Evidence of meeting #119 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was shelter.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

John Gerrard  Chief Executive Officer, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga
Marie-Ève Surprenant  Coordinator, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine
Fabienne Héraux  External Services Social Worker, Lina's Home, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine
Melpa Kamateros  Executive Director, The Shield of Athena - Family Services
Sonia Sidhu  Brampton South, Lib.
Honourable K. Kellie Leitch  Simcoe—Grey, CPC
Travis DeCoste  Housing Support Worker, A Roof Over Your Head, Antigonish Community Transit
Bob Bratina  Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.
Chantal Arseneault  President, Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale
Louise Riendeau  Co-responsible, Political Issues, Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale
Violet Hayes  Executive Director, Island Crisis Care Society

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

We have quorum, so we're going to get started. I'd like to welcome everyone to the 119th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

I'd also like to welcome some visitors sitting in the audience today. We have some officials with us who are the equivalent of Status of Women in other countries. We have the Canada-U.K. working group on gender equality and women's empowerment, as well as a representative from Australia's Office for Women.

Welcome. I hope you enjoy our meeting.

Today we're resuming our study on the system of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence.

I'm pleased to welcome, from Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga, John Gerrard, the chief executive officer. Via video conference, we have, from Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine, Marie-Ève Surprenant, who is the coordinator, as well as Fabienne Héraux, external services social worker, from Lina's Home.

We also have with us in the meeting room, from the Shield of Athena Family Services, Melpa Kamateros, the executive director.

You have seven minutes for your presentations.

John, I'm going to turn it over to you for your opening statement.

3:30 p.m.

John Gerrard Chief Executive Officer, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga

Thank you very much.

My name is John Gerrard. I'm the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga, a Canadian charitable organization with a vision to provide everyone with a safe and decent place to live.

You might be asking yourself right now why a representative from Habitat for Humanity is here in front of you today. I'm here because I'm passionate about housing and shelter for the most vulnerable. I'm here today speaking on behalf of my board of directors about thinking outside the box and about the collaboration and change we will need to make in order to build more housing for all.

I would like to spend my time today not addressing the stats, the people or the circumstances, but to spend our time thinking about the solution and what we can do to provide more beds faster in a way that creates the long-term supports necessary for organizations that will continue to provide these critical services for years.

Sometimes a solution is so simple we don't see it because we all have blinders on. I'm here to tell you that a solution is very simple. It can be found today, but it requires organizations, including not-for-profits, charities like Habitat, to change and modernize, but more importantly, to identify what we're good at and what we should focus our limited resources on so that we can all work to deliver in collaboration.

Being different is challenging. It's risky and requires us to be disruptors. I would like to tell you why I think it's simple and why collaboration in recognizing skill sets is key to solving our problem here today.

What is the gap in my opinion? I believe the gap is where we ask shelters and transitional housing providers to become developers and builders versus program support delivery experts. How can we possibly do both things well? It's a question we've asked ourselves at Habitat for Humanity since I joined in 2012.

We have learned we cannot do everything and, by trying, we move further and further away from the goal line. We ourselves have to make the hard decisions and be focused on what I am proud to say our board wants to do, which is be a builder and developer in our communities for all organizations. This doesn't mean we have moved away from our mission, but what it means is that, by focusing our resources, skill sets and limited items, we can simply build more and faster.

I would like to tell you a little bit about an example. In 2012, we built one home per year on average. Today, in 2018, we have started 24 two- to five-bedroom homes with over 42 units in our pipeline today. The most exciting part is that many of these bricks and mortars will now be built and given to local community partners, including women's shelters and transitional housing.

Is this a change? Not really. Our applicants are the same as many of the organizations with which we partner today have. In fact, most of the people on our 100-person waiting list are the same individuals on the lists of 12 other organizations in our communities. This is not to downplay the need, because although we have duplication, we also know there are likely 3,000 to 5,000 people still in need of housing.

