News / Edmonton

Second-stage shelters getting women into stable homes after domestic abuse: report

Alberta Council of Women's Shelters releases new numbers on 'invisible' problem of women's homelessness

Jan Reimer, Executive Director of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Jan Reimer, Executive Director of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters.

Women’s homelessness is an “invisible" problem that second-stage shelters are starting to fix, according to a new report.

A Safe Path Home, released Thursday by The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, shows 55 per cent of the women who entered a second-stage shelter in Alberta since 2015 left with stable housing.

Only nine per cent left without a home, compared to 67 per cent who were homeless when they first came to the shelter.

“Women’s homelessness looks very different than men’s and tends to be more invisible,” said the council’s executive director Jan Reimer, explaining women often couch surf or live in their cars after fleeing domestic violence.

“They’re not going to sleep on the streets because that’s not safe. They get raped.”

Second-stage shelters finally got provincewide funding in 2015 despite the need being identified decades ago, Reimer said, but more money is still needed.

While a first-stage shelter will house a woman and her children for an average of 15 days, women can stay in second-stage shelters for six months to three years – the average stay is 214 days – which gives them more time to access supports and stable housing.

“When a woman leaves, that’s the most dangerous time, when she’s ended the relationship. That’s when her life is threatened, and that of her children, that’s when she’s most likely to be killed,” Reimer said.

“So the security offered by second stage is paramount to saving their lives.”

The report also highlights several areas where women fleeing domestic violence need more supports.

Reimer said people often forget to account for the fact that most women bring children with them, and 27 per cent of the kids in shelters have a disability or a mental or physical health concern.

Of the women admitted to second stage shelters, 22 per cent were suffering “severe” injuries like miscarriages, internal organ injuries, eye trauma, hearing loss, broken bones and bruises, and many were unable to go back to work because of their injuries.

“So then it not only affected their well-being and their health, it’s a devastating impact on their income. And when you think that because of your abuse you just can’t go back to work, that is pretty terrifying,” Reimer said.

The council is pushing for a priority placement housing program for women like a program that exists in B.C., where second-stage shelters are built into their housing strategy and the shelters themselves can provide rent supplements.

Reimer also hopes the report influences the federal government’s ongoing work on its new National Housing Strategy.

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Alberta’s second-stage shelter demographics:

87% of women were accompanied by children

60% had two or more children

49% of the children were preschool age

24% of women immigrated to Canada

35% of women were Indigenous

67% were homeless or living in short-term accommodations

22% suffered severe injuries from abusers

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