Thank you so much for having me.
As introduced, I'm Cynthia, and I'm from North End Women's Centre, which is located in Winnipeg, right in the inner city in the north end. We provide a variety of programs for women to work towards being in charge of their own lives, through a variety of support services. Specifically, I'll talk about shelter and transitional housing with regard to the experience we have, but also some of the challenges and gaps we have seen.
From a shelter perspective, we are not a shelter specifically. We are a women's centre, but we work very closely with shelters. We provide, in terms of capacity, the individual and group counselling that is often needed when it relates to domestic violence. Oftentimes, from a shelter perspective, women will leave the shelter and then have that work to do. Oftentimes, there's a connection back and forth in terms of referral between our centre and shelters.
As well as lots of advocacy and support, there's connecting people to shelter, people who may come to our centre first and talk about domestic violence or intimate partner violence that they're experiencing. They're looking for ways to get into a shelter but they don't really know how to do that. We do those pieces around shelter connection.
As far as transitional housing is concerned, we have 14 transitional housing beds. Six of them are specifically for women who are in addictions recovery and need a place, through their recovery, to live, because they feel that if they were living in their home environment, they would not be successful. We also have eight beds specifically for women who are being sexually exploited or human-trafficked. Women in these transitional housing beds can live with us for anywhere between a year and two years.
As it relates to domestic violence and some of the challenges we've been seeing, I would say that some of our programs are very specific when it comes to whom they may serve. When we talk about transitional housing, I mentioned addictions recovery and sexual exploitation and trafficking. However, the women who come to all of our programs, or a large majority of them, will report domestic violence in their lives, either previously or currently. One of the challenges we've experienced is its prominence. It's spreading across all of our programs. We've been around for 34 years, and in our beginning years, domestic violence was a large portion of what we did solely. The idea of needing to broaden out into different areas of work has allowed us to do different work, but the domestic violence connection is prominent throughout all of our programs.
One challenge we've been experiencing over the last while has been with the increase in poverty and low income, specifically with women involved in domestic violence, specifically racialized women. We're located in the inner city, so we find that many of the women who come to us are living in poverty, with very low incomes. From a domestic violence perspective, they often say to us, “I do not have an option to leave. I do not have a place to stay. I do not have anywhere to go, even if I were to go to a shelter.” They often feel they don't have the choice to leave. Income is a huge barrier for them.
We've seen addictions in connection with domestic violence coping for many years, but the increase in meth use is something that we've definitely been seeing over the last while as well. The challenge that comes with this is that many organizations and agencies do not want to work with people when they're under the influence and using, so that becomes a barrier as well. There are also increased mental health challenges.
From the perspective of accessing resources, often a gender lens is not put on the analysis and on the policy development, which creates a challenge in access for women specifically. An example of that might be policies related to homelessness around a housing first policy, and people needing to be homeless for six months.
Women in domestic violence situations and homelessness situations will often couch surf or find a friend or a family member to live with. They will stay in a situation that isn't the best situation but is the situation that they might feel is the best for them at that time or the safest at that time or the only option at that time.
As far as gaps go, I just want to highlight specifically for Winnipeg that we have a few gaps, I would say, related to domestic violence and other areas. We are in desperate need of a 24-7 safe space for women. We do not have a place that is open 24-7 for women to come to where they're in a situation of safety. That can be very broad, but we do not have such a place for women.
When I say women, I'm including trans women. Trans women typically report that they feel unsafe using many of the existing resources that are in place. I would say that from a crisis shelter bed perspective, we are seeing that there is nothing in place for women fleeing exploitation situations. Often the exploitation is a result of domestic violence that has happened in the past, or there can be a connection with partners who are involved in bringing women into exploitation and trafficking.
Transitional housing and affordable housing—