Why is this story important and important to tell? It's important because it starts to identify why I know the gap can be closed. By simply collaborating with our partners, we can focus our resources and spend more time doing what's best, reducing the need for more government funding and allowing funding and government donors to also focus funding in specific areas.

In fact, in 2017, we partnered with Halton Women's Place to provide units for their outplacement programs. We've just finished housing for Community Living and are in the process of building housing for Milton Transitional Housing and working with both Kerr Street Mission and Home Suite Hope, all charities that deliver excellent program supports for those in transitional or women's shelters.

This focus wouldn't be possible if we didn't have an engaged and passionate government helping to direct us to think differently. Without innovation and directed collaboration, our limited resources spread out to the masses will continue to deliver very scarce outcomes. We need government to drive organizations to be more collaborative and to ensure that limited resources are focused to the right organizations at the right time and serve the right part of the integrated puzzle.

Today, Habitat for Humanity can build a four-bedroom home for $200,000 because we mobilize our community, volunteers, local businesses, government and strategies to serve more families. We have developed a social enterprise developed to grow our skill sets and grow our capacity all around construction and development. Now as we build 18 more units in Burlington, a project that will take three years to complete, we will see the community raise $4.3 million of the $7-million project, and $2.7 million will come from the federal and provincial IAH programming.

Once the project is completed, Habitat for Humanity will carry the mortgages and manage the properties while our 12 community partners will manage and support the clients through their journey.

What I will say now may not put me in good standing with my peers in other not-for-profits. I'm here because we have to build more faster and the only way to do that is to focus limited resources to those that can deliver a long-term financially responsible solution. Giving us scale is what we need.

Solving the crisis cannot be done quickly and requires hard decisions at all levels of government and the front-line providers. It's important as I talk before this committee today that you understand we have already started a journey to come up with solutions to make this a reality. We have streamlined our processes and those of the other 12 working community groups. We have signed MOUs talking about how we will streamline our resources and services to work together collaboratively to build more homes, more beds and more shelters.

As a collaborative partner, we can provide the physical building, skills, capacity and build it more cost effectively. Halton Women's Place will focus on what they are good at—providing the much needed essential services to the women and children who come to them for help.

Today, this Liberal government has invested in one of the most important and critical elements of our society: housing and shelter. With the introduction of Canada's national housing strategy, “A place to call home”, government has recognized the significant value and importance of housing first. My organization applauds the bold and decisive leadership you have taken. Your committee has the opportunity to engage the national housing strategy, make recommendations to engage and direct funding, and voice the concerns to streamline to allow us to build more resources for the folks that need it the most.

If we are prepared to offer $150,000 to a rental unit, why aren't we prepared to offer $150,000 to the development of shelters and beds? On a per-door basis, we at Habitat are looking for new and decisive activities that government can help direct.

I'm asking you today to recognize that there is a difference between a capital component and a program delivery component. Don't ask the specialists of programming to build housing, the bricks and mortar. At the same time, don't ask your bricks and mortar folks to deliver programming. The traditional players that have provided housing and beds are not going to be the same players in the future. Through government-sanctioned collaborative partnerships, we can provide the much needed support through programming and shelter.

We want government to direct and require collaboration, support and drive it. We aren't going to solve these terrible situations on our own.

In closing, I ask that you think about laying a new roadway to transition and shelter housing. Think outside the box. Government must also lead.

I hope today I've planted a seed that will grow through discussion, and maybe even some debate. I hope to take this away from our talk today.

Finally, I believe we are bigger, better, stronger together. We just have to close the gap.

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We'll now go via video conference to our friends in Laval, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine.

3:40 p.m.

Marie-Ève Surprenant Coordinator, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine

Good afternoon.

The Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine is a regional feminist group that collectively advocates for women's rights. The group has been part of the community since 1988. It was created to meet the needs of women's groups in the Laval region in terms of co-operation, visibility and solidarity. We represent over 30,000 Laval women of diverse origins through our members, who work with women in a variety of areas.

