Ottawa, 1 May 2019
Today, Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC) released “More Than a Bed: A National Profile of Violence Against Women (VAW) Shelters and Transition Houses.” This report gives detailed information on the breadth and depth of VAW shelters across the country. The data clearly show that they are providing expanding services for a diverse group of women and children, without comparable funding increases.
“More women call shelter crisis lines every day, many desperately looking for safety. Unfortunately, shelter workers often find themselves in the unbearable situation of having to turn them away because far too many shelters are operating at capacity,” said Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada. “They are literally struggling to help more and more people with fewer resources. This study shows that lack of funding is a major challenge.”
In Canada, a woman is killed every 2.5 days, with over half killed by a current or former intimate partner. VAW shelters provide lifesaving services to women and children fleeing violence. Recent numbers from Statistics Canada showed that over 68,000 women and children had stayed in VAW shelters in 2017-2018. However, WSC’s report found that four in ten shelters reported being at capacity “almost always.” Capacity challenges are compounded by the lack of safe, affordable, and appropriate housing for women and their children across the country, in urban and rural communities alike.
“VAW shelters are much more than a bed,” said Manon Monastesse, co-chair of WSC’s Board. “In addition to providing physical and psychological safety, VAW shelters help women rebuild their lives, heal from abuse, develop resiliency, and move towards living violence-free lives, through both outreach and residential services.”
However, VAW shelters are not funded adequately to do this life-saving work. Nearly two-thirds (74%) of VAW shelters indicated that insufficient funding was a “major challenge.” This is unsurprising given that the majority (64%) did not receive an annual cost of living increase from their main government funder. One in five had not received a funding increase in ten years or more.
The majority of VAW shelters (55%) need to fundraise to meet their operating expenses. However, 10% could not meet their operating expenses even with fundraising. The majority (86%) did not have fundraisers on staff, often leaving overburdened frontline staff to take on fundraising responsibilities just to keep the doors open.
“This report shows that the level of services varies significantly across the country,” Martin said. “This is one of the reasons why Canada needs a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women.”
This report is based on data from WSC’s 2017-2018 survey, the first national inquiry of its kind developed by and for the VAW shelter sector. Overall, 401 VAW shelters participated, a response rate of over 78%, and included responses from every province and territory as well as from rural, remote, Northern, and Indigenous shelters.
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Women’s Shelters Canada brings together 14 provincial and territorial shelter organizations. We work as a unified voice to collaborate, educate, and innovate for systemic change that ends violence against women, making Canada a model for safety in the world.