Most women seeking shelter are escaping intimate partner violence, survey says

Apr 22, 2022 | News

Most women looking for shelter spaces are escaping violence from an intimate partner, recent Statistics Canada data says.

Datafrom StatCan shows that a total of 46,827 people were admitted to designated residential facilities in 2020-2021, which included adult and minor females, males and people of another gender.

The total number of people admitted to residential facilities decreased in the latest survey as compared to the previous one, while the number of males admitted to such facilities increased, the survey shows.

The data was collected through the second Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse (SRFVA) for the year 2020-2021. SRFVA is a census of Canadian residential facilities primarily mandated to provide residential services to victims of abuse.

When the first cycle of SRFVA was conducted in 2017-2018, the data showed 68,106 annual admissions occurred at residential facilities for victims of abuse, compared to 46,827 in 2020-2021, a 31 per cent drop between the two surveys.

The survey is a one-day snapshot of clientele being served on a specific date, April 14, 2021, and found that on the same day, 84 per cent of the 2,749 women residing in the facility were there primarily to escape intimate partner violence.

More than two-thirds, or 38 per cent, of women residents were escaping violence involving current common-law partnerships, and 25 per cent involved spousal partnerships.

Before seeking shelter, 70 per cent of women residents in the shelters on the snapshot date were living with their abusers. As many as 26 per cent of residents were not living with their abusers before seeking shelter.

On the snapshot day, a total of 487 people — 386 of them women — were turned away from the facilities, 47 per cent fewer as compared to the 2017-2018 snapshot date. The most cited reason for turning people away was because the shelter was full.

Carm Bozzo, director of philanthropy and community engagement at Halton Women’s Place, said shelters aren’t getting money to provide more services and beds because of the times when shelters must turn a woman away.

“We haven’t received…a base funding in 15 years,” she said. “There is no increase in funding or funders for prevention. We need support from the government in terms of base funding as well as preventive measures and housing.”

The survey shows that among the women who left the shelter on snapshot day and provided information on where they were going, 30 per cent said they returned to the home where the abuser was living.

Bozzo said there are several reasons for a woman to return to a place where the abuser lives, including a lack of space in the shelter, child custody and access issues, or a change of heart.

“We provide [such women] with tools and information as much as possible when she’s in the shelter…to keep herself safe. We’ll always welcome her back in if she comes back, which happens a lot as well,” she said.

Bozzo said communal living is a challenge for shelters along with financial issues, and problems have increased, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are supposed to raise $1.5 million this year to operate,” she said. “So that’s a financial barrier for women’s shelters. There’s burnout of staff, especially during the pandemic.

The next cycle of SRFVA is planned for 2022-2023 and the results from the next cycle will be published in 2024.