Women’s Shelters Project

Women’s Shelters Project

At the 22 July 2020 Membership meeting, the Advocacy Committee moved to “start organising a campaign to involve the club members and its committees to build on our previous efforts to support Interval House and Cornerstone and advocate for the Canadian government to significantly increase funding to women’s shelters across Canada and seek support from other women’s organizations.” The motion was adopted.

Background information to proposal. On 5 March 2020, the CBC published a report by Tara Carman stating that women are turned away from shelters in Canada almost 19,000 times a month, 80% of the time because the shelter was full (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/womens-shelters-turned-away-domestic-violence1.5483186) and this number is probably low.

In the April 2020 Zontacler, Kathy Bose wrote:

“Women’s shelters all across Canada are saying that they often have to turn women and their children away, as their shelters are already full. Originally women and their children used to stay at the shelter for 10-60 days, but now they often stayed 3-4 months because it is so hard to find affordable housing. Some shelters have second-stage apartments, but with shelter funding being reduced and years-long waiting lists for subsidized housing, they are limited in what services they can provide. Shelter staff say that they try to refer the women to other organizations on their lists that may offer other types of assistance to them.”

Some shelter staff say that they turn away 15,000-19,000 requests from women for shelter each month. The staff speculate that younger women are less willing to put up with abuse and are willing to leave the relationship sooner than older women have done in the past.

Many groups concerned about domestic violence are worried about the current COVID-19 crisis in Canada. It is well known that domestic violence increases when the male partners are stressed, unemployed or face financial problems. Now many people are out of work, cannot expect any help from the federal government until early April, and are forced to stay at home. Their children, who are normally in school, are inside for a prolonged period and out of their normal routine, with no childcare available and breakfast/lunch food programs for children stopped. Some food banks have temporarily closed while they rearrange their spaces to comply with new COVID-19 requirements. Those who know about the causes of domestic violence say that this entire situation is like a powder keg waiting to go off.”

Statistics Canada figures show the daily number of women seeking shelter increased 69% per cent from 539 in 2014 to 911 in 2018. This means that Canada was facing a serious domestic violence crisis even before COVID-19, which has led to increased domestic violence. Having to turn away someone with nowhere else to go means that person is forced to live with her abuser longer.

In the June 2020 Zontacler, Kathy Bose reported her research on Domestic Abuse and Mass Killings.

“The Canadian Femicide Observatory says that there is often an escalation in violence and verbal abuse before the woman and/or her children are killed. It also says that the most dangerous period for the woman is right before or after she tries to flee from her partner, separates, or files for divorce.”

Kathy also wrote that “Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich, communications and development manager for Women’s Shelters Canada, said the role of gender in mass shootings often isn’t talked about, even though misogyny seems to have been a motivator in two of the deadliest massacres in Canada’s history.”

In the Carman report, Lise Martin, the Executive Director of Women’s Shelters Canada said that we need more shelters. The federal government has the funds through the national housing strategy to build more shelters. However, Manon Monastesse, Executive Director of the Quebec Federation of Women’s Shelters, said that very few women’s shelters have been built in the past decade.

Ms. Martin also said that a lack of affordable housing is another problem. Maryam Monsef, the minister responsible for women and gender equality said that support for subsidized housing is also part of the national housing strategy.

In April 2020, Kathy wrote:

“Maryam Monsef, the federal minister for Women and Gender Equality, says that the federal government is preparing a national strategy on intimate partner violence. She has said that the federal government would use subsidized housing funds to build shelters for women, who have left their abusive partner. A strategy is needed however, as the provincial governments are responsible for staffing and running the shelters, providing counselling to women abused by their partners, and for managing subsidized housing. The minister could not give a timeline when this housing strategy would be ready.”

Question to the Federal Government. Why have more shelters not been built and why has subsidized housing not been made available if the money is there through the national housing strategy?

Statistics show that this crisis has been escalating for years. Funding began to flow in June.  Did we need COVID-19 to get action?

Economic analysis of lack of shelters and affordable housing.

• 19,000 women per month turned away x 12 months = greater than 200,000 turned away each year.

• Let’s say 10% of those were desperate and really needed a place (to avoid the sort of outcome Tara wrote about in her story of the young immigrant mother who tried to take her own life, or the murdered women that Kathy Bose wrote about). That’s 20,000.

• According to the article, this number is probably low. Think of what it takes to present yourself to a shelter asking for “Help!”

• Staying in a good shelter (with programs to effectively get women out of the cycle of violence, as opposed to providing a temporary bed in an unused warehouse somewhere) costs about $3000 – $3500 per month.

• For ONE month of respite (and more than one month of help is likely to be required) and for ONLY 10% of the cases popping up above the radar, you need 20,000 x $3000 = $60 million.

• Further, if someone needs 3 or 4 months of shelter and/or there are more than 10% in dire straits, apply the multiplication factor and you are into $200 million and more pretty quickly.

These calculations illustrate the magnitude of the problem!

Furthermore, the economic benefits to women down the road who receive help from women’s shelters cannot be realized if they cannot get into a women’s shelter.

Project Goals

Advocate for increased funding from the Governments of Canada and Ontario to build and sustain more shelters to accommodate the approximately 19,000 women turned away from shelters every month due to lack of space.

Advocate for more affordable/subsidized housing to reduce the backlog of women and children having to stay in shelters longer than 10-60 days.


Members are requested to send information on potential partners to the committee. We ask members to include a brief analysis of how this partner fits with the goals of this project, and recommendations on strategies for contacting these organizations. The committee will start by contacting Cornerstone and Interval House to ask for their insights, suggestions of  whom to contact to bring on board (i.e. women’s shelters, councillors and legislators), and  other useful advice.

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