Shelters offering refuge to women in the Greater Toronto Area, already overwhelmed by demand, have been dealing with additional pressure from the housing market.
“We’re in crisis,” said Sojie Tate, communications manager of Women’s Habitat.
“This is a housing crisis and it has a huge effect on our ability to provide service.”
According to Tate, the shelter had to turn away 650 women last year due to a lack of space.
Women’s shelters that find themselves at capacity often provide referrals or contact other shelters to provide individuals and their families with other options.
“We’ve become transitional housing. We’ve become a long-term housing provider. It’s not what we’re funded for. It’s not what our mandate was. It wasn’t why we were designed.”
The organization provides support to women with or without children, who have fled from violence or abuse. The average stay used to be around six months, but that has changed. Tate says some families have stayed for a year or longer.
“The wait is too long. We’re seeing women wait two, three years and not get a call for social housing,” she explained. “They have to turn to market rent and market rent is unaffordable.”
Housing is a major hurdle for women escaping violence. Domestic violence remains a leading cause of poverty among Canadian families.
Women’s Shelters Canada has developed 11 recommendations to the National Housing Strategy they hope will better support women in the long run.
Among them: A review of current funding definitions of homelessness to be more inclusive of women, substantially increasing the supply of social housing units and ensuring the shelter enhancement fund reflects needs specific to violence against women (VAW) shelters.
“There is a real need to have an intersectional and gender-based and human rights approach to any issues pertaining to housing, homelessness and violence against women,” said Krystle Maki, research and policy co-ordinator of Women’s Shelters Canada.
Similar to Women’s Habitat, YWCA Toronto is observing families staying for longer periods of time.
Some have been able to apply for special priority housing but securing it has been a challenge.
“With the boundaries more rigid and their applications being denied, they’re turned away. It means they get put on a five-year waiting list or three-year waiting list, and shelters are sort of absorbing that,” said Nina Gorka, director of shelters and girls and family programs, YWCA Toronto.