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

4:30 p.m.

K. Kellie Leitch

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

We're going to suspend for a couple minutes. We need to set up a new panel by teleconference, and we'll be back in two minutes.

4:37 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Welcome back to the 119th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. I would like to welcome all of our guests.

For the second hour, I am pleased to welcome, from Antigonish Community Transit, Travis DeCoste, a housing support worker at “A Roof Over Your Head”. From Horizons Women's Centre we have Linda Lafantaisie Renaud, director. From the Island Crisis Care Society, we have Violet Hayes, executive director, also by video conference. Here with us in our final panel is Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale, with Chantal Arseneault, the president, and Louise Riendeau, co-responsible for political issues.

We'll start with Antigonish Community Transit.

Travis, we'll go over to you for seven minutes.

October 31st, 2018 / 4:37 p.m.

Travis DeCoste Housing Support Worker, A Roof Over Your Head, Antigonish Community Transit

Good evening, Madam Chair and members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. I would like to take a moment to offer my gratitude and state what an honour it is to sit before you in our nation’s capital to present in regard to the study of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women.

To begin with an introduction, my name is Travis DeCoste, and I am currently employed as a housing support worker for “A Roof Over Your Head”, a project of the Antigonish Community Transit Society. The project currently serves the counties of Antigonish and Guysborough within Nova Scotia. The clients who use our programs are most often referred, and present with issues surrounding homelessness and housing insecurity.

The number of individuals in need of housing support in Antigonish and Guysborough counties continues to grow and is sometimes overwhelming. That said, included in this growing number is women and children affected by domestic and intimate partner violence.

Since taking on my role as housing support worker for “A Roof Over Your Head”, multiple files have been referred from partnering agencies that see clients experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity due to some aspect of domestic and intimate partner violence. Today my hope is to offer the committee recommendations through the lens of my perspective, which includes current and past roles, and most importantly, my personal lived experience.

In May 2001, the dynamic of my family forever changed when my mother found the strength and the courage to reach out and ask for help. My family was living through the pain and hurt caused by domestic and intimate partner violence, and help came for us in the way of the Leeside transition shelter in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. Leeside Transition House offered tremendous support to my mother during our family’s time of need, but at points, our needs were beyond the scope of the Leeside Transition House.

I offer recommendations to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for consideration pertaining to the concerns of my family, and many such as ours, during the time of our need.

One recommendation I would bring forth is that the government continue developing financial resources and support for women who are undereducated and underemployed to retrain and develop the skills needed to secure and maintain adequate employment to provide for their families, and develop a specific strategy to reach those most in need of this opportunity.

In my personal, specific case, after my mother ultimately went to a transitional society to ask for the help in regard to domestic violence, she was leaving a relationship where she was a homemaker for close to 21 years and didn't necessarily have the employability skills required for the job market at that time. She didn't have access to the resources to re-educate or retrain herself. Through that, there was a lot of financial insecurity within my home life and our home environment.

Currently, the Government of Canada operates the HRDC funding program for retraining through the employment insurance program. I would like to see a specific aim of that program awarded to women who are experiencing domestic violence and intimate partner violence. The opportunity would not only be empowering to women, to offer them the skills needed to move forward in their lives, but it would offer an aspect of self-esteem, which in turn would help them move through the process, the next steps.

My next recommendation is to develop topic-specific focus groups that consult and collaborate with community and service-providing agencies to create innovative and creative solutions to address the housing needs of each particular community.

Currently in Antigonish county and surrounding communities, our major concern is the lack of affordable housing. We reside in a town that has a university that brings a significant population to the community on a yearly basis. Because of that, rental costs are quite astronomical. Current rental rates within the Antigonish community are, on average, $500 to $600 per bedroom. We have a very hard time finding family dwellings for individuals, because landlords are breaking their homes up into boarding-style houses.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

I'm sorry the lights are flashing. The clerk is just checking. Please continue.

4:40 p.m.

Housing Support Worker, A Roof Over Your Head, Antigonish Community Transit

Travis DeCoste

With regard to housing, I believe what's needed in Antigonish is a style of second-stage housing, which would offer—

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

I'm sorry, can I get unanimous consent to continue.

