Evidence of meeting #120 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 housing.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Cynthia Drebot  Executive Director, North End Women's Centre
Jennifer Gagnon  Executive Director, South Shore Transition House Association (Harbour House)
Donna Smith  Executive Director, Tearmann Society for Abused Women
Samantha Lacourse  Coordinator, A Safe Place, Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre
K. Kellie Leitch  Simcoe—Grey, CPC
Sonia Sidhu  Brampton South, Lib.
Terry Duguid  Winnipeg South, Lib.
Caithlin Scarpelli  Director, Communications and Fund Development, Atira Women's Resource Society
Geneviève Latour  Associate Director, Crossroads for Women inc.
Fiona Cunningham  Mental Health Counsellor, Iris Kirby House
Jean Fong  Transition House Worker, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
Daisy Kler  Transition House Worker, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
Bob Bratina  Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We're now going to turn to Bob Bratina for our first seven-minute round of questions.

November 5th, 2018 / 5:05 p.m.

Bob Bratina Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Thanks.

Thank you all for your testimony.

I've said to the two previous witness panels that Marc and I have been on city councils—I was a mayor—and we interfaced with women's shelters. I have to say it's somewhat unnerving to talk to women who weren't necessarily happy that you were talking to them because of their recent experience.

The first thing that comes to mind is the people. As you said, there is perhaps only one person on a shift. How do you recruit people to come into this kind of work? Where do they come from?

Daisy, go ahead.

5:05 p.m.

Transition House Worker, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter

Daisy Kler

We are a bit different. We're a mix of volunteer collective members and paid staff. We think women are very interested in coming in to do the work. That's not the problem; the problem is that we do without.

We have public service announcements. We're known in the community. We do public education. We don't rely only on government funding, because we know we can't. We don't get any federal money for anything.

We have good retention, partly because we try to be as non-hierarchal as possible. We operate on a consensus basis, with a mixture of volunteer and paid staff.

5:05 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

Is there a burnout factor in this kind of work?

5:05 p.m.

Associate Director, Crossroads for Women inc.

Geneviève Latour

I think that vicarious trauma was previously mentioned. We try to avoid it, but even with education and good will, without the necessary resources, that trauma is certainly there.

I think it is possible to avoid it. As we said, if we had better core funding, many women who want to work in our centre could do so. However, under the current conditions, it is not always easy for them to assume all the responsibilities we assign to them. You are right to talk about compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious trauma. However, if we had the resources needed to provide women who want to do this work with reasonable work conditions, I think these problems would be entirely avoidable.

5:05 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

Thank you.

There's a high school in my city where 10% of the student population was identified as homeless. Perhaps those children were coming from violent family episodes and just had to run away. Some of them had gender issues and were not welcome in their house anymore.

For many of the women you see in the work that you do, are they aware of where their children are? There must be many cases where there is a kind of hidden homelessness based on the inability of the child to relate to either the mother or the father, or where they've escaped for their own safety. Would you comment on that?

5:10 p.m.

Mental Health Counsellor, Iris Kirby House

Fiona Cunningham

I find that there are different populations. I don't think I could say that the women who are with us don't know where their children are. Even though some may have children in care, they're aware of where they are.

Now, we certainly do have youth homelessness, that population, and I'm sure we have that happening in all areas across Canada, but I see it as a separate thing that's occurring.

5:10 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

Some of those youth are female. They're girls.

5:10 p.m.

Mental Health Counsellor, Iris Kirby House

Fiona Cunningham

Certainly, yes.

5:10 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

All of you talked about the increase in the need to get this work done. Is that increasing faster than the normal population rate? Is there something going on?

5:10 p.m.

Transition House Worker, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter

Daisy Kler

Well, I think what's going on is that there's not much left of any of the social safety nets. Everybody talks about intersectionality, in terms of the approach we take in analyzing race, class and gender intersecting to cause even more barriers for women, but when you look at the solutions, it cannot be only one. The solutions are to women's poverty; the fact that police do not respond to violence against women and do not protect women; the fact that there's a housing crisis across the country. The increase in pressure for women to be able to leave and actually have somewhere to go....

It's one thing to be in a transition house, but we're keeping women for three, four or five months now, because there's nowhere to put them after that. If you tell a woman that a single woman on welfare in British Columbia gets $710 total and the rent in Vancouver is $1,500 for a one-bedroom, what are you saying to that woman about trying to leave and being bold enough to leave? She has nowhere to go.

As there's an erosion of all of our social programs and no federal national standards that can be enforced—or at least some cost-sharing measures—women are in dire situations.

5:10 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

I gather that what you're saying is that any report where we bring forward recommendations has to be broader than simply the resources that you desperately need. There's a whole societal thing happening here with police and with government agencies. Would you agree with that?

5:10 p.m.

Mental Health Counsellor, Iris Kirby House

Fiona Cunningham

Yes. Services need to be seen as completely wrapping around, certainly.

