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Abused Women Always Experience Economic Downturn

Posted Jun 16, 2016

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Today, the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) releases the Annual Provincial Shelter Data, collected by members throughout the province from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 and aggregated to provide a provincial temperature-taking.

The demand for shelter services overall is holding steady.  Some shelters sense that the full impact from the economic downturn is just around the corner, as many women fleeing violence tend to go to a shelter only when the abuse has escalated to the point where they fear for their lives.

The data reflects a difference in rural areas and larger urban centers.  There is a marked decrease in women’s length of stay in rural shelters compared to those shelters in large cities –where length of stay has held steady.  One possible reason for this is a relative exodus of oil workers in small towns that has freed up some affordable housing – providing more options for women who decide to leave.

Research tells us that one of the most dangerous expressions of violence against women in intimate relationships is the coercive control by their partners.  This type of violence is driven by a desire for power and control, and is most dangerous when the woman chooses to leave.

Perpetrators of this form of violence frequently maintain sole control of the household finances.  It is also common for perpetrators to prevent their spouses from pursuing meaningful employment or advanced education, as this is perceived as a threat.  For those women that do work, having your abusive spouse abuse try to control you while you struggle to remain employed, or having your (statistically very dangerous) ex-partner stalk & threaten you as you come and go from work – makes being employed a safety hazard.

Women escaping an abusive relationship frequently face these types of situations as they try to begin independent lives free from violence.  Add to this external  obstacles like high rents, a shortage of truly affordable, safe housing stock, access to child care and transportation  and the barriers continue to mount.  So, no matter where the economy is at – women escaping abuse overcome extreme financial hardship.

ACWS supports the Alberta Labour ministry’s plan to continue the phased increases to the minimum wage.  “Increasing the minimum wage in Alberta will have a substantial impact on the lives of women and children fleeing violence,” said Brenda Brochu, president of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.  “Women make up the majority of Albertans supporting their families on minimum wage, and starting over often means accepting low-wage employment.”

In this report we note an emerging seasonal trend – that admissions rise provincially in women’s shelters during the warmer summer months.  “Imagine trying to seek safety from abuse with your children when your children are firmly settled in school or you have no vehicle of your own and live in a remote area during the winter,” explains Jan Reimer, Executive Director of ACWS.  “The trend of more women seeking safety in warm weather highlights barriers for abused women.”

ACWS is again seeing that Aboriginal women are over-represented in the shelter population in the province, comprising 54.9% of all women admitted to shelters, yet representing only 5.9% (1) of all female Albertans (children and adults).  In addition to the barriers of finances, housing, transportation, etc., Aboriginal women also face personal and systemic racism.  On-reserve women’s shelters are funded by the federal government, and these shelters have not seen a funding increase in over seven years.   Funding on-reserve shelters equitably will help serve the complex needs of Alberta women and children seeking shelter in on-reserve communities.

Regarding shelters operating off-reserve Ms. Reimer concluded: “The changes to admissions, turn-aways and crisis calls are not significantly different over the previous year.  Yet we are optimistic that the recent investment by Alberta Human Services will pay dividends over time for many seniors, women and their children with complex needs who face down so many barriers..”  We are also hopeful  that the federal government’s recent commitment to growing and maintaining Canada’s network of women’s shelters and transition houses will assist Alberta’s women’s shelters overcome the infrastructure deficit due to the scant funding made available in Alberta for shelter renovations and reconstruction.

The Annual Release this year includes the following resources:
Document: Annual Provincial Shelter Data document (4-pager)
Document: Annual Provincial Shelter Data Insert about Aboriginal Women and On-Reserve Shelters
Videos:  Shelter Directors talk about the impact of the new Alberta Human Services funding and complex needs in their communities.
Available here: /annual-provincial-shelter-data-release

Background
The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) is an ambassador for women’s shelters in Alberta, providing support to members and leadership to leverage the collective knowledge:  informing solutions to end violence and abuse against seniors, women and their children.

ACWS supports members to collect data of the populations they serve and aggregates the information to reflect a provincial view – not with the expectation of creating a singular road map for support, but to paint a picture of how we can continue to offer the best possible service and better tell the story of abused women’s journeys; advocating for their right to dignity along the way.

Strength in Numbers:  A Ten-Year Trend Analysis of Women’s Shelters in Alberta was published in 2012, and our annual provincial shelter data releases can be found in our online library.

Contacts:
Christie Lavan                                                                                       @womenshelter
Communications & Partnerships Advisor                                             #leadingchange
Office (780) 456-7000 ext222
Cell (780)637-2073