Halifax YWCA says it's running out of funds to help survivors of gender-based violence

The Halifax YWCA says two funds designed to help survivors of gender-based violence flee abuse are already depleted and in dire need of additional support, with six months still left in 2024.

In an interview with CBC News on Saturday, executive director Miia Suokonautio said demand for the YWCA's December 6th Fund, which offers interest-free loans of $500, and its National Emergency Survivor Support Fund (NESS), which offers one-time grants of $1,000, has grown significantly this year, with the organization on track to exceed the number of survivors helped the previous year by a significant margin.

"Over the course of this year, we've already … supported 181 survivors … and a total of $125,000 has already gone out the door," she said.

The money goes toward things like rent payments, damage deposits, relocation expenses and other fees incurred while fleeing violent situations.

The number one reason people don't leave, Suokonautio said, is because they're afraid for their safety, but the second biggest reason is that they often don't have the means to do so.

"We talk broadly about the increasing cost of living, housing crisis, inflation, the prevalence of poverty, but what we need to understand is that these things play out in a very particular way when you talk about intimate partner violence or gender-based violence," she said.

Suokonautio said the YWCA receives about 30 calls every day from people in need of help, but it may not be able to help everyone if it doesn't get more financial support soon.

She's hoping Nova Scotians will step up to the plate and help the YWCA make up the shortfall.

"I'm always very confident that community steps up when community is needed," she said. "We saw that with the fires last year, we see it with floods, and so our appeal to people … is to make donations to the YWCA, designate them to the December 6th Fund, and our goal is to raise about $100,000 … and we feel that would get us through to the end of the year."

All money donated to the YWCA for this purpose will go directly to survivors, Suokonautio said.

"Any service provider will tell you that it's nice to be able to accompany someone and to support them and provide counselling or emotional support or healing spaces, but sometimes what people need — and this is very much where food banks are — is the actual tangible concrete resource."

Brad Johns has resigned from cabinet. He will no longer be Nova Scotia's Justice Minister. His resignation comes a day after comments he made on domestic violence in Nova Scotia.
Brad Johns resigned as Nova Scotia's justice minister in April, a day after he said he didn't believe that domestic violence is an epidemic. (CBC)

According to Suokonautio, the demand she sees for all of the YWCA's programs is a clear indication that gender-based violence is an epidemic.

In April, Brad Johns resigned as the province's justice minister after drawing fire from survivor advocacy groups when he said he didn't believe that is true.

"An [epidemic], you're seeing it everywhere all the time, I don't think that's the case," Johns told reporters following a cabinet meeting in downtown Halifax that month.

He's since spoken to many of those groups, including the YWCA, apologizing and walking back the comments, but his remarks hit close to home.

They came on the four-year anniversary of the Nova Scotia mass shooting, a tragedy that resulted in the deaths of 22 people.

The final report of the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission described domestic violence as an epidemic.

Following Johns's resignation, Premier Tim Houston reiterated that "domestic violence is an issue our government takes very seriously."