As a leader when it comes to the status of women in Laval, we work with various community partners to develop collective initiatives aimed at achieving equality between women and men and equality among women. For the past year and a half, we've been working on the strategic development of a first home for women in difficulty in Laval.

I'll now give the floor to my colleague, who will introduce Lina's Home.

3:40 p.m.

Fabienne Héraux External Services Social Worker, Lina's Home, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine

Good afternoon.

My name is Fabienne Héraux. I work at Lina's Home, which was founded in 2005. At the time, there was a need for places because the population was already growing. Ten years ago, we were short 26 places, and we managed to create 19. However, after 10 years, there's no more space in Laval. As a result, women quickly end up in precarious situations.

This home is the newest of the three shelters in Laval. First there was the Maison le Prélude, then the Maison l'Esther. Our role is to take in women victims of domestic violence and their children. We're committed to advocating for women's rights, and we provide support. We take in women at Lina's Home and they live with us. We help them with all the steps involved in finding a new home.

3:40 p.m.

Coordinator, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine

Marie-Ève Surprenant

We're very pleased to have the opportunity to participate today in this study of shelters and transition houses serving women victims of violence. Quebec must cope with a critical shortage of available places, and the situation is particularly serious in Laval.

Today we want to briefly describe the situation in our region and propose some solutions.

In Laval, as in other areas, many women affected by violence are denied assistance as a result of the lack of available shelter space or resources adapted to their situation.

The situation is quite alarming in Laval. That's why we've documented shelter needs in the region, for the purpose of ensuring safe transitions for women.

Unsurprisingly, the study showed that the services provided fall far short of meeting all the needs. We'll come back to this matter later.

We also prepared a description of women in vulnerable situations, and the results were released in 2015. It was demonstrated that, in 98% of cases, the organizations in the region needed to refer the women receiving support to other resources in order to meet all their needs. In 57% of cases, the women were sent outside the region as a result of the lack of resources.

It should be noted that Laval has no resources for women who are experiencing multiple issues related to violence. If women aren't experiencing domestic violence, there's no crisis or transition shelter for them.

For example, Laval has a population of over 435,000 people, and the city has only nine community shelter resources for people in crisis or transition. Of these nine resources, only three are single-gender resources for women. These three single-gender resources are responsible for taking in and housing women victims of domestic violence and their children.

Only two of the other mixed-gender resources take in people who are homeless or who are experiencing multiple issues. These two resources provide seven emergency places, including two places for less than 24 hours. This gives you an idea of the shelter space available in Laval.

3:45 p.m.

External Services Social Worker, Lina's Home, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine

Fabienne Héraux

According to our latest statistics, 401 women were turned away because of a lack of places, and 205 women and children as a result of other issues.

While these figures are alarming, they only partially reflect the extent of the needs. They don't take into account women who were directly referred outside the region by SOS Violence conjugale as a result of a lack of space or other issues.

They also don't take into account women housed in Laval but referred to other resources during their stay because of additional difficulties, such as mental health or addiction issues. These women quickly end up outside the region.

Since there are no resources for women in difficulty, they don't have anywhere else to go. They must cope with a type of homelessness that involves moving from home to home. I once knew a woman who lived in her car for two months before coming to our home.

Moreover, when we have the opportunity to provide a place for women in difficulty, this means a change for the children, such as a change of school. If these women are referred to an HLM or another second step resource, there will be a subsequent move. The lack of shelter space in Laval is a real issue. It further victimizes women and leaves them in a truly unsafe position.

3:45 p.m.

Coordinator, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine

Marie-Ève Surprenant

In terms of needs, there's a shortage of places. However, we don't want only buildings. We want comprehensive support for these women that involves feminist action. As such, not only do we need funding to acquire new resources, but we must also have the necessary resources to provide comprehensive support for these women.

