Violence leading cause of homelessness for women, children: resource centre

‘We want women to know that they don’t have to face this issue on their own’

Kanata Kourier-Standard
By Jessica Cunha
Nov 22, 2016
Violence against women is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children, says Cathy Lawery, program manager of violence against women and counselling services teams at the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre.
Adequate and affordable housing is in crisis in Ottawa, leaving many women who want to leave an abusive partner in limbo.
“The myth that women stay? They don’t stay,” said Lawery. “It’s just that sometimes they have to make plans of where they're going to go, how are they going to afford it. There’s all those things especially if you're leaving with children – it takes some planning.”
The community resource centre – serving those who live in Kanata, West Carleton, Goulbourn and Nepean – has a large violence against women program, which includes counselling for women and children, a shelter, and transitional housing supports.
One in every three women is experiencing abuse – which can include the physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and financial. On any given night in Canada, around 3,500 women and 2,700 children sleep in a shelter because it’s not safe at home, said Lawery.
And that’s only the women who identify themselves.
“There's a strong majority of people who are survivors of violence,” said Lawery. “Our numbers haven’t gone down; they’ve grown exponentially.”
November is Woman Abuse Prevention Month and to raise awareness the resource centre is focusing on its transitional housing.
“I've been here for over 20 years and although housing has been an issue, I have seen that (over) the last three years, it’s critical,” she said. “What we know for a fact, even locally, is that violence against women is the leading cause of homelessness.”
From April 2015 to March 2016, the centre’s VAW programs saw:
• 250 women use the transitional housing support program.
• 87 mothers facing violence and 52 child witnesses of violence served by the child witness program.
• 380 women receive violence against women counselling services.
• 87 women and 69 children stay at Chrysalis House – a 25-bed shelter. The average length of stay was 105 days.
“All of these women essentially are looking for housing, for affordable housing,” said Lawery. “We want women to know that they don’t have to face this issue on their own. We have people who have expertise in housing. There's some information they might not be aware of that can secure them great housing options.”
Ashley, a transitional housing support worker, works with women using the centre’s counselling services or living at the shelter to explore their housing options and resources available to them. Ashley is not her real name, to protect the front-line worker.
Options can include a temporary move to a shelter and subsidized or private market housing, she said, adding she can also help clients with income possibilities and social assistance.
“A safe and affordable home is a basic human right for everyone,” said Ashley. “One of the things we recognize at the centre is that housing is in a huge crisis. It’s become part of our strategic direction.”
The resource centre has created a housing committee to look at the issues and how to best advocate for and support its clients, which includes those in the VAW program, as well as youths and seniors.
Many women looking to flee domestic violence believe they must be living in a shelter to apply for subsidized housing and that isn’t the case, said Ashley.
Women who live at home, or who have been staying in temporary housing (such as with a friend, relative or in shelter) for less than three months can get placed on a priority list in the social housing registry.
Transitional housing support workers can help women get placed on the priority list by writing a letter a support, said Ashley.
“Women who are living, breathing violence, that’s a critical issue,” said Lawery. “If you're living with your abuser, or you’ve left and it’s within that three month period of time, we can get you special priority, which makes a huge difference whether or not you're waiting for years for housing or whether or not you're waiting for months.”
Those who receive a special priority status only wait an average of three to four months for housing, said Ashley.
Many women are afraid to seek assistance from the resource centre under the assumption that counsellors will force them to make decisions they aren’t ready for, said Lawery.
“We don’t do that,” she said. “Coming in to see us, getting the resources and maybe applying and getting on the list because you can, because you fit the criteria, is a really smart move. We’re not here to tell them what to do.”
Women who apply for social housing and special priority status are not forced to move when a unit becomes available.
“It’s a backup plan,” said Lawery. “Because you can say no if you're not ready to move.”
And when women are ready to make a move, the resource centre is there for them.
“It’s just a matter of creating a plan, finding affordable housing, and then making the move when they can,” said Lawery.
“There is life after abuse. A good life after abuse.”
The Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre has a large VAW program that offers peer support, individual and group counselling, transitional housing, referrals, and resources. To learn more about the services, visit, email or call 613-591-3686.
Jessica Cunha is a reporter and photographer at the Kanata Kourier-Standard. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
There are resources available for women who want to leave an abusive household or want more information. If someone is in immediate danger of abuse, call 911. Other Ottawa-based crisis lines include:
• Chrysalis House: 613-591-5901
• Distress Centre Ottawa: 613-238-3311
• Fem’aide, a Francophone helpline: 1-877-336-2433
• Child, Youth and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario: 613-260-2360