South Shore Transition House Association—or Harbour House—is a 15-bed shelter that covers Lunenburg and Queens counties in Nova Scotia. We provide shelter for women and children, supporting high-risk protocols, emergency protection order application support, crisis and supportive counselling, court and sexual assault exam accompaniment, child and youth counselling, child care, referrals and advocacy. We are in schools doing educational groups. We are speaking and educating in workplaces. We operate through nine satellite locations to offer services in home communities.
Over the past five years, a remarkable increase in access to services has occurred. For example, access to our women's outreach program has increased by 968%, and participation in child and youth programs in schools by 883%. Overall distress calls have increased by 27%, in-house counselling by 105.3% and outreach counselling by 110.1%. Women are coming to the shelter more often with their children, which shows an increase of 111.45%. What these statistics show is that the community is accessing our programs and services consistently and more frequently.
Through the development of partnerships with community service providers in our jurisdiction, we are trying to minimize the risk associated with increased demand for services with no additional position funding. Our organization consists of long-term employees, team members who have immeasurable knowledge of violence against women. However, the increase in program and service access has made it a continual struggle to provide the services that clients are entitled to receive. We have not had an increase in operational funding since 2015.
After attending the Women's Shelters Canada conference this past spring and reviewing the “Blueprint”, it is clear that the trends in accessing shelter services across Canada have increased in all areas, perhaps as a result of movements like #MeToo, but ultimately because people understand gender-based violence differently. It seems that violence against women is being de-normalized.
Shelters are not band-aid solutions to issues of violence against women. Rather, they are part of a larger, system-level component that's essential for supporting women and children in crisis. We provide 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year access to a place that is safe and that helps each woman with her immediate needs. These include health care, safety planning, criminal justice system navigation, trauma-informed supportive counselling for the woman and her children, and linking with a broader system for next steps. Without a safe place to go to escape violence, the level of risk in her situation will certainly increase.
Shelters are an integral component in addressing gender-based violence. Our goal is to eliminate gender-based violence. By doing the things that we do, we are part of the solution. Of course, we have a strong focus on prevention and education, but this is often challenging to embed into our work of direct client service delivery—the clients we support in-house and through our outreach programs are our priority. However, as I detailed previously, our outreach services are reaching more people.
We have been in our community for 31 years. The significant increase in access can also be attributed to an increased understanding that what shelters do works. We engage with people fairly, we understand the impacts of gender-based violence and we provide meaningful contributions, not only to their journey to safety but to the broader system seeking to end gender-based violence.
With regard to existing federal programs and funding, we co-wrote an application with two local partners to Status of Women Canada. We submitted it in March 2018. To this point, we have not received any communication about whether our project was approved or rejected. We also have concerns with restrictions on how the funding can be used. This is an issue for us. For example, we need more people doing outreach activities, but if the funding guidelines state that the money cannot be used to support existing programs, it fails to address one of the greatest needs we have. People are accessing our programs and we need to build our staffing capacity to meet the demands of our communities.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which is offering the co-investment funding, will give us up to 40% for shelter repairs, renovations or—