She fled domestic abuse. Now she and her daughter are victims of the housing crisis

Her bare feet were freezing by the time she made it through the snow to Tim Hortons, nine blocks from the home she had just fled.

Her back ached from where he had broken an ironing board across it. Her shoes, phone, and baby girl were still back there with him.

Her plan was simple: phone a friend, get her 18-month-old daughter and find somewhere safe to live. 

She soon realized that last step was anything but simple.

The mother, who CBC News is calling Dawn C. (D.C.) to protect her child's identity, is one of many women in B.C. who have left a violent home and struggle to secure housing in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.  Advocates say emergency shelters are full, subsidized housing wait lists are long and market rents are too high for most single mothers.

Nowhere to run

Three years after she left her New Westminster apartment that winter night in 2016, D.C. is still living in Metro Vancouver with her daughter, but has no stable housing to raise her in. 

"Every place, every shelter, every house had wait lists that just went on forever," said D.C.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women's Support Services (BWSS), says lack of affordable housing is one of the main reasons why women don't leave abusive relationship. She said the organization responds to up to 1,800 calls a year from women with limited housing options, some of whom are considering returning to their abusers.

MacDougall said the problem has worsened in Metro Vancouver in recent years as rents soared and housing stocks plummeted.

According to the most recent data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the overall vacancy rate in Vancouver is one per cent and the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,649.

"With the housing crisis that we have, survivors of violence are dealing with the reality of no housing, no escape," said MacDougall.

Ben Nelms/CBC

The aftermath

The first time D.C.'s partner was violent with her she was pregnant with their daughter and he headbutted her in the face in their kitchen. The night he beat her with the ironing board, she was still on leave after giving birth when she decided enough was enough.

After she left, she returned home with a photo of her bruised back and threatened to show her partner's family if he didn't leave. He left.

D.C. thought it would be okay. She had a daycare spot for her daughter, and planned to return to work at her full time job that paid decently — when she was laid off. 

She collected employment insurance until it ran out, took temp work, sold her car, drained her savings and stole the occasional tomato from a community garden. Anything to keep her child fed, housed and in care so D.C. could search for steady work. Eventually, she moved to Vancouver, where she rented an apartment, and where she thought there would be more employment and social services.

But with an ex who refused to pay child support, D.C. was mostly reliant on social services. It was not enough for rent and she was evicted from her apartment.

In a scramble, she found a new place out of her price range in East Vancouver. She has to move out at the end of the month, and expects to be homeless before Christmas.

Stop the vicious cycle

According to MacDougall, about 200 women and children are turned away from homeless shelters every night in B.C. 

"What we haven't done as a province and a country is prioritize housing," said MacDougall, adding when housing is available, it is not affordable. 

She said another issue is some vulnerable women do find an affordable unit, only to experience sexual violence from predatory landlords.

MacDougall wants to see sustained government investment in temporary and long-term housing so women don't have to choose between being abused or being on the streets.

"Women are dealing with insurmountable hurdles trying to get housing when they are leaving an abusive relationship," said MacDougall.  "Homelessness becomes the direct result of leaving."

Where to get help:

VictimLinkBC is a toll-free, confidential, multilingual telephone service available across B.C. and the Yukon 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-563-0808.

Service is provided in more than 110 languages, including 17 Indigenous languages.

VictimLinkBC is TTY accessible. Call TTY at 604-875-0885; to call collect, please call the Telus Relay Service at 711. Text to 604-836-6381. Email VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca

Safe Home is a CBC Vancouver series on domestic abuse and housing affordability. It can be heard on The Early Edition at 7:10 a.m. PT starting Nov. 12 as well as local morning radio shows across the province. You can also watch for coverage on CBC Vancouver News at 6 weekdays and read stories online at cbc.ca/bc.