Shelters for victims of abuse in Canada still struggling with underfunding, capacity issues: StatsCan

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New numbers from Statistics Canada show shelters for victims of abuse across the country admitted 68,106 people in 2017/18, 60.3 per cent of whom were women. Their accompanying children made up 39.6 per cent and just 0.1 per cent were men. 

StatsCan did a snapshot day, meant to represent a typical day of operations at a shelter.

On that day, 3,565 women, 3,137 accompanying children, and eight men were living in shelters. In all 78 per cent of short-term beds were occupied and 36 per cent of short-term facilities were considered full on that day.

The study found nine out of 10 people who showed up at shelters were there due to abuse, and on the snapshot day 669 women were turned away, the majority of them because the shelter was full. 

Kaitlin Bardswich, communications and development coordinator at Women's Shelters Canada, said shelters are struggling.

"They're also having to deal with staff turnover as well as over-burdened staff who are underpaid and dealing with very significant issues on a day-to-day basis," she said. 

The StatsCan survey data appear to reinforce that.

Residents said two of their main roadblocks were lack of affordable, long-term housing after leaving the shelter and low incomes or underemployment. Facilities said two of their main concerns were funding and lack of permanent housing in their respective communities.  

Indigenous women and immigrant women are also over represented in shelter demographics. 

Bardswich said Indigenous women are more likely to be victims of violence.

Speaking of immigrant and refugee women, she said: "They often, generally speaking, don't have the same number of friends or family in the country or in their community that they can rely on. They don't have that support system."

"If they don't have permanent residency, [they] don't have access to social services such as social assistance, housing, healthcare."

Bardswich said she is always hoping for a bigger budget and more beds. 

Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), said housing is a big issue in Saskatchewan

While the province has a decent vacancy rate, women fleeing violence often have to turn to social assistance to live, says Dusel, who adds Saskatchewan had the highest percentage of full shelters on snapshot day of all the provinces. 

Dusel said the social assistance in the province isn't enough to sustain a family.

"If they were a family with one or two children, they could just barely afford a bachelor apartment in Regina at the average rental rate," she said. 

Even a family with five or more children would not even be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment on social assistance, without taking from money meant for other necessities, said Dusel.