I would like to begin by thanking the committee for the invitation.
My name is Diane Beaulieu, and I have the privilege of being the executive director of Halton Women's Place, the only women's shelter in Halton region. I've come today to speak to you about shelter and transition houses in general but will focus my discussion on the Halton region in particular.
This year, Halton Women's Place commemorated its 40th anniversary of providing services to women and children. Given this milestone anniversary, and because I've been around for a long time, I'm often asked if things have changed. They have, definitely, with some good changes and some not-so-good changes.
The way we do the work has changed significantly. Our work is trauma-informed, and we work from a harm-reduction model of service delivery. We know that every woman's story of abuse is different, and we cater our services accordingly.
The issues facing abused women today are complex, and professional staff are required to meet the needs of this ever-changing population. Staffing existing shelters is an important consideration, perhaps not so much for this committee, but it is one that every executive director is concerned about. If you were to ask, you would be told that many shelters are single-staffed at night, on weekends, and in some cases, during all shifts. It's a serious problem waiting to happen.
In addition, we have greater awareness, and we have created that by engaging men in the process of ending violence against women. However, our shelters are full. This isn't specific to Halton. It is the same across Ontario and Canada.
We incorporated in 1978 as a 12-bed shelter located in Milton, Ontario, that ran primarily with volunteers. Today Halton Women's Place has 52 beds in two facilities. We have 30 beds that opened in 1994 in Burlington and a 22-bed shelter in Milton, which opened as a new facility in 2002. In total, we employ 50 staff. In addition to the two shelters, we also have one transitional unit.
Our capacity runs at between 95% and 105% at all times. In 2017-18, Halton Women's Place provided services to 730 women through our residential and community outreach programs, and we responded to over 2,500 crisis calls. Unfortunately, we were forced to refer, or turn away, as I prefer to call it, 400 women to facilities outside their region because of a lack of space.
Halton Women's Place offers a variety of programs, and we work with many community partners to provide the best wraparound service possible. We offer vital, life-serving services and resources that help women and children recover from the abuse they have experienced.
In addition to shelter and transitional services, Halton Women's Place employs four Ontario-certified teachers to deliver a curriculum on healthy relationships in schools across Halton. We believe that education is key to ending violence. Our goal is to talk about healthy relationships in every school in Halton.
Women coming from other shelters in different regions tell us that the services received in those shelters is different. Some is better and some left them wanting and needing more. Women across the country are left with varying levels of services. This is not equity. In Canada in 2018, every woman should have access to comparable services, no matter where she lives.
Equal funding for shelters and for our services is paramount in the struggle to raise awareness and put an end to violence against women. Federal funding for capacity is one thing, but of greater concern to me are provincial operating dollars, which force us to live on tight budgets and fundraise to build capacity, fundraising that increases annually. Currently, Halton Women's Place is fundraising $1 million to meet our budget and provide much-needed services and education.
For as many strides as we make in the field of gender-based violence, we take two steps back. I believe that this is one of the most dangerous times in history to be a woman. The backlash we are experiencing and the hate rhetoric coming out of the United States spreads far and wide.
Let's not be complacent. Violence against women is an epidemic, affecting women in every community in our country, regardless of age, economic status, race, ability, nationality or educational background. Each one of us in this room today knows someone who is or will be impacted by physical or sexual abuse. It may be your neighbour, your mother, your best friend, your sister or you.
Shelters are an essential service and must be recognized as such. Failure to do so places women at risk of death.
It is widely recognized that the impacts of abuse are complex and extend in all directions and are destabilizing in their wake. Women and children in a home where intimate partner abuse is occurring are deeply affected. Their trust is eroded and their ability to focus is undermined, sometimes irreparably. Sometimes they die.
In the first eight months of this year, 106 women and girls died in Canada. Could we have helped those women?
In terms of gaps in service or the number of beds provided, I will say that if more shelters are built, they will be filled. Before taking the step to build them, operating dollars must be guaranteed. Expecting shelters to fundraise a third or more of their budget is untenable and a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later the funds will run out, and women and children will suffer.
Transitional second-stage housing in every community could help reduce the number of women turned away or referred elsewhere. Again, the operating dollars must be guaranteed.
Education is key to ending violence against women. Every child in Canada should receive information on what a healthy relationship is. This should happen over the course of their education, not just once. It is as important as math, English and science. They have to learn about healthy relationships.
Social media plays a large role in our children's lives today. Government must focus on a strategy to find a way to use this tool to change the content our children are exposed to, including the objectification of women and the normalization and acceptance of the violence that goes along with it.
I will end by saying thank you once again for the opportunity to speak to you today. I would ask that you give conscious thought to the fact that it is every woman's fundamental right to live in safety and security in her home and community, free from the threat of violence.