Federal government funding to help Albertans experiencing gender-based violence

Shelter Movers volunteers help victims of domestic violence move out of homes where they are experiencing abuse. (Marc Hull-Jacquin/submitted - image credit)
Shelter Movers volunteers help victims of domestic violence move out of homes where they are experiencing abuse. (Marc Hull-Jacquin/submitted - image credit)

Albertans looking to flee violent homes will soon be able to seek help from specially trained moving staff to safely transport them, their children, pets and belongings to a new place, thanks to a new grant from the federal government.

Shelter Movers, a national charitable organization that offers moving and storage services free of charge to those escaping abuse, received $3 million to expand its operations on the Prairies, starting with a chapter in Alberta. The organization has chapters in six eastern Canadian cities as well as Vancouver.

"We work closely with local agencies and local businesses to help survivors on their journey to a life free of violence," founder and executive director Marc Hull-Jacquin told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"The rise in gender-based violence resulting from the pandemic really has not slowed down," he added.

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He said the organization was moving about 130 families across the country.

The money, announced on Dec. 9, is part of the government's national plan to end gender-based violence.

"Space is something our government has been working on," said Marci Ien, federal minister of women, gender equality and youth.

She said the government has included shelter spaces and transitional spaces as part of its rapid housing initiative.

According to a news release, Alberta's gender-based violence crisis hotlines saw the number of calls over the past year increase by upwards of 50 per cent.

The federal government has also given $3 million to 211 — a round-the-clock helpline — for counselling and crisis support.

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Since April 1, 2021, Alberta's women's shelters saw an increase of 25 per cent from the year before, according to the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters (ACWS).

Jan Reimer, executive director for ACWS, said that while having the additional support from Shelter Movers is a help, it doesn't touch the current needs of shelters in the province.

"Lack of housing, food, insecurity, lack of income are certainly top of mind," she said. "And many of our women that are coming to the shelter have very, very little."

Alberta's gender-based violence service providers need funding now, before more individuals are referred to them for placements in shelters where there is no space. The situation is complicated by a lack of affordable housing that shelter residents can access, says a statement on the ACWS website.

In the year ending March 31, 2022, more than 65,000 people reached out to shelter support lines, according to a report released by ACWS earlier this month. Of those, 25,530 calls were requests for help.

Only 16.6 per cent could be assisted, the report said.

As well, there were over 11,000 requests for admission that were refused because shelters had no room, the report said.

"We have the lack of capacity within shelters themselves because they're not able to accommodate all the requests for the admissions that they currently receive," Reimer said. "And then women are having to stay longer in many cases because they can't find housing they can afford to move into."

Reimer said shelters do more than just offer accommodations, such as providing multiple support and programming services for women and children.

The report said staffing shortages, stagnant wages and lack of sufficient funding have made it difficult for shelters to continue to provide some much-needed services.