Leaving domestic violence is difficult at the best of time, but the affordability crisis is now forcing some women to stay in dangerous situations.
Fear Is Not Love runs an emergency women’s shelter in Calgary for those fleeing family violence and saw increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, but CEO Kim Ruse says the need for their services hasn’t decreased over the past few years.
“August of this year was the highest call volume in the organization’s history,” says Ruse of the Connect Helpline. “We answered 1,777 calls in August alone.”
The domestic violence and abuse hotline received a record-breaking 4,807 calls between July and September of this year, a 13-per cent increase from the same quarter last year. The monthly average of calls to the hotline in 2023 is more than 1,300 which is a 58-per cent increase from the 848 monthly average in pre-COVID 2019.
Ruse says there are many complex reasons someone will stay in a violent relationship, but points to affordability as an increasingly common reason.
“The uncertainty that happens financially when you leave a dangerous situation is just enough to keep people staying where they are and taking risks that we really wouldn’t want them to be taking,” Ruse explains.
The typical length of stay at an emergency shelter ranges between 21 and 30 days, but Ruse says women are staying closer to 36 days now because there is nowhere for them to go when they leave, forcing difficult choices to be made.
“Some people are choosing to go back because it is safer to be there in their minds because the financial pressures aren’t as grave,” says Ruse. “Other people are staying in shelter longer than they ever should as they seek affordable housing.”
Secondary shelters are another option for women and families following stays at emergency shelters, but there are a limited number of units in the city and stays there are growing longer as well.
“Last year we were able to support about 50 per cent more women transition into the community than we have been this year,” says Susan Herman, executive director at Radiance Family Society.
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Radiance usually offers 12-month stays to allow women and families time to adjust after leaving domestic violence, followed by six months of outreach services, but Herman says there are few housing options for the families at the end of their year.
“There’s a lot of barriers,” says Herman. “So, our women, our families are often last on the list… and they don’t qualify for a lot of the market rent and it’s a very long wait for affordable housing.”
Herman says the need to immediately start looking for housing after arriving at the secondary shelter causes extra stress and keeps women in limbo.
Both Ruse and Herman point to the need for more affordable housing to ease the strains on the care system as the average stay at shelters continues to grow.
“It’s really competitive out there,” says Ruse. “Landlords are taking the highest bidder for their apartments and our clients can’t compete.”
“Surviving has become a full-time job so we would really love for social policy that has social and economic supports in place to see women and children thrive,” says Herman.
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