Rachel, did you say it is a vote?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

There's a vote for sure at 5:15 p.m.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Are you okay to continue? We're not going to have time for seven minutes from everyone.

Travis, could you wrap up?

Could I get unanimous consent to go to five o'clock? Is that a yes?

4:45 p.m.

K. Kellie Leitch

These people have come a long way and spent a lot of time. We should listen to them. It's going to take seven minutes to walk across the street.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

There are four groups.

Marc.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

We can't do the other two. It's not fair for the people who are here.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

I move that we carry on for the next 15 minutes.

4:45 p.m.

K. Kellie Leitch

I'll second the motion.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Are you okay with that?

Mr. Bratina.

4:45 p.m.

Bob Bratina Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Yes.

4:45 p.m.

Housing Support Worker, A Roof Over Your Head, Antigonish Community Transit

Travis DeCoste

Before closing, I would like to share with you a quote from a Salvation Army chaplain, Greg Armstrong from the Toronto Paramedic Service. Recently, I had the privilege to hear him speak at an educational awareness day on the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The quote simply goes, “Hurt does not go unused.” Such a simple quote, yet it left a tremendous impact on me.

I have discovered over the years that little messages are sent to us in the form of words, experiences and chance meetings. I feel that hearing Chaplain Greg Armstrong may have been one of these messages during the time when I was preparing my thoughts for this presentation. I believe strongly in reason, and I gain solace and comfort in the fact of knowing that my hurt will not go unused.

For me, the reality my family faced allowed me to take my pain and hurt and redirect the trajectory of my life, and the individuals that I encounter within it. My lived experience helps guide me daily in my role as a housing support worker, and offers me the compassion and empathy needed to better serve my community. If I do nothing more today than open the hearts of the committee members before me, so that the seasoned experts of today’s panel can assist in holistically opening the creative mind, then I have accomplished what I have set out to do.

I reiterate the importance of allowing for real lived experience to be a part of the solution, because who knows better how to improve the services provided, than those who have utilized the services themselves.

Thank you.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much, and I'm sorry for the disruption in the middle of your presentation. I'm going to turn to the other two witnesses who are here with us today.

4:45 p.m.

Chantal Arseneault President, Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale

Good afternoon.

Thank you for having us today. My name is Chantal Arseneault, and I work at the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale.

The Regroupement has been around for 40 years. Its members are fighting for the right to women's psychological and physical integrity.

Our organization consists of 42 assistance and shelter homes throughout the 15 administrative regions of Quebec.

In 2016-2017, its members provided shelter to some 2,700 women and 2,200 children. They provided over 14,000 services and responded to more than 46,000 requests for assistance.

The Regroupement des maisons is very concerned by the committee's topic of study. The shortage of spaces in shelters is a crucial issue. Beyond the shortage of spaces, it shows in particular a lack of access to support services abused women need. We will try to suggest some potential solutions today.

In 2015, the entire Quebec police service registered 19,400 crimes against persons committed in a domestic context. Those offences accounted for nearly one-third of all crimes against individuals.

However, the domestic violence phenomenon is much larger. According to Statistics Canada, only 36% of women allegedly report abuse to the police. Women can also be victims to a number of other types of violence: psychological, verbal, sexual, economic and spiritual.

According to the World Bank, rape and domestic violence represent a greater risk to women than cancer, road accidents, war and malaria combined. In addition, according to the UN, violence committed by an intimate partner is allegedly the most common form of violence women experience.

Why do women need services? Because it is not easy to escape domestic violence.

Let me tell you about a woman who is currently at the shelter. Sylvie has been married for 15 years. Violence took root in her life when she became pregnant with her first child. At that point, the control wielded by her husband greatly intensified. He insulted her constantly. After the birth, she became increasingly isolated, and she stopped seeing people and talking to them. Her husband went as far as to control the amount of time she had for grocery shopping and forbade her from buying bread, among other things. She had to bake the bread herself.

