Defining Homelessness in the Face of Domestic Abuse

The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS), together with 16 of its members (including Rowan House), have published a new report on second-stage shelters. It includes recommendations that government can implement to address homelessness related to domestic abuse. Women fleeing abuse may not fit into traditional understandings of homelessless, but they are in fact, homeless.

EDMONTON, AB – The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters together with sixteen of their members have published a report: A Safe Path Home, based on their collaborative work over the last two years. The report highlights the work of second-stage women’s shelters in Alberta and provides practical recommendations that government can implement to support women and children who have become homeless due to domestic abuse.

Jan Reimer, ACWS Executive Director, says current definitions of homelessness need to change: “When women flee violence at home, they are homeless. These women may not fit into traditional understandings of homelessness, but when the choice they face is between violence at home, the risk of violence on the streets or in homeless shelters, plus the risk of losing their children to foster care or to their abuser – it is clear their need is acute.”

Reimer said she would like to see Alberta housing services follow the example of other provinces that give special priority to victims of domestic violence. British Columbia, for example, has a priority placement housing program for women fleeing violence — and second-stage women’s shelters are built into their housing strategy.

“The fact is, current affordable housing and homeless shelters are not always tailored to support women and children fleeing violence,” Reimer said. “Second-stage women’s shelters are the only long-term housing supports that offer their expertise in creating safety from domestic abusers, trauma and violence informed care, wrap-around supports and specialized children’s programming.”

Provincial funding announced in 2015 allowed second-stage women’s shelters to significantly strengthen their service offerings (all but two shelters previously operated without any government funding at all). Shelters were able to develop new programs, increase the scope of outreach services, hire child trauma counsellors and expand child-focused services. Ongoing investment will be needed to sustain these changes.

Second-stage shelters can boast some strong outcomes based on recent data. At the end of their stay in shelter, 87% of women were able to achieve progress towards their goals and over 80% were satisfied with services they received. While a staggering 67% of women were homeless upon entering shelter, only 9% were moving into unstable housing/homelessness upon exiting. More than half of women (55%) were moving into stable housing at the end of their stay.

[BC Housing Priority Placement Program:]

Meanwhile, Rowan House is excited about a recent motion passed by Okotoks Council on August 21st. The motion, introduced by Mayor, Bill Robertson, will have town administration act as a point of contact between Rowan House and developers in securing land suitable for a new second-stage shelter.