. In Quebec, there are only 19 such resources. We will be the 20th. It took us eight years to come this far and we still haven't started the construction. We hope that the federal money will be directed that way.
The issue of double vulnerability is once again present in 65% of the women in second-step housing presently in Quebec. They come from an ethnic background but the service providers speak English or French. For those doubly vulnerable clienteles, there is no safe access to transitional housing presently.
If we increase the number of emergency beds, this is very good but it does not take out the importance of the transitional housing, because if we increase the stay for women in emergency places and emergency shelters, then we keep other women in imminent danger out. Again, we have to go and emphasize the importance of this transitional housing.
To this effect—and I will be brief—we recommend that the Government of Canada, particularly when dealing with vulnerable clienteles, firstly, put more money towards the creation of more spaces in existing emergency shelters, promote new housing at both the emergency and second-step levels, and provide for emergency funding programs for very urgent cases that involve renovation and repairs. Leaky roofs and moisture between the walls will not be able to wait for years.
Secondly, we hope that a pan-Canadian policy on housing and conjugal violence can be created that is the same from province to province, that it includes the funding of services, and that it addresses the issue of violence against women from a global perspective and not from a perspective that involves only housing.
Lastly, there's more, but I'll be brief, I hope sincerely that the Government of Canada can ensure equality of access to services when the clientele is compromised in terms of language and other issues. If not, we're not an equitable system here. I believe that expanding the role of external services will make this possible for everybody.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you very much to the witnesses for taking the time to present to us today. It's greatly appreciated.
I've done a fair amount of work with Habitat for Humanity, and I'm delighted to see you're here and presenting.
Obviously, as a former minister of the Status of Women, I appreciate what all the rest of you have been doing, particularly to combat violence against women and girls.
My first questions are for you, John. Could you give us a clear idea of the specifics in the process for applying for these homes?
We're hearing from a wide range of organizations. They give us a sense of what their needs are, but at our last panel we also learned that many people don't even know that if they're in this circumstance, they can apply to CMHC for their full down payment and have it covered for multiple years.
We want to make sure those gaps in education are filled. Can you give us some of the processes for your organization, so that people are aware?
Then I have one other question for you.
I did do the top three, but I have others. Some of them are really peripheral, but I thought they were important.
One comment—and I say this with a lot of belief—is that after nearly 30 years of working in this area of violence against women, I have also seen the impact that prevention programs have had in getting women to the resources. This is really before the women even enter into the system of the resources.
What can we do in order to give them this option of choice?
It isn't fair for me if I speak English or for you if you speak French or for somebody else who speaks another language.... I don't want to say a language, because I don't want to criticize or whatever, but if we don't all speak the same language and information is available only in English and French, then there's no equitable way that these people, the women, the communities...because we also do a lot of work with communities. I believe that prevention is done with the victims, but also at the community level.
My recommendation is that more of these prevention programs take place and be funded by the federal government. Also, at the level of Status of Women, I know that projects are funded, but wouldn't it make more sense that if a project that is funded produces services that are very good for vulnerable clients, the project could be repeated?
I know the provision of services is a provincial element, but at the federal level perhaps something could be done in terms of the projects that are developed. If the services developed from these projects are good, maybe then that funding could be repeated.
At the Shield of Athena, we've always worked with the communities as well as the victims. We've found that when we work with the communities, we take a more inclusive approach and we educate more people on what violence against women is, particularly conjugal violence, what the consequences are and what the resources are.
I find that the prevention programs—and again I go back to this, because for us education is extremely important—are the first part of this linear progression for the woman in any case. It is the first step for the woman entering the system, but it is also a step towards bringing back a type of social consciousness to the community. We're educating not only the victims but the communities. For us, it's very important that the Government of Canada do this preparatory step before people are funnelled into the system.
I think I cited a statistic that only 30% of the cases of violence are reported. Where are the other 70%? How can we get the 70% to come out and say, “I'm a victim” or “I want to help a victim”, or “Can we direct the victims to this resource?” I think that is step number one. For us, public awareness is always step number one. So is the provision of services in a multilingual format. We cannot expect people to come to us. We have to be out there, we have to make this information available and we have to make it available in their language of origin. In the same way that we make this information available in the language of origin, we have to make intervention available in the language of origin.
Imagine how difficult it is for an intervention with a woman who is a victim of family violence. We call it a tripartite invention. We've educated what we call cultural intermediaries—or interpreters—to be able to participate in this. So it's the social worker to the cultural intermediary, the cultural intermediary to the client, the client back to the cultural intermediary and then the cultural intermediary back to the client. It's long, it's arduous, it's very, very challenging and it gets the work done.
