Homelessness & Violence Against Women

By Tamara

It has been documented in many countries, such as Australia, the United States, the U.K and Canada, that domestic violence is one of the most common causes of homelessness for women and children (1). As a housing outreach worker, who works with women who have experienced domestic violence, I offer women resources for housing by making contact with building managers to find vacancies. Frequently, though, I talk to non-profit housing providers who tell me they have few or no vacancies available in the size unit I am asking them about.  Many of the buildings have wait lists of 6 months to 2 years and some have lists that have not changed in length for at least that long. The B.C. Housing wait list is up to 2 years depending on the size of unit needed.

The vacancy rate in market housing is currently at  1.1% in B.C. and 0.9% in the Vancouver area, so finding affordable market suites is next to impossible for the women I work with(2).  A two bedroom suite rents for $1000.00 per month or more. This is an average figure including suites available for $650.00-$800.00 a month in the basements of large houses where two or three tiny units per house have been marketed(3). Often these suites are uncared for and not actually large enough for a family to live in.

Many women I work with must apply for money from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development (formally the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance) because they have left their homes with nothing. They are then expected to find housing they can afford. With income assistance rates well under the poverty line, a two bedroom apartment in the lower mainland currently renting for upwards of $1000.00 is out of reach.

Violence is one of the most common causes of homelessness for women and children.  Homelessness, for many women, is an initial solution to unsafe housing or homes.  Women leave their homes because of physical and/or sexual violence.

It is unacceptable that the government of Canada has neglected to ensure the construction of low cost housing meets the demand.  In 1982, Ottawa paid for the construction of 20 500 non-profit and co-op housing units; however, since then the need has grown but the number of suites built per year has significantly decreased. Incredibly, the federal government only paid for approx. 4, 500 social housing units to be built in 2006 (3).

Second Stage Transition House programs offer a real solution to the women who are fortunate to have the opportunity to stay in this stable housing environment for up to 2 years. More Second Stage programs are needed though, because there are not enough vacancies for the number of women who want to participate in the programs. The long wait a woman has to find housing once she leaves violence and comes into a transition house is an immense barrier for choosing not to return to her relationship if her option is homelessness once her stay in a transition house is over.

Every woman and her children are entitled to safe, affordable and adequate housing. For the first time in almost three years the Honorable Monte Solberg, Federal Minister of Human Resources and Social Development did meet with provincial housing ministers in April (4); however, we have yet to see the results of the many promises made in the subsequent press release. I have worked as a housing outreach worker for just over two years now, and in that time affordable housing wait lists have not decreased. Having a roof over one’s head is not a privilege, it is a human right. Luck and timing seem to play a role in being able to find housing – A woman should not need luck to find a home!

  • (1) Novac, Sylvia, “Family Violence and Homelessness: A Review of the Literature”. online. 2006. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ncfr-cnivf/familyviolence/pdfs/fv-2007-homelessness-e.pdf
  • (2) CBCnews.ca: “B.C. Cities Have Lowest Rental Vacancy Rate in Canada”. June, 5 2008.  http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2008/06/05/bc-rental-vacancy-rates.html
  • (3) The Vancouver Sun, Online Edition: “Canada’s Homeless Crisis Grows While Canada Prospers”. April, 19  2008.  http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=fa1e52c2-f1d0-40f7-ad87-5029643ceeb6&p=1
  • (4) CMHC Site News Release: “Minister Solberg Meets with Provincial-Territorial Counterparts”. April, 3  2008. http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/corp/nero/nere/2008/2008-04-03-1700.cfm

Homelessness is a Women’s Issue

  • Homelessness, for many women, is an initial solution to unsafe housing or homes.  Women leave their homes because of physical and/or sexual violence.
  • Women are often among the “invisible homeless”, over-represented in shelters and transition houses.
  • Shelters, safe houses, and transition houses turn away approximately 200 people a night
  • On any given day there are approximately 40 families with children that are homeless
  • One in five Canadian women lives in poverty totally 2.8 million women
  • 56% of women headed families, 62% of immigrant women and 73% of Aboriginal single mothers live below the poverty line. Source:  Fact sheet Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Power of Women Project project@dewc.ca

Download our resource manual for Front-line workers who deal with violence against women.