In Laval, we certainly need more crisis shelter places for women victims of domestic violence and their children.

We also need second step resources. In Laval, we currently have only two second step housing units, and I must reiterate that the city has a population of over 435,000 people. We urgently need to support projects in development, such as the Shield of Athena project, which you'll hear about later. The project involves a first second step home for women victims of domestic violence.

We also need shelters for women in difficulty or for women who are homeless and who have multiple issues. These women have often experienced violence, and they need safe and long-term shelter.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

I will have to ask you to wrap it up.

3:45 p.m.

Coordinator, Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine

Marie-Ève Surprenant

Okay.

We need a variety of types of shelter, which are part of a continuum. This includes short-term and long-term shelters, studios that include community support, and, obviously, affordable and permanent community and social housing.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you.

We'll now turn to the Shield of Athena and Ms. Kamateros. You have seven minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Melpa Kamateros Executive Director, The Shield of Athena - Family Services

Thank you very much.

First of all, I would like to thank the committee for inviting us to participate in this survey. It's very important for us.

I'm here today presenting in the capacity of executive director of the Shield of Athena Family Services, as well as for the Alliance des maisons d’hébergement de deuxiéme étape in Quebec. My colleague, Madame Surprenant, mentioned our upcoming second-step project.

The Shield of Athena was created in 1991 by a group of volunteers. Our present network, which is considered supraregional, because it goes from one region to the other, includes two centres where external services are provided and an emergency shelter, Athena's House, that came into existence in 2004.

I just want to say, a little bit off the subject here, that it took us 13 years to get the first shelter, and for the second step, we have been working at this since 2010. It's a very long and arduous process.

We speak 17 languages at the Shield of Athena, and we also do a lot of public education and outreach to communities. It is no accident that we speak in so many languages, because we want to provide access to information and services to as many people as possible who do not speak either English or French. If we look at the multicultural and multilingual reality of Canada, we see that presently one in every five Canadians was born outside Canada. Within 20 years, it is estimated that it will be one in every three. For us, language is a huge issue. It is the door of entry, and it is the thing that will allow people to have a choice of action—not action, but a choice of action.

Should this choice of action not exist for every Canadian? There's a basic inequality in issues pertaining to social justice within the system. We have seen this inequality because we work with a very vulnerable clientele. This vulnerability is particularly relevant in cases of conjugal or family violence, where even if a victim knows perfect English or French, she is often very reticent in coming out to find assistance.

Presently, 60% of our clients at the external are sent to us by the existing health and social services network of Quebec. One in every four speaks only her language of origin. How easy is it for us to send that client to the shelter system or to have her benefit from the system's services? It isn't easy.

Irrespective of that, many statistics show the gravity of the situation with conjugal violence everywhere in Canada, but they only give a partial picture. This is because, as Stats Canada has reported, only 30% of cases of conjugal violence are ever reported. If we add to that 30% the many people who cannot report the violence, not because they don't care or they have no choice of action but because they are limited linguistically and otherwise, that number becomes very great.

How can we diversify and expand the existing shelter and services so that we can provide more options for women victims and their children who come from these very vulnerable clientele groups?

We have heard about the need to increase the number of beds, but in addition to increasing the number of beds and renovating existing shelters, we also have to think seriously about the fact that future federal funding should include the actual creation and provision of new services to accompany these developments.

At our shelter, Athena's House, as in many other emergency resources in Canada, women often come in the middle of the night, often with their children and always in great need of security. What happens to these women? In our case, we have limited beds. My colleagues in Laval spoke about the big need for extra spaces, but what if there are no service providers to provide information in their language of origin? Then all these services that are going to be happening are useless. We have an increased need for more places in Laval, but they also have to cater to a vulnerable clientele.

Regarding renovation, we find that there are huge time lapses from the time funds are requested and when the shelters actually receive them. Years can pass before the funds are accessed, and sometimes important things cannot wait.