I would say we need more information in the language of origin, more intervention—possibly in the language of origin—and more partnering up with existing resources. I always cite the pilot project that we did with the shelters in Laval. It's fabulous. We get things done that way. The shelters can accept a lot of the women there. We give our linguistic services and we do service a lot of people.
Habitat is changing its model. It has to change its model to serve more families for our mission. We are implementing new programs that meet a growing, diverse audience. That includes organizations like women's shelters and transitional housing.
You mentioned Halton Women's Place. We have now provided them with three locations were they provide secondary transitional programming. They select the clients who will go into those homes and support them. We manage the mortgage and we manage the relationship, but they manage the client involvement there. I think that's a fundamental difference in where we're headed.
We're now starting to enter into different models of mortgage lending. In the past we were very much focused on home ownership. We continue to be primarily focused on that; however, we are now offering alternative strategies to allow mobilization of individuals in precarious situations who may want to move, who need a temporary solution, but want to take the equity they have contributed and eventually relocate to better themselves and be more successful. That's through our new deferred home ownership or rent-to-own program.
Finally, I think the change we're doing as an organization is that we're now building physical buildings for organizations. That's where we are able to mobilize our strengths and provide housing for the client to be able to use in their need, not ours. Working collaboratively, we're going to be more successful.
Good evening, Madam Chair and members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. I would like to take a moment to offer my gratitude and state what an honour it is to sit before you in our nation’s capital to present in regard to the study of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women.
To begin with an introduction, my name is Travis DeCoste, and I am currently employed as a housing support worker for “A Roof Over Your Head”, a project of the Antigonish Community Transit Society. The project currently serves the counties of Antigonish and Guysborough within Nova Scotia. The clients who use our programs are most often referred, and present with issues surrounding homelessness and housing insecurity.
The number of individuals in need of housing support in Antigonish and Guysborough counties continues to grow and is sometimes overwhelming. That said, included in this growing number is women and children affected by domestic and intimate partner violence.
Since taking on my role as housing support worker for “A Roof Over Your Head”, multiple files have been referred from partnering agencies that see clients experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity due to some aspect of domestic and intimate partner violence. Today my hope is to offer the committee recommendations through the lens of my perspective, which includes current and past roles, and most importantly, my personal lived experience.
In May 2001, the dynamic of my family forever changed when my mother found the strength and the courage to reach out and ask for help. My family was living through the pain and hurt caused by domestic and intimate partner violence, and help came for us in the way of the Leeside transition shelter in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. Leeside Transition House offered tremendous support to my mother during our family’s time of need, but at points, our needs were beyond the scope of the Leeside Transition House.
I offer recommendations to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for consideration pertaining to the concerns of my family, and many such as ours, during the time of our need.
One recommendation I would bring forth is that the government continue developing financial resources and support for women who are undereducated and underemployed to retrain and develop the skills needed to secure and maintain adequate employment to provide for their families, and develop a specific strategy to reach those most in need of this opportunity.
In my personal, specific case, after my mother ultimately went to a transitional society to ask for the help in regard to domestic violence, she was leaving a relationship where she was a homemaker for close to 21 years and didn't necessarily have the employability skills required for the job market at that time. She didn't have access to the resources to re-educate or retrain herself. Through that, there was a lot of financial insecurity within my home life and our home environment.
Currently, the Government of Canada operates the HRDC funding program for retraining through the employment insurance program. I would like to see a specific aim of that program awarded to women who are experiencing domestic violence and intimate partner violence. The opportunity would not only be empowering to women, to offer them the skills needed to move forward in their lives, but it would offer an aspect of self-esteem, which in turn would help them move through the process, the next steps.
My next recommendation is to develop topic-specific focus groups that consult and collaborate with community and service-providing agencies to create innovative and creative solutions to address the housing needs of each particular community.
Currently in Antigonish county and surrounding communities, our major concern is the lack of affordable housing. We reside in a town that has a university that brings a significant population to the community on a yearly basis. Because of that, rental costs are quite astronomical. Current rental rates within the Antigonish community are, on average, $500 to $600 per bedroom. We have a very hard time finding family dwellings for individuals, because landlords are breaking their homes up into boarding-style houses.
Thank you for having us today. My name is Chantal Arseneault, and I work at the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale.
The Regroupement has been around for 40 years. Its members are fighting for the right to women's psychological and physical integrity.
