As many working in the field are all too aware, Saskatchewan has the highest rate of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) of all Canadian provinces, more than double the national average according to Statistics Canada. The rate of Indigenous women experiencing violence in Saskatchewan is extremely high. Responses to IPV have traditionally come in the form of funding for much-needed crisis shelters to keep women and children safe in the short-term. Although essential for immediate safety, this approach is reactive.
There is a lack of long-term supports and secure, affordable housing in Saskatchewan. Yet, long-term supports, coupled with in-house services for survivors will help to impact the numbers of IPV in the province, and help to reduce recidivism rates in families impacted by IPV. A supportive housing model, also known as transitional housing or second-stage housing, is an extremely important part of the continuum of care for women facing IPV.
Statistically, women are more at risk of being killed after separating or leaving an abusive relationship. Second-stage shelters provide longer-term accommodation for women who require continued security, safety, and support. These shelters provide women with their own apartment, in-house counselors for both women and children, and protection for those who are at a heightened risk of violence. Offering these services in one place means they do not have to leave their homes to access these services. In addition to providing security over the long-term, second-stage shelters also help bridge the link between violence and homelessness for women and their children. Research shows that women are more likely than men to lose their housing due to violence, and domestic violence is commonly cited as the leading cause of homelessness for women and children. Having safe, secure, and supportive housing available can change the lives of these women and the futures of their children.
Crisis shelters are consistently at capacity and often have to turn people away due to lack of space. Investing in second-stage shelters can help with bottlenecks in the crisis-shelter system and the availability of spaces they have. If women and their children are able to quickly move out of a crisis shelter and into a second-stage shelter, crisis shelters can help more women and children who have immediate needs, resulting in fewer people being turned away. Second-stage shelters can also help lower the recidivism rate of multiple crisis shelter stays. Without safe housing and support services after leaving a crisis shelter, women run the risk of returning to an abusive partner because they have nowhere else to go, or moving to an unstable or unsafe housing situation which is not long-term in nature. This increases the risk for women and their children to end up either back in a crisis shelter, or homeless.
Based on their data, in Alberta where second-stage shelters are funded by the provincial government, this type of housing boasts strong outcomes. At the end of their stay in a shelter, 87 per cent of women were able to achieve progress towards their goals, while more than 80 per cent were satisfied with services they received. A staggering 67 per cent of women were homeless upon entering a shelter, and only 9 per cent moved into unstable housing/homelessness upon exiting (https://www.rowanhouse.ca/news/tag/second+stage+housing). By providing funding to second-stage shelters, Alberta’s government recognized how to close the gap that existed in their province, a gap which is similar to Saskatchewan’s.
However, in Saskatchewan, second-stage shelters are not funded, and is one of only two provinces in Canada where second-stage shelters receive no provincial government funding (WSC, 2019). This means that second-stage shelters in Saskatchewan, such as SOFIA House, must rely on grants and donations from the community to support their operations, limiting the spaces and support they can provide to families in need.
This need is more pressing now than ever before. As seen in other countries and provinces, IPV is increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Requests for stays at second-stage shelters like SOFIA House have not slowed, and the need for secure and stable long-term support will only continue during this pandemic. Until July of this year, SOFIA House has only had 10 apartment units to offer families. Because of a wonderful partnership with and support from real-estate developers Avana Enterprises — along with a one-time federal grant — SOFIA House was able to establish ten more units, for a total of 20 apartment units. Thanks to our partnership with Avana we were able to open a new building ton July 1. It was full by July 15.
Housing developers like Avana are coming forward with the desire to provide new and spacious social-housing units to families who need them. With demonstrated community need, available capital, and the desire to grow these much-needed services, the time to invest in women and children is now. It is time for stable operational funding, and an expansion of these second-stage services in Saskatchewan. At SOFIA House, this means the difference between having to offer our last open apartment to either a woman facing severe sexual violence, or a woman facing emotional abuse with a disabled daughter to care for. It means the difference between turning one of these women away, or offering them both a home, some security, and the supports they need to start over.
In a political structure with four-year election cycles, long-term outcomes can get lost in “quick wins” and reaction-based solutions. When you consider costs to the justice system, the health care system, and the social services system, the costs of IPV are staggering. Like many underlying issues our society faces, including poverty, addictions, and mental health issues, focusing on programming that is preventative and long-term in nature involves investing now for long-term savings. It is time to put a fence on the hill instead of an ambulance at the bottom. Second-stage shelters are an important and much-needed service that can help to change Saskatchewan’s grim statistics regarding IPV.
Executive Director, SOFIA House