Woman and child. Image: Women's Habitat/Facebook

We’re just days into 2018 and women’s shelters across the country continue operating at over capacity providing safety and security to women and their children fleeing violence. This is nothing new, but it’s discouraging that the situation shows no signs of improving.

Women’s Habitat in Toronto opened its doors in 1978. Over the decades, it morphed from a volunteer based, grassroots cooperative to a full service, provincially-funded organization with a staff of 30 members. In 2006, the shelter created an additional outreach centre to offer programs and services that assist over 650 women each year with access to counselling and parenting programs, housing and legal services, health services, as well as programs designed specifically for children.

Drop-in programs are very popular because they don’t require pre-registration and are invaluable to women readjusting to life after living in a shelter. These sessions provide continuity, community, and support during times when women may feel isolated, alone, and in need of companionship.

The shelter has capacity to house 25 women. Residents are welcome to stay until they find more permanent housing. As rents increase and subsidized units become increasingly scarce, it may take residents between a year to 18 months to find permanent housing. It used to be a six month wait to get social housing, but now women may be on the wait list for up to three years. Last year only three women secured social housing units, leaving the majority of women at the mercy of market rent and landlords.

Women looking for rental units often experience discrimination from landlords because they are single parents, women of colour, immigrants, or have a disability. As one former resident states, “I came to Women’s Habitat looking for help. I didn’t have any family here and I struggled with the language. My housing worker supported me with applications and apartment visits. She made sure I understood my options and she fought for my rights.”

Currently, there is no process in place for women to access equitable housing, especially in such a competitive rental market. Despite this discouraging reality, Women’s Habitat continuously provides incredibly valuable assistance giving hope to women and children when they need it the most.

But, getting housing is not always the end of the process. As this former client describes housing workers often go above and beyond expectations: 

“It was a difficult time for me and my four kids. My housing worker at Women’s Habitat helped me to get an apartment in a co-op but I had problems with my neighbors. My kids were passing through a tough period and that affect their behavior. My housing worker advocated on my behalf with my landlord so I was able to stay in my apartment.”

While funding from Community and Social Services and the United Way provides 80 per cent of the funding needed to keep the shelter open, the provincial portion was frozen over a decade ago. Fundraising efforts make up for the severe shortfall, covering costs of vital services and outreach programing like housing support services.

Women’s Habitat recently launched their winter giving campaign with the release of their informational video Choices. Produced with the generous support of Char San Pedro and 920 films, the video highlights the bond between mother and child as they seek safety and support from Women’s Habitat.

“We are thrilled to have a made such a meaningful piece of work for an amazing company like Women’s Habitat,” says San Pedro.

Last year, the winter campaign supported over 300 families and funded many vital services.

“It is such a gift to be able to launch a commercial as part of our winter giving campaign,” says Lina Almanzan, Resource Development Manager for Women’s Habitat. “Char has been a champion of our work and the women we support. We are truly grateful to her and 920 films for their vision.” 

View the video and contribute to Women’s Habitat winter campaign here.

Image: Women’s Habitat/Facebook

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Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...