Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting us to speak today on this important topic. My name is Jean Fong, and I have been a collective member with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter for the past 15 years.
Established in 1973, Vancouver Rape Relief is Canada's first rape crisis centre. It operates a 24-hour rape crisis line and transition house for women escaping immediate male violence. We respond to roughly 1,300 calls and house around 100 women and their children fleeing male violence every year. Women who call us have been raped, battered, sexually harassed, incested or prostituted. They're immigrant women, indigenous women, women of colour, women from rural areas and urban centres. They're women of all classes and all races.
We operate as a collective of paid and unpaid members. Our membership varies in age, race and class. Our membership includes former battered women, women who have exited prostitution, sexual assault survivors and women who have lived in our transition house. Women call seeking emotional support, information and help with the criminal justice system, but mostly women call because they're looking for somewhere to go.
Through our daily work, we see that women's homelessness is tied to male violence against women, colonialism, racism and poverty. Because of male violence, women are forced to leave their homes to protect themselves and to protect their children. Women leave and go to hotels; homes of friends, family members, and sometimes strangers; and of course, transition houses and women's shelters. Overwhelmingly, the majority of women who have lived in our transition house are poor women, women who don't speak English, and indigenous women.
But transition houses are more than just a place to go. They are a women-only space where women are able to heal, regroup and connect with other women who are also escaping male violence. In transition houses, women talk with one another and begin to understand that the violence they endured is not a result of what they did or did not do, nor is it unique to them, but a symptom of patriarchy and the world we live in.
Women celebrate each other's successes and cry with one another when everything seems insurmountable. Transition houses provide space for women to be able to imagine how to move forward, to make plans for the future and to learn how to dream.
In the course of their stay, we also help women apply for welfare, find housing, obtain a lawyer for things like custody and access, make police statements, and find day care, child care, translation, and almost anything else they may need on a daily basis. We continue to be available as a resource and support for a woman who has lived in our transition house long after she has moved out, because matters like those I've just listed continue well past her stay. Often within the first 18 months after a woman leaves, her attacker will escalate his violence in an effort to stop and dissuade her from untangling her life from his.
In closing, I'd like to say that a multitude of initiatives, services and programs working together and alongside each other are necessary to help women be free from male violence. But access to women's services like transition houses and rape crisis centres is limited. There's no excuse for the lack of these essential resources, and they must be available to all women when they choose to leave a dangerous situation. Transition houses and rape crisis centres, and their programs, must become an economic priority for the federal government.