Many women who are seeking refuge from domestic abuse are being turned away from shelters that can't accommodate them, according to a new report from the Canadian Network of Women's Shelters and Transition Houses.
The Shelter Voices 2016 report claims that almost 75 per cent of women requesting shelter had to be turned away on a single day last year due to a lack of capacity. The report surveyed 234 shelters on the same day from every province and territory across Canada.
On that day alone, 38 per cent of shelters had no available beds. The network's director, Lise Martin, says that the “turn-away” rate for most women is higher in urban areas.
“We have been hearing this for sometime now,” said Martin. “The issue is more prevalent in urban areas and the reality is that in a lot of remote, rural areas there simply isn't a shelter. Often women don't even have the option.”
Most federally-funded shelters across Canada were built in the 1970s and 1980s and are in need of repair and renovation. Very few new shelters have been built in the past decade, adds Martin.
A new shelter, which will be completed this spring in Melfort, Sask., for example, will be the first built in the province in more than 25 years. The province had the highest rate of domestic violence cases in the country in 2013, according to Statistics Canada.
Statistic Canada's most recent 2014 Homicide in Canada report says that a woman is killed by her current or former partner on an average of every six days in Canada.
The report adds that as many as eight out of 10 women in the past six months seeking shelter have fled domestic violence from another province.
Martin insists that, despite the statistics, shelters offer more than space to women seeking help from domestic violence.
“If women keep on hearing that there's no room for them at the shelters, they may not seek help,” she said. “Shelters offer more than just a safe place to stay. They also provide services to women who don't stay at the shelter.”
The federal government plans on investing $89.9 million over the next two years to allow 3,000 spaces to be renovated or created for shelters accommodating victims of domestic violence.
It's a step in the right direction, says Martin, but she adds that surveys like the Shelter Voices 2016 report highlight the need for a national action plan on domestic violence against women.
“All women across the country should have comparable level of services and protection,” said Martin. “A national action plan on violence against women would be a step in that direction, for sure.”