Sylvie decided to end the relationship, but she became pregnant with her second child. She felt completely destabilized by that unplanned pregnancy. Her husband promised her he would go to therapy and would no longer cause her any problems. One evening, while the children were in the living room, the husband noticed that Sylvie had bought bread. Violence erupted, and insults and threats spread throughout the household. The children were hearing and seeing the violence. The husband got enraged, hit Sylvie, held her head against the kitchen counter and put a knife to her throat. The children were still in the living room. A few hours later, she arrived at the shelter with her two children.

You can imagine how Sylvie and her children feel. They are terrorized, panick-stricken, stressed, tired, really exhausted and very anxious. Sylvie feels trapped, completely powerless in relation to everything she is going through.

4:50 p.m.

Louise Riendeau Co-responsible, Political Issues, Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale

Our colleagues said it earlier: the homes are more than shelter. The transition houses are, first and foremost, safe havens that provide services to women and children fleeing violence. Responders are available 24/7, throughout the year. Their role is to welcome and reassure women and children, help them recover their health and direct them toward other services. Responders obviously assess the risks women are facing and can establish scenarios with them to ensure their safety.

Domestic violence has short, medium and long-term consequences for women and children. In addition, that violence often continues after separation, contrary to popular belief. That is why shelters provide women with post-shelter follow-up services. Those women who face bigger challenges related to safety can be directed to second stage housing, when available.

In addition, many women who want to leave their spouse or are questioning difficulties within the couple, but who do not want to get housing, need other types of services. That is why the homes have implemented external consultation services to help those women.

I will now discuss the shortage of spaces in Quebec. Over the past few months, the Regroupement and the Fédération—we are two associations of crisis and emergency homes—have interviewed those in charge of 109 homes in Quebec to understand why they are refusing so many women every year. We are talking about several thousand women. We have received responses from 101 of those homes.

This study showed us that the issues are bigger in large metropolitan areas, and in the suburbs of those regions. Those homes have the most marked space shortages. So, in the Outaouais, in Lanaudière, in Laval, in Montreal and in Quebec City, the homes have refused from 5 to 17 times more women than the number of spaces they have available. In three regions—Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the Laurentians and Montérégie—the refusal issue is marked, but specifically in certain homes and not across the region. In six other regions, there was not much refusal, but we noted that the homes often had to receive more individuals than the number of spaces for which they are funded. That is also indicative of a space shortage.

The shortage of spaces in shelters in Quebec is a real problem, which is not surprising. If we compare the number of spaces per capita in Quebec to that in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, Quebec ranks last. So we think that the federal government can play a crucial role in resolving the space shortage problem in shelters and helping women live in safety.

Here are our three recommendations.

The Regroupement recommends that Canada establish a national action plan for violence against women and that it coordinates its efforts with the provinces and territories. We recommend that the government find inspiration in the action plan model that has been presented by various organizations involved with women's shelters in Canada.

We also recommend that the federal government ensure that the funding available under the national housing strategy really makes it possible to increase the number of spaces in assistance and shelter homes, and in second stage housing. Currently, we are unable to find out whether that money will indeed go to those resources.

Building physical spaces is one thing, but for responders to be available every day for years to come, money is needed, and that is a provincial responsibility. So we recommend that the federal government include in its transfers to the provinces additional funds to cover the operational costs of assistance and shelter homes, and second stage housing.

In closing, in addition to the huge impact violence has on victims, it leads to economic costs of $7.4 billion. That is a lot more than an increase in spaces would cost.

A society that calls itself egalitarian must do everything possible to ensure that no woman is subject to control and violence and that no child suffers the consequences. Society has a duty to protect the most vulnerable citizens.

Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We're not going to have time to get another full presentation. I'm going to suggest that we suspend right now and return after the votes. We have conferred with the chair who has agreed that we can have the presentations following the votes.

We'll all come back here immediately following the votes, or those that are able to.

5:38 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

I'm going to call the meeting back to order. Thanks to all our witnesses for your patience. I know we've lost one, but we still have the Island Crisis Care Society.

Ms. Hayes, you have seven minutes.

5:38 p.m.

Violet Hayes Executive Director, Island Crisis Care Society

Thank you very much.