As regards the issue of transitional housing, the single most important thing for women, all women, leaving emergency shelters is where to find the transitional housing that provides them with integrated services, with security and with the possibility to create an autonomous life for them and their children.

This brings me to my comments as a member of L’Alliance des maisons d’hébergement de deuxiéme étape. In Quebec, there are only 19 such resources. We will be the 20th. It took us eight years to come this far and we still haven't started the construction. We hope that the federal money will be directed that way.

The issue of double vulnerability is once again present in 65% of the women in second-step housing presently in Quebec. They come from an ethnic background but the service providers speak English or French. For those doubly vulnerable clienteles, there is no safe access to transitional housing presently.

If we increase the number of emergency beds, this is very good but it does not take out the importance of the transitional housing, because if we increase the stay for women in emergency places and emergency shelters, then we keep other women in imminent danger out. Again, we have to go and emphasize the importance of this transitional housing.

To this effect—and I will be brief—we recommend that the Government of Canada, particularly when dealing with vulnerable clienteles, firstly, put more money towards the creation of more spaces in existing emergency shelters, promote new housing at both the emergency and second-step levels, and provide for emergency funding programs for very urgent cases that involve renovation and repairs. Leaky roofs and moisture between the walls will not be able to wait for years.

Secondly, we hope that a pan-Canadian policy on housing and conjugal violence can be created that is the same from province to province, that it includes the funding of services, and that it addresses the issue of violence against women from a global perspective and not from a perspective that involves only housing.

Lastly, there's more, but I'll be brief, I hope sincerely that the Government of Canada can ensure equality of access to services when the clientele is compromised in terms of language and other issues. If not, we're not an equitable system here. I believe that expanding the role of external services will make this possible for everybody.

Thank you very much.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

I was just asking if you provided us with a handout.

3:55 p.m.

Executive Director, The Shield of Athena - Family Services

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

If you could email that to the clerk, she can get it translated and distributed to all of us so we get all of your recommendations.

3:55 p.m.

Executive Director, The Shield of Athena - Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

Thank you very much.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

We're going to turn to our questions now and the first seven minutes I understand is being split between Sonia and Eva.

3:55 p.m.

Sonia Sidhu Brampton South, Lib.

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, all, for being here.

My first question is to Habitat for Humanity. Peel Poverty Action Group cited that families in Peel sometimes spend years on social housing wait-lists along with thousands of other applicant families. Are the families that you assist usually on a waiting list for social housing? How are the applicants for Habitat for Humanity's assistance given priority? Is there any special assistance or priority given to women, including mothers with children fleeing violence?

3:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga

John Gerrard

Traditionally for Habitat, families have been the core and women and children have been the priority of our organization, primarily. I cannot specifically say if it's women and children fleeing a domestic situation, but I can tell you that probably 70% of the families serviced across the country are made up of a majority of single moms with children.

3:55 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Thank you.

Last time I was there at the opening of a Habitat for Humanity house I saw lots of girls volunteering there. For the building trades you are giving the opportunity to women. Can you explore that?

3:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga

John Gerrard

Certainly, we are very excited that we have partnered in both Peel and Halton with women in trades programs. We are very excited that during all of our builds young people are encouraged to come out and build on our projects. In turn, we have in our own organization two women contractors who are carpenters who are on our staff.

3:55 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Thank you.

I believe it's a federal program or can you—

October 31st, 2018 / 3:55 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga

John Gerrard

It's mainly a federal program that we work with, and then there are regional supports through the regional governments that we also engage. Then, in turn, we work both with the education providers, post-secondary and high schools as well, to integrate. The federal program supports the funding of the employment engagement and then what we hope to do is to hire those employees on but also use those new employees to also mentor young women in high school and post-secondary as well.

3:55 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, do I have more time?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

You have two minutes and 30 seconds you can use. You have a total of seven minutes.

You two can split the time however you wish.