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.

4:10 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey, CPC

K. Kellie Leitch

Right, the application process....

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Tearmann Society for Abused Women

4:10 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey, CPC

K. Kellie Leitch

In the past, the government had an accessibility fund available to organizations. A subset of that, for shelters potentially, I think would probably be the most appropriate that you can expedite.

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Tearmann Society for Abused Women

Donna Smith

Absolutely.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

You still have 30 seconds.

4:15 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey, CPC

K. Kellie Leitch

Does anyone else want to comment on that? Or I can ask another question.

4:15 p.m.

Coordinator, A Safe Place, Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre

Samantha Lacourse

Mobility is a challenge, even within our centre and at the shelter in Whitehorse. I can't speak for the shelter in Whitehorse, but it's a communal living situation and it's several storeys high with an elevator. If you have a mobility challenge and there is an emergency, that would present a problem.

4:15 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey, CPC

K. Kellie Leitch

Thank you very much.

Thank you all.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Welcome, Sheila. You have seven minutes.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you very much, Chair.

Before I start, I want to welcome the three women from the Ryerson Women in the House program—Meghan, Sarah and Sarah—our future leaders, I hope. Kudos to Ryerson for getting them right into the work we do.

I have a question for the South Shore Transition House Association. I don't know if we met two summers ago, but a bunch of us were on the south shore and met with someone from your group. I think 10 different organizations were at a round table together. It was really impressive and long-standing work. One of your colleagues said they had been doing this for 29 years and thought they would have worked themselves out of a job by now.

So thank you, to you and all your colleagues at home.

This is a study on domestic violence, shelters and transition houses, and I've been discouraged to hear quite a lot of people testifying at this committee saying that all we need to do is qualify more women for mortgages—some of them $750,000 mortgages—and build more housing.

That is true, but I want to hear you say that you agree—or that I've heard you and your co-workers clearly—that this is not a fix for the issue of domestic violence, and that the programming that goes with your shelter operations and then your transition operations is a vital part of what happens, especially since the point at which women choose to leave a violent relationship is the time when they're most vulnerable.

Can you give me some evidence to use in our final argument here?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, South Shore Transition House Association (Harbour House)

Jennifer Gagnon

Yes. I can honestly say that trauma is not fixed by a mortgage.

Trauma takes time. Trauma takes care. Trauma takes people who understand. It is not simply taking on a mortgage. It really isn't. We do a lot more to help a woman and her family go through the healing process and get her in a sustainable place where she builds up the confidence that was previously broken.

I think if any efforts are put in from the mortgage side, they should be in investing in our shelters. Our house is exceptionally old. It is not conducive...with disability. We have one accessible room, but we need to have one level so that it's larger. We need access to second-stage housing so that people who need the long-term support of counselling will be able to get the help they need to build that sustainability and inner confidence in themselves. We need third-stage housing because there are large gaps in housing across our community and a lot of unsafe options for housing.

I want them to have a chance to talk as well. But really, ultimately, it's not about an individual person having a mortgage and a home. If she's unable to sustain work or if she has impacts of mental health, really what we need to do is invest in treating that trauma immediately to reduce the long-term effects, so eventually she can get into that mortgage. But that trauma needs to be treated first.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you for being so clear.

I want to ask a related question of the Tearmann Society for Abused Women. My colleague Murray Rankin, who is the MP for Victoria, described the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre having to discontinue its helpline, its crisis line, after decades in service. The #MeToo movement has been lifting the taboo on asking for help. It has been fantastic, but funding has dropped. So they just took themselves out of the business entirely, which is a heartbreaker for our region.

Can you talk about the impacts of the hugely increased demand—quite rightly, increased demand has happened in your group—but also about whether you got the government funding support in order to sustain that demand?

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Tearmann Society for Abused Women

Donna Smith

In terms of the helpline situation, several years ago—I don't know how long ago now—we, too, lost a local helpline that was in place and was accessed quite a bit. For funding reasons, it was discontinued. The Tearmann Society has the only 24-hour crisis line in our area, and the demand for the crisis line is constant and growing.

We partner with our Pictou County Women’s Resource and Sexual Assault Centre on a program called MORPH, which stands for “mapping our road to power and healing”, and our crisis line is added to that. That money came from the sexual assault strategy in the province to create supports for women dealing with sexual violence.

We are a part of that support, and although we don't get any additional funding for that—the funding is through the women's centre—we're certainly open. We spoke about the issue of staffing in transition houses. You have one staff member on, primarily, covering the crisis line, the business line and case management of the house, and supporting the residents in the shelter. There's often only one person there. If they're on the crisis line, there may be interruptions from the house, from the doors, whatever.

