Homelessness Awareness Week: Hope in the Dark part III

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THIS WEEK IS HOMELESSNESS AWARENESS WEEK. Part III: Homeless Women

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Homeless women are not healthy and they are not safe. Alarming rates of violence, pain, mental distress and serious physical health conditions were commonly reported in a recent survey of homeless women. Yet despite their poor health and extreme vulnerability, homeless women cannot access the health care, social services and supports they urgently need. They face major barriers to health care, adequate housing and other essential social services (Street Health Report).

It has been documented in many countries, such as Australia, the United States, the U.K and Canada, that domestic violence is one of the most common causes of homelessness for women and children. Homelessness, for many women, is an initial solution to unsafe housing or homes. Women leave their homes because of physical and/or sexual violence (BWSS).

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Frequently non-profit housing providers have few or no vacancies available. Many of the buildings have wait lists of 6 months to 2 years. Some have lists that have not changed in length for at least that long. Second Stage Transition House programs offer a real solution to the women who are fortunate to have the opportunity to stay in this stable housing environment for up to 2 years. More Second Stage programs are needed though, because there are not enough vacancies for the number of women who want to participate in the programs. The long wait a woman has to find housing once she leaves violence and comes into a transition house is an immense barrier for choosing not to return to her relationship if her option is homelessness once her stay in a transition house is over.

When working at the women's shelter in Vancouver (a second stage transition house for battered women) I had to hang up the phone with a lump in my throat too many times. I had just told the person on the other end of the line that no, we have no vacancies for your client and her baby. I'm sorry. I know she has nowhere to go. Have you tried these places? Yes? No availabilities? I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do. 

Even when they found housing, they weren't safe. Some shelters demanded that the women attend groups and classes during daytime, when most of them needed to go to work. If you didn't attend, you were thrown out. Housing or work? More often than not, their homes were randomly strip searched, someone going through their belongings, rummaging around in their underwear drawer, their children's things.

  • 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.
  • On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.  In 2011 from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.
  • On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. (Source)

How would you want to be treated?

This week is homelessness awareness week, culminating with the Hope In The Dark event this Saturday May 30th (tomorrow), organized by Centre of Hope. I know most of us wont be able to be there and spend the night outside. If you are unable to attend the outdoors sleepover, please think of your reasons why – and imagine having the same reasons, but no choice. There is no home. Whether you feel sick or have things to do or children to care for; there’s no choice. Even if you can’t attend, please spread the word, join the discussion, donate or volunteer – and help us end homelessness.

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