Coast housing crunch drives battered women back into abusive relationships

Yew Transition House :  “Women realize it is impossible to rent a safe place with the $375 welfare shelter allowance”

By Margot Grant

The affordable-housing crisis on the Coast is affecting a lot of people, and one of the most vulnerable groups is women in abusive relationships. Yew Transition House in the Sechelt area is seeing “many more” women return to abusive and violent situations because there is no housing available, says Eva Boese, program coordinator of the transition house for women and children.

The transition house is also receiving fewer inquiries from women wanting to leave harmful relationships. “Not because the situation has gotten better; reporting of domestic assault has increased,” says Boese. “But women realize it is almost impossible to rent a place with the $375 welfare shelter allowance.”

Transition houses throughout the province have the impression that women are less likely to leave abusive relationship now because of the housing crisis: “There is a lot of discussion at transition house meetings about this issue.”

The women needing help are of all ages. Some have children, most of them do not have work when they arrive at Yew, and all have been through traumatic experiences, some since childhood. Yew Transition House has a 24-hour crisis phone line and staff who explain the women’s legal rights, and look for solutions.

Yew Transition House offers safe accommodation at an undisclosed location for up to seven women and children in four bedrooms for up to 30 days. Kitchen and living room are shared. Staff are supportive of the women’s needs, but trying to find them housing or a safe place to stay is a growing challenge.

Children are a particular concern; if the authorities are aware of domestic violence in a home and the women flees the situation but cannot secure a place to live, she may lose the children. “We get desperate calls from women who say they are broke and urgently need a place for them and their kids,” Boese says.

Women with two or more children fleeing domestic violence are eligible to stay up to 18 months in the Thyme second-stage program run by Sunshine Coast Community Services, but the program has only four suites, which are always full, and is not wheelchair-accessible. Single women or women with one child have to look elsewhere.

They can end up in dangerous situations, says Boese, who has seen it all. They run the risk of falling prey to men offering accommodation in return for sexual favours or endless housekeeping. Some people demand all of the woman’s money to let them to sleep on a couch, or they may end up in a party house where bedrooms are rented out to people with different lifestyles.

They also end up in dilapidated trailers or in the woods, Boese tells The Coast Clarion. 

Denise Woodley, manager of the Together Against Violence programs of Sunshine Coast Community Services Society, points out that “with 50 people applying for every available rental on the Coast, the landlords will pick that single person with the stable job and the stellar references. Traumatized women with children, on welfare, and without references, don’t have much of a chance.

“But let’s face it, if all things were equal, they would still only have a one-in-fifty chance to get the place. This is how bad it is now.”

If a woman does manage to find a place, she will need roommates to help pay the rent. This can lead to other problems — if the roommates trash the place, the woman is liable for damages and can be evicted and blacklisted, leaving her once again homeless.

Some women return to Yew Transition House again and again, but it’s not their fault, Boese says. “If they had an affordable, stable roof over their head, they could get their life back on track.”

She has worked at the transition house for 28 years, and says the housing crisis has compounded the problems of women fleeing violence. “I find it unacceptable that the rents are so high and that there are no vacancies.”

The Yew Transition House crisis line is available 24 hours per day:

604-885-2944

Toll-free: 1-877-885-2949

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One comment

  1. The new government needs to do a huge push to solve the housing crisis. There are so many implications for so many people’s lives. Stable housing is key to getting back on one’s feet and building a decent life–or maintaining a decent life, which can be snatched out from under one’s nose when rent becomes unaffordable–even for people with fulltime jobs.

    Another group hit by this crisis is people with mental illnesses, who only become more ill if they are left homeless. People who are physically disabled, too, get only $375 a month (the welfare shelter allowance for any single person, disabled or not). These rates are ridiculous, and have been for some time.

    This government can’t just be a little bit better than the Liberals. They need to be a LOT better to make up for decades of neglect.

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