For many, housing affordability is a major determinant of quality of life. For victims experiencing domestic violence and abuse, it can be a matter of life or death.
The current housing calamity has created a public safety crisis in which victims of domestic violence now face seemingly insurmountable barriers when seeking to leave unsafe situations.
Domestic violence is a complex social issue, and our public policy response must reflect this reality. Only collaboration from government, police and community partners can prevent the alarming rise of domestic violence.
Like many emergency shelters, the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter (operated by FearIsNotLove) offers victims a secure, short-term stay to escape immediate danger. In addition to shelter, we support clients to begin a new life through counselling, outreach, court programs and child care. Once someone enters the shelter program, we work on finding them a safe and affordable place to live. This is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, right now in Calgary.
The City of Calgary recently published its Housing Needs Assessment, which suggests an annual salary of $84,000 is needed to afford average market rent. Even though Alberta has the highest average weekly earnings across Canada, renting is an unaffordable expense for most and is even more inaccessible to women escaping domestic violence.
Some may wonder why victims do not leave dangerous situations, or why it might take more than once to do so for good. Victims have to confront internal questions such as: Will it be more difficult once I leave? Will I be in more danger? Will I lose all my friends and supports?
Domestic violence and abuse have a significant emotional and psychological effect that can take years to process before leaving ever becomes a consideration.
In addition to physical violence, financial abuse can be a serious barrier to leaving an unsafe situation, especially when children or pets are involved. In these cases, victims do not always have access to the funds required to leave.
While emergency shelters are a fundamental part of our collective effort to end domestic violence, they are specialized resources staffed with highly trained professionals and equipped with extensive security protocols. They are designed to support the most dangerous cases on a short-term basis.
For those who may not need emergency shelter but are contemplating leaving an unhealthy relationship, the decision to do so may be delayed due to affordability concerns. Abuse can then escalate to violence, putting more women in the position of needing to access emergency shelters.
We need our leaders to take the issue of inflation and housing seriously: this is no longer an affordability issue but, rather, a public safety issue.
Alberta’s provincial government has come forward with increased financial support for affordable-housing projects, as well as commitments to increase funding for women’s shelters and to strengthen Clare’s Law. Recently, the provincial and federal governments announced the launch of the National Plan to end gender-based violence with a $54.1-million investment across the province over four years.
We also need municipal leaders to step up with local affordable-housing solutions. We need immediate action to create and protect a stable supply. We need the federal government to address inflationary pressures that are making every aspect of our lives unaffordable, and for victims, unsafe.
We need emergency shelters to be available for those in unsafe situations, and for individuals in unhealthy relationships to have affordable housing options so they can leave before their situation becomes unsafe.
When a victim does make the difficult decision to walk out the door, we must ensure there are new doors that open. This is more than just an issue of a place to call home: it represents safety, security and the possibility of a new life.
For victims of domestic violence, an affordable home is hope.
Kim Ruse is the CEO of FearIsNotLove, the brand evolution and operator of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. Lana Wells is an associate professor and the Brenda Strafford chair in prevention of domestic violence at the University of Calgary.