Saturday, November 24

Thousands turned away from Alberta women's shelters

Thousands of people are being turned away from Alberta women's shelters due to a lack of resources and some women are returning to violent situations as a result of the dearth of affordable housing, a new report says.

The report, released today by the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters, showed 27,000 clients were turned away from women's shelters last year. Shelter staff try to place women in other shelters or arrange emergency stays in hotels when their facilities are full.

About half the people initially turned away from shelters in 2006 were children.

"Women's shelters serve just as many children as they do women," said Jan Reimer, the council's provincial co-ordinator. "The rights of children here in Alberta need to be respected and resources need to be allocated to women's shelters so they can do the work they need to do with kids."

The report also found a dramatic increase in the number of women who said they would return to an abusive situation due to the scarcity of affordable housing.

Women leaving emergency shelters are surveyed and asked where they will go, said Kate Woodman, the report's author. Researchers found a real increase in the last two years in women who said they would go back to their abusive situations due to a lack of housing options.

"Some say they will go to family members, some say they will leave the province and others indicate they're going to return to the abusive situation," Woodman said.

"Imagine, you've learned more about how to keep yourself safe, but because you can't get affordable housing you're going back to danger," she said. "Imagine what that does to you."

Woodman noted that 80 per cent of children that come to Alberta's 43 women's shelters have witnessed violence. The report stressed the need for resources to ensure children's well-being in shelters.

"There's a growing awareness in Alberta and across Canada that children resident in shelters are not simply add-ons to the women fleeing domestic violence," the report said. "These children are at high risk and need immediate, specialist and diverse services."

Reimer, the council's provincial co-ordinator, said Alberta's shelter system needs an extra $20-million per year to operate at its maximum capacity. More money would be needed on to fund programs to support children traumatized by domestic violence.

"Part of the misconception is that shelters are providing emergency accommodations only,"

Reimer said. "They do far more than that. They're doing women's groups and children's groups, they're working with batterers. ... Shelters do a lot of work that I don't think people often see."
Alberta's domestic violence indicators - including incidences of domestic assault and stalking - are among the highest of the Canadian provinces.

More than 13,000 women and children stayed in women's shelters last year. The average stay was approximately two weeks.

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