Our organization consists of 42 assistance and shelter homes throughout the 15 administrative regions of Quebec.
In 2016-2017, its members provided shelter to some 2,700 women and 2,200 children. They provided over 14,000 services and responded to more than 46,000 requests for assistance.
The Regroupement des maisons is very concerned by the committee's topic of study. The shortage of spaces in shelters is a crucial issue. Beyond the shortage of spaces, it shows in particular a lack of access to support services abused women need. We will try to suggest some potential solutions today.
In 2015, the entire Quebec police service registered 19,400 crimes against persons committed in a domestic context. Those offences accounted for nearly one-third of all crimes against individuals.
However, the domestic violence phenomenon is much larger. According to Statistics Canada, only 36% of women allegedly report abuse to the police. Women can also be victims to a number of other types of violence: psychological, verbal, sexual, economic and spiritual.
According to the World Bank, rape and domestic violence represent a greater risk to women than cancer, road accidents, war and malaria combined. In addition, according to the UN, violence committed by an intimate partner is allegedly the most common form of violence women experience.
Why do women need services? Because it is not easy to escape domestic violence.
Let me tell you about a woman who is currently at the shelter. Sylvie has been married for 15 years. Violence took root in her life when she became pregnant with her first child. At that point, the control wielded by her husband greatly intensified. He insulted her constantly. After the birth, she became increasingly isolated, and she stopped seeing people and talking to them. Her husband went as far as to control the amount of time she had for grocery shopping and forbade her from buying bread, among other things. She had to bake the bread herself.
Sylvie decided to end the relationship, but she became pregnant with her second child. She felt completely destabilized by that unplanned pregnancy. Her husband promised her he would go to therapy and would no longer cause her any problems. One evening, while the children were in the living room, the husband noticed that Sylvie had bought bread. Violence erupted, and insults and threats spread throughout the household. The children were hearing and seeing the violence. The husband got enraged, hit Sylvie, held her head against the kitchen counter and put a knife to her throat. The children were still in the living room. A few hours later, she arrived at the shelter with her two children.
You can imagine how Sylvie and her children feel. They are terrorized, panick-stricken, stressed, tired, really exhausted and very anxious. Sylvie feels trapped, completely powerless in relation to everything she is going through.
Our colleagues said it earlier: the homes are more than shelter. The transition houses are, first and foremost, safe havens that provide services to women and children fleeing violence. Responders are available 24/7, throughout the year. Their role is to welcome and reassure women and children, help them recover their health and direct them toward other services. Responders obviously assess the risks women are facing and can establish scenarios with them to ensure their safety.
Domestic violence has short, medium and long-term consequences for women and children. In addition, that violence often continues after separation, contrary to popular belief. That is why shelters provide women with post-shelter follow-up services. Those women who face bigger challenges related to safety can be directed to second stage housing, when available.
In addition, many women who want to leave their spouse or are questioning difficulties within the couple, but who do not want to get housing, need other types of services. That is why the homes have implemented external consultation services to help those women.
I will now discuss the shortage of spaces in Quebec. Over the past few months, the Regroupement and the Fédération—we are two associations of crisis and emergency homes—have interviewed those in charge of 109 homes in Quebec to understand why they are refusing so many women every year. We are talking about several thousand women. We have received responses from 101 of those homes.
This study showed us that the issues are bigger in large metropolitan areas, and in the suburbs of those regions. Those homes have the most marked space shortages. So, in the Outaouais, in Lanaudière, in Laval, in Montreal and in Quebec City, the homes have refused from 5 to 17 times more women than the number of spaces they have available. In three regions—Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the Laurentians and Montérégie—the refusal issue is marked, but specifically in certain homes and not across the region. In six other regions, there was not much refusal, but we noted that the homes often had to receive more individuals than the number of spaces for which they are funded. That is also indicative of a space shortage.
The shortage of spaces in shelters in Quebec is a real problem, which is not surprising. If we compare the number of spaces per capita in Quebec to that in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, Quebec ranks last. So we think that the federal government can play a crucial role in resolving the space shortage problem in shelters and helping women live in safety.
Here are our three recommendations.
The Regroupement recommends that Canada establish a national action plan for violence against women and that it coordinates its efforts with the provinces and territories. We recommend that the government find inspiration in the action plan model that has been presented by various organizations involved with women's shelters in Canada.
We also recommend that the federal government ensure that the funding available under the national housing strategy really makes it possible to increase the number of spaces in assistance and shelter homes, and in second stage housing. Currently, we are unable to find out whether that money will indeed go to those resources.
