In this article, you will get all information regarding Allison Hanes: Housing is a growing hurdle to fleeing domestic violence
Fourteen women have been killed by an intimate partner in Quebec so far this year, and with each femicide the soul-searching begins anew.
Why did this happen? What can we do to prevent such tragedies?
For the women who have died — as for the countless others enduring violent relationships — shame, stigma, fear and manipulation from a controlling spouse are barriers as formidable as they are complex.
But Melpa Kamateros, the co-founder and executive director of the Shield of Athena, said trying to escape also comes down to more basic matters.
“Here’s why she’s staying: because there are really no options,” Kamateros said.
Housing has long been overlooked as a hurdle to fleeing domestic violence, but as prices soar, it has become even more insurmountable.
New research from a working group of the Quebec Homelessness Prevention Policy Collaborative brings the entanglement of two social scourges into sharper focus. Released on the eve of International Day for the elimination of Violence Against Women, on Friday, the document provides a legislative and policy framework to address both.
“Conjugal violence shapes housing insecurity. Poverty and other socioeconomic factors, as well as structural and systemic factors, propagate violence and create obstacles to finding adequate housing,” the paper states. “We do believe that the time has come to establish the necessary policy foundations for a rights-based approach in Quebec.”
The researchers are calling for big-picture changes that would establish housing and freedom from domestic violence as rights protected by the Quebec Charter. This would hold government accountable for upholding these rights and serve as the basis for myriad concrete measures, explained Pearl Eliadis, co-chair of the Q-HPPC’s gender research stream and a law professor at McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy, one of the report’s authors.
In other cases, only small tweaks to existing laws and policies are needed, like: raising the income level to qualify for social housing above the paltry $887 a month; excluding spousal or child support payments from calculations on eligibility for social assistance; preventing domestic violence from being used as a justification for revoking a lease; and permitting the removal of an abusive partner from a lease agreement without the eviction of the spouse and children.
The working group wants the government to explore novel measures, like creating an integrated conjugal violence court, similar to what exists in Ontario. Based on the principle of “one family, one judge,” this would streamline criminal and civil matters to save abuse survivors from having to go to a different court before a different judge each time she needs a restraining order, requires changes to custody arrangements, or seeks access to the matrimonial home.
“I think what we’ve done, which is I hope helpful, is try to put forward a relatively small and doable and achievable number of proposals, some of which are major legislative changes, but a lot of which are low-hanging fruit,” said Eliadis. “I think some of these changes will make a real difference in women’s lives quickly.”
Women represented 36 per cent of the people surveyed in the 2018 snapshot of the homeless population in Quebec, and 21 per cent of them cited fleeing domestic violence as the primary reason they were unhoused. But that figure likely grossly underestimates the scope of the problem. Phenomena like human trafficking, survival sex and couch-surfing make homelessness less visible, while the fear of becoming unhoused may deter some women from leaving in toxic relationships.
“It is much more significant and complicated than just saying 21 per cent,” said James Hughes, co-chair of the Q-HPPC and executive director of the Old Brewery Mission, which operates the Patricia McKenzie Pavillion for women. “We would probably say that 21 per cent of women who are experiencing homelessness are in many ways the ones who escaped a violent domestic situation.”
Similar to the approach to rehousing the general population of homeless people, Hughes said shelters for women fleeing abuse should only be a stopgap solution.
“Our goal is that quick turnaround. We don’t want them to live the often traumatic experience of homelessness for any longer than is absolutely necessary,” Hughes said.
But a shortage of accessible and affordable second-step housing frequently prolongs their state of limbo.
“Women fleeing violence often find themselves needing both housing and essential services: an inability to access both of these resources signals a systemic failure in providing resources required by women who want to live their lives free from violence,” the study states.
Separate data released this week by the Institut du Québec for Centraide of Greater Montreal found that 21 per cent of low-income earners in the region spend 80 per cent of their revenue on housing. Between 2016 and 2021, monthly rent shot up 21.3 per cent for a one-bedroom apartment.
Economic factors tied to inflation, not to mention the ongoing pandemic, add to the physical and emotional burdens of women trying to escape abusive relationships, said Kamateros.
“Conjugal violence that’s made up of a lot if little, interlocking things,” she said. “Nobody has connected the dots yet. … What’s being proposed now is to do something in a more substantial fashion and that all leads up to a more holistic and global vision.”
No woman should have to choose between homelessness and enduring intimate-partner violence. It’s time Quebec recognizes how closely linked these tragedies are and makes addressing them a priority.
If you are experiencing intimate partner violence and need help, call SOS violence conjugale 24/7 at 1-800-363-9010
Hanes: Helping Montreal’s unhoused population begins with prevention
Allison Hanes: Housing is a growing hurdle to fleeing domestic violence
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