I am Shar Chowdhury, and I am a transitional support worker at Minwaashin Lodge here in Ottawa, which is attached to our indigenous women's shelter, Oshki Kizis Lodge. I am speaking here on behalf of our ED, Mary Daoust, and our shelter director, Frances Daly.
I've been working in this position for 16 years. Our transitional support workers work with indigenous women who are fleeing violence and help them with all the practical needs that come up as a result of that. It could be a treatment program, housing, income or safety planning. It could be any practical thing that a woman needs to move forward and create a safer life. That's what I do.
I'll just give you a little history of Minwaashin and the shelter. Minwaashin started in 1993, as the Aboriginal Women's Support Centre, but it is now called Minwaashin Lodge - Indigenous Women's Support Centre. The centre worked to open an abuse shelter specific to first nations, Métis and Inuit women. Oshki Kizis Lodge was opened in 2001 from a building donation, but with no government funding, for a violence against women shelter. It was considered a homeless/violence against women shelter at the time.
At that time, the other mainstream VAW shelters were fully funded by the government, and Oshki Kizis Lodge received full funding as a VAW-status shelter in 2008. I'd like to point out that Oshki Kizis Lodge is the only shelter for indigenous women fleeing abuse in all of eastern Ontario. We get first nations, Métis and Inuit women from across Canada and from the remote northern communities and reserves.
Often they flee because—as I think was mentioned in another panel before us—there is a lack of confidentiality and safety in the smaller communities. A lot of the shelter and community workers are their aunts or their cousins, and they don't have real anonymity to get away from the abuse, so that's how they sometimes end up in Ottawa, a bigger city with a little more anonymity.
The way they get here is.... Sometimes they're coming in from, say, Nunavut, and they're actually coming for medical treatment, or they're accompanying someone for medical treatment here in Ottawa, and that's their opportunity to escape and not have to return to their community.
Also, there are examples of women coming from across the country. There was a woman coming from out west who tried to flee her abusive partner. She went to Calgary, I think, and then just made her way eastward, but he kept finding her. She finally landed in Ottawa, where, to this day, he hasn't found her. There's that anonymity here in Ottawa that women sometimes are seeking.
In terms of numbers, we are a 21-bed shelter. We are consistently full. We serve approximately 90 women and 70 children per year. On average, we turn away about four women per week. Two, for sure, out of those four will be women who are actually fleeing violence. Sometimes people call, and their issue is more about being homeless, not about fleeing abuse.
That's kind of average, so we're turning away at least a hundred women per year due to a lack of shelter space. We actually try to accommodate women. Even though we have only 21 beds, we will put out cots. We will have them sleep on our couch in the public spaces that we have for ceremony or meetings, but when we do this, there's no extra funding to support the bed space, the food, the electricity or the water being used by these extra people we try to accommodate.
If they don't get space with us at Oshki Kizis, what often happens is that the city tries to place them in homeless shelters. I don't know how many of you are from here, but that would be places like Shepherds of Good Hope. In these places, the risk to indigenous women's safety is quite high. Oftentimes, even their abusive partner is already staying there. Our women who struggle with varied issues, possibly of addiction, are even more at risk, going to Sheps.
Then, what we find is that they're making unsafe choices because they can't get in with us. What they are doing is possibly going back to the abusive partner. They may couch surf in less than ideal circumstances, or stay on the streets, rather than stay at the options provided that are not our shelter.
I wanted to speak to an analysis to consider, and then the impact and what it means when women are turned away.... Oh, I did speak to that, but I just wanted to give the analysis. It's important to understand that the inherent trauma and the intergenerational trauma that have occurred from the historical, political, cultural and spiritual genocide of indigenous communities, along with the effects of colonization, have put these communities at a much larger risk of violence generally, and domestic/intimate partner violence specifically. That translates into a great need in this population for safe, indigenous-specific shelter space.
I have this thing I want to say about the bigger picture. For people who live in Ottawa, I think it needs to be considered that we're talking about shelter space. Do we have enough space? Would it be fixed by just having more beds or more shelters? I think we need to look at the bigger picture, too. There is currently a housing crisis in Ottawa. There's not enough affordable or subsidized housing. What this means is that women are staying longer in crisis shelters, because they can't get housing. It blocks a space for new women in crisis trying to come in. There's that issue.
Some of you may know that there are some new provincial initiatives, such as portable housing, where women can get market rent, which is a barrier to women.
I'm getting the wrap-up. Okay.