Building physical spaces is one thing, but for responders to be available every day for years to come, money is needed, and that is a provincial responsibility. So we recommend that the federal government include in its transfers to the provinces additional funds to cover the operational costs of assistance and shelter homes, and second stage housing.
In closing, in addition to the huge impact violence has on victims, it leads to economic costs of $7.4 billion. That is a lot more than an increase in spaces would cost.
A society that calls itself egalitarian must do everything possible to ensure that no woman is subject to control and violence and that no child suffers the consequences. Society has a duty to protect the most vulnerable citizens.
The Island Crisis Care Society is a registered non-profit society that helps people in crisis to stabilize and then find the supports that they need. We also offer the resources and services that people need in order to be well. We work in co-operation with provincial and federal agencies, community groups and faith-based organizations to develop housing options and programs that respect the needs of individuals with multiple challenges or concurrent disorders.
Samaritan House is the only homeless shelter for women in the mid-Vancouver Island. We operate out of a 100-year-old building with many stairs and barriers for the clients that we serve. We also provide supportive housing at Samaritan House and coordinate and provide transitional housing and rent subsidies to help break the cycle of homelessness that many of our clients experience. Since we added these additional housing options back in 2013 through a project with B.C. Housing, we've seen how beneficial it is to have the option to move women from one type of support to another type, according to their needs. We found that the positive relationships that have been built with staff mean that it's easier for the clients to transition to more supports when they're needed, without feeling like it's a failure.
Hundreds of women are facing challenges in our community. The lack of affordable housing is a huge issue in our area because the prices of properties have skyrocketed and many landlords are choosing to sell and cash in, which leaves the tenants with nowhere to go. We are hearing from women who have lived in their rental units for up to 15 years and now must move, with little or no possibility of finding a place. Landlords with vacancies can charge extortionate rates as there is so little available.
I spoke to the status of women committee back in June 2017. Unfortunately, not much has changed with our challenges since back then. In fact, things have become much worse. Nanaimo has the largest tent city in B.C. Approximately 40% of the people living there are women. Some of them are very vulnerable. We still put as many women as we can on mats on the floor in the hallways of Samaritan House, but in the daytime they have to leave as there's simply no place for them. Our building is overcrowded and we don't have a lounge area for the women to sit, to meet privately or to find support from staff.
The areas of greatest concern are the access for women with disabilities, adequate support for women with mental disorders and substance-use disorders, and an ability to provide a therapeutic environment for clients. Eight women sleeping in a dorm with bunk beds is not very helpful when one might be experiencing psychosis, another might be high from drugs and another is a senior lady who has never been in a shelter before.
Part of the challenge that we face is that there are no shelters strictly for women escaping domestic abuse. Of course, many—if not most—of our women have experienced violence and trauma in their lives. Often the funding that is available is specifically for shelters with women and children who are escaping domestic violence. That is a very popular cause in the community for people to give money to. However, the women that we serve are often the very same women who have spiralled down and are now in even greater need of support. Their children may have been removed from their care or have grown up, and the cycle of trauma continues. When women come to our doors currently with children, we're unable to take them because we simply don't have the space. The plans for our new shelter have a place for families to be safe, yet separate from others in the shelter.
We continue to see older women who are facing homelessness for the first time in their lives. When you live on a small pension, it's difficult to find a place to rent that is affordable. When we are unable to take them in at their time of need they must find an alternative, which may be living in their vehicle if they have one, or sleeping in a tent. After they've been living on the street and have lost their possessions, and often much of their hope, it is much more difficult to find and maintain housing. For them to have the best success in finding and maintaining housing, they would preferably be housed within a month. An outreach worker can then support them and ensure that they have what they need to maintain housing.
We've been waiting for funding to expand Samaritan House for over five years, and quite honestly, if something had been done sooner, we might not be facing the challenges we are facing right now. There have been opportunities provincially for capital for affordable housing projects, but not for homeless shelters. An investment in affordable housing is imperative, but just as important is a safe environment where women can be helped to move through the challenges they face, empowering them to be the women they were meant to be.
I'd like to close with some comments from two clients whose videos can be seen on our website. Melissa says, “The house is a place of refuge for all sorts of women. People have to start saying, 'There is a problem here, a people problem'.... Take time, get the assistance you need and then you can go forward.... Heal your body, heal your heart and then go out”. From Christine, “I think many just come from a place of trauma and it manifests itself in many ways. Trauma comes from not a very good place and manifests itself in depression, addiction and instability”.
Thank you for your time.