5:10 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

It's a tough testimony for us to hear. We've heard a number of panels. For instance, I was in the Far North, in Yellowknife. We heard in the previous panel about the difficulty for women in the Far North accessing services, and the Greyhound bus situation and all of that.

It would seem to me that the simplest thing in all the problems we're talking about is to allow people to move around to where they need to in order to get help. I'm wondering if there's some way that we can put together a recommendation whereby the government would try to, say, purchase a number of flights in advance over the years so that people could simply access a seat on a plane, a seat that has already been paid for. That way the airlines—the smaller ones, as they are—would have resources available to do this without having to solve it in a crisis moment as the situation occurs.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

That's your time.

5:10 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.

Bob Bratina

Okay. Well, that's my recommendation.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We'll now turn to Ms. Harder for seven minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Just before I go to my questions, I wish to give notice of a motion:

Given that Status of Women Canada is changing to the Department of Women and Gender Equality, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women invite the Minister to brief the Committee on her new mandate no later than Wednesday, December 5, 2018, and that this meeting be no less than one hour in length.

Sorry, that was a small procedural thing.

First, I'm going to start with a question for Atira Women's Resource Society. You mentioned in your opening remarks the idea of using shipping unit containers for housing. I'm wondering if you can comment on that a bit further. I find that to be a unique idea. It's something that's often thrown around, but this is the first time that I've actually been able to talk to someone who has done it. Can you talk a little about the success you're having there and/or some of the challenges you face?

5:10 p.m.

Director, Communications and Fund Development, Atira Women's Resource Society

Caithlin Scarpelli

Sure. That project was built in 2011. After the Olympics in Vancouver, BC Hydro had a demonstration home on its front lot in Vancouver, which was built out of a shipping container. It had a call for proposals that you could put in to see if you could have it. We were successful in that call, and that's how the shipping container project started.

Right next door to a program that we already had, we have a lot that is really long and skinny. We were able to work with a construction manager to develop two buildings, three storeys each, of shipping container multi-dwelling units. Inside they are about 290 square feet. They are self-contained. They have their own kitchen, bathroom and a washer/dryer combo unit. They are currently specifically for women who are older and who are providing mentorship to the young women who live next door. There's an intergenerational mentorship program that happens there.

Once you get inside the container units, you wouldn't be able to tell that they are container units. They are fully fitted. They have spray-foam insulation. They have curtain wall fronts. They're really beautiful. So far, they've worked very well. The construction cost was about $82,500 a unit, versus a traditional housing structure, which is roughly, I think, about $200,000 a unit.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

That's very cool. Thank you.

My next question is going to go to Ms. Latour. You talked about immigrant women and the fact that they face different challenges than do non-immigrant women. Can you talk with us a bit more about that?

In particular, one group that captures my heart right now is the Yazidi women and girls who are coming over from northern Iraq to find shelter here in Canada, but there are many others, certainly, coming here with hope for a better life. Can you talk about some of the challenges they're facing and what can be done better in order to serve this population?

5:15 p.m.

Associate Director, Crossroads for Women inc.

Geneviève Latour

Yes, of course.

I haven't talked about the possibility of establishing contact with those groups and building ties with their home communities. However, once those people hear about our programs and come to us, they face systemic racism. Beyond the violent trauma she has experienced, a women who is facing fewer obstacles and is simply looking for housing will often be a victim of racism. Some owners will not want to rent an apartment to her because she has too many children for their liking, for example.

In the case of a woman who wants to obtain refugee status, the simple steps to do so can take time, during which she won't have free access to health care. If she has children, the costs are exorbitant. She receives no social assistance and, therefore, has no income. Yet she has expenses because she must live. That is only one example among many.

In addition, there is sometimes a linguistic barrier. For example, some women wanted to file a complaint with the police, but they had to use Google Translate for their statement. Those women have a big learning curve ahead of them regarding support services provided in the region. So we must really be able to support them and provide them with longer-term services. Even once they have an official status, the New Brunswick Department of Social Development limits the length of their stay in a shelter before those women lose their benefits, even if they have not completed the process to obtain their identification papers. So the situation is very complex.

That is why we absolutely need specific programs. I'm not even talking about support those women need related to the trauma of the violence they have suffered in Canada and perhaps also in their home country, or the interventions required with their children, if they have any, including support for them within the school system. We are seeing more and more of those types of women with those kinds of needs. Our staff has the knowledge needed to help them, but it is really difficult to provide them with the support they need if we have to split ourselves among 41 individuals.

5:15 p.m.

Mental Health Counsellor, Iris Kirby House

Fiona Cunningham

I would like to add to that.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Please answer very briefly, if you can, because I have a question for you.

5:15 p.m.

Mental Health Counsellor, Iris Kirby House

Fiona Cunningham

I did not have time, obviously, to talk about everything, but this is something that our shelter also faces. I'm sure I could talk at length as well.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Ms. Cunningham, it's outlined that within your organization there are 13 second-stage housing units. It sounds like there's a partnership taking place between Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the federal government and the IKH Foundation. Can you clarify and help me understand exactly what that looks like?