News / London

Women’s shelters providing more than beds: Western University study

Abused women’s shelters offer more than a safe haven, according to a new study.

They provide a wide spectrum of services for victims and their children, ranging from help navigating the legal system to assistance in accessing social-service programs.

Those findings are the driving force behind a study led by Western University researchers and shelter directors in southwestern Ontario. Nearly a decade in the making, leaders of the Ontario Shelter Research Project released their findings Thursday.

While none of the data came as a huge surprise to those working in the field, it could be an eye-opener for outsiders and could lead to a stronger case for continued or additional funding, said Michele Hansen, the project’s leader and executive director of the Huron Women’s Shelter in Goderich.

“We live in a time when governments are scrutinizing what we do, so we have to have to be able to say, ‘What we do is important, it has value,’” Hansen said. This research “would certainly, I would think, encourage any funder to think, ‘I want to keep doing that because it’s a good thing.’”

Hansen stumbled on the idea for such a study about seven years ago while completing an application for United Way money.

The application asked for evidence of the impact her agency’s work was having, and Hansen called a colleague for help in finding the data.

When she found out that research hadn’t been done, roots of the Ontario Shelter project started taking shape.

About three years later, the project team secured funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and set out on a course that led to more than 200 interviews with directors, staff, and clients at shelters across the province, including in London.

A second phase of the project is expected to develop an evaluation tool that shelters can use to see how well they are meeting clients’ needs, Hansen said.

Plus, she said, new findings could still spring from the first round of research.

“There’s a body of material there that’s huge and doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

 Ontario Shelter Research Project

Some key findings about shelters:

  • Provide emotional support for abused women and their children, giving them time to start healing
  • Provide direct material support to women and children in need
  • Are community hubs that connect clients to services, help them make decisions and intervene when service providers are not responsive
  • Increase women’s capacity to manage on their own
  • Likely to prevent problems that will require more expensive services later on

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