The Island Crisis Care Society is a registered non-profit society that helps people in crisis to stabilize and then find the supports that they need. We also offer the resources and services that people need in order to be well. We work in co-operation with provincial and federal agencies, community groups and faith-based organizations to develop housing options and programs that respect the needs of individuals with multiple challenges or concurrent disorders.

Samaritan House is the only homeless shelter for women in the mid-Vancouver Island. We operate out of a 100-year-old building with many stairs and barriers for the clients that we serve. We also provide supportive housing at Samaritan House and coordinate and provide transitional housing and rent subsidies to help break the cycle of homelessness that many of our clients experience. Since we added these additional housing options back in 2013 through a project with B.C. Housing, we've seen how beneficial it is to have the option to move women from one type of support to another type, according to their needs. We found that the positive relationships that have been built with staff mean that it's easier for the clients to transition to more supports when they're needed, without feeling like it's a failure.

Hundreds of women are facing challenges in our community. The lack of affordable housing is a huge issue in our area because the prices of properties have skyrocketed and many landlords are choosing to sell and cash in, which leaves the tenants with nowhere to go. We are hearing from women who have lived in their rental units for up to 15 years and now must move, with little or no possibility of finding a place. Landlords with vacancies can charge extortionate rates as there is so little available.

I spoke to the status of women committee back in June 2017. Unfortunately, not much has changed with our challenges since back then. In fact, things have become much worse. Nanaimo has the largest tent city in B.C. Approximately 40% of the people living there are women. Some of them are very vulnerable. We still put as many women as we can on mats on the floor in the hallways of Samaritan House, but in the daytime they have to leave as there's simply no place for them. Our building is overcrowded and we don't have a lounge area for the women to sit, to meet privately or to find support from staff.

The areas of greatest concern are the access for women with disabilities, adequate support for women with mental disorders and substance-use disorders, and an ability to provide a therapeutic environment for clients. Eight women sleeping in a dorm with bunk beds is not very helpful when one might be experiencing psychosis, another might be high from drugs and another is a senior lady who has never been in a shelter before.

Part of the challenge that we face is that there are no shelters strictly for women escaping domestic abuse. Of course, many—if not most—of our women have experienced violence and trauma in their lives. Often the funding that is available is specifically for shelters with women and children who are escaping domestic violence. That is a very popular cause in the community for people to give money to. However, the women that we serve are often the very same women who have spiralled down and are now in even greater need of support. Their children may have been removed from their care or have grown up, and the cycle of trauma continues. When women come to our doors currently with children, we're unable to take them because we simply don't have the space. The plans for our new shelter have a place for families to be safe, yet separate from others in the shelter.

We continue to see older women who are facing homelessness for the first time in their lives. When you live on a small pension, it's difficult to find a place to rent that is affordable. When we are unable to take them in at their time of need they must find an alternative, which may be living in their vehicle if they have one, or sleeping in a tent. After they've been living on the street and have lost their possessions, and often much of their hope, it is much more difficult to find and maintain housing. For them to have the best success in finding and maintaining housing, they would preferably be housed within a month. An outreach worker can then support them and ensure that they have what they need to maintain housing.

We've been waiting for funding to expand Samaritan House for over five years, and quite honestly, if something had been done sooner, we might not be facing the challenges we are facing right now. There have been opportunities provincially for capital for affordable housing projects, but not for homeless shelters. An investment in affordable housing is imperative, but just as important is a safe environment where women can be helped to move through the challenges they face, empowering them to be the women they were meant to be.

I'd like to close with some comments from two clients whose videos can be seen on our website. Melissa says, “The house is a place of refuge for all sorts of women. People have to start saying, 'There is a problem here, a people problem'.... Take time, get the assistance you need and then you can go forward.... Heal your body, heal your heart and then go out”. From Christine, “I think many just come from a place of trauma and it manifests itself in many ways. Trauma comes from not a very good place and manifests itself in depression, addiction and instability”.

Thank you for your time.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We'll go to Bob Bratina for five minutes.

5:40 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

Thanks.

Going back to earlier testimony, Travis, on the question of rental costs. The costs have gone up. Landlords often raise prices because the value of the property has increased. They have further costs as well as the profit that they want. Would there be any benefit in looking at tax relief for providers of shelter space, in your opinion?