Funding for additional staff to support the extra work that comes in and the extra support that's necessary to meet the needs of the women in our community is essential. We are finding pieces. At Tearmann House, we're finding funding in small pots to have extra additional staff on, but that's temporary staff. As I said, when we're looking at training and getting more people on board in trauma-informed training opportunities, to retain staff and get well-qualified staff on there.... When staff come on, they are dedicated. Most of our staff have been there for 15-plus years. I've been doing it since 2002. The needs are not decreasing; they are definitely increasing. Funding for additional staff would do a heck of a lot for all the shelters that I speak to.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

We've heard this in almost every study that this committee has done. Core operation funding to hire staff and give them continuity of employment, allow them to commit to the beautiful front-line work you're doing, keep the lights on, and pay the rent—that's what you really need more than anything.

Is that a yes? There are nods from all four witnesses.

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Tearmann Society for Abused Women

Donna Smith

Absolutely, yes.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Chair.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

We'll go to Sonia for our final seven minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Sonia Sidhu Brampton South, Lib.

Thank you, Madam Chair. Terry and I are sharing time.

Thank you all for being here and for giving information.

The challenges, as you said, are mobility, accessibility, informed and trained staff, and a lot more funding. These are the challenges you are facing. What kinds of cultural services are you providing? Can you explain those, too? That's to anyone.

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, South Shore Transition House Association (Harbour House)

Jennifer Gagnon

We are learning. We have experienced, at Harbour House or South Shore Transition House, several Syrian refugee families that have come in. In our area, we don't have access to halal foods, so I have to send somebody to Halifax to purchase the food, which is very difficult. We don't have translation services. I'll be honest and real, and say that we use Google Translate, which isn't always reliable, at all. We try to access ISANS, that sort of thing, in Halifax. They've been really good to help us, but we are learning. There are a lot of new issues that are coming forward to us. We've asked for help. We want help in being able to understand cultural differences, with refugees in particular.

In Nova Scotia, we have two healing centres that support women from first nation backgrounds. I know they were here today to talk to you about what they do. They have a very different way of looking at healing. They're wonderful.

Yes, this is something that is a large concern, something we need support with to be better at our jobs with women.

November 5th, 2018 / 4:25 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Thank you.

Donna, you said there's actually wheelchair accessibility, but for blind women or deaf women, do you have integrated services available?

4:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Tearmann Society for Abused Women

Donna Smith

In terms of the physical space, we have safety things in the shelter that support those, but those would be a real barrier, if I'm being honest. If somebody who was blind came in, we would offer services, as we do for anyone coming to our shelter. We would reach out to our partners in the community and do our best to support anyone who came to the shelter who presented any sort of disability or need that was outside of what we normally do, absolutely.

4:25 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

For Cynthia from Winnipeg, there is a lot of ethnic diversity in the people there. There's a stigma out there. What kinds of services are you providing in Winnipeg?

4:25 p.m.

Executive Director, North End Women's Centre

Cynthia Drebot

At North End Women's Centre, 70% to 80% of the women who come to our centre are indigenous. In an earlier question, you talked about what kinds of cultural services we're providing. We are hiring people who live in the community, who are from the community, as much as possible. We have women with lived experience who come to the table to be part of program development and adapting and changing.

We have cultural ceremony as part of all of the programs we do across the entire centre—access to elders, access to knowledge keepers. We find that this is the most significant piece that can be done from a trauma-informed perspective, having people discover or connect back to their historical roots and their language. That is the piece we definitely do and see a lot of, and we find it to be instrumental and very important.

4:25 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Thank you.

I'm going to pass it over to Terry Duguid.

4:25 p.m.

Terry Duguid Winnipeg South, Lib.

Thank you, Sonia.

Thank you to our presenters for the great presentations and for all the great work they do under very difficult circumstances.

The only presentation I didn't hear was the one from Winnipeg. I'm from Winnipeg, so fortunately I know about the good work that is done by the North End Women's Centre.

My first question is for you, Cynthia, and then I have a question for our Nova Scotia friends.

Our Minister of Social Development made a major announcement today on homelessness, titled “Reaching Home: Canada's Homelessness Strategy”. It's $2.2 billion over 10 years. It sounds like a lot of money.

One of the important things announced this morning was increased flexibility and the importance of tailoring this to individual communities. As you'll recall, the homelessness partnering strategy—the housing first approach—was quite rigid. Not that we're completely jettisoning that.... I'm just wondering about the connection between your programs and homelessness and how this might help you.