Struggling without shelter

(Graphic by Stephanie Truong)

(Graphic by Stephanie Truong)

It’s something many people take for granted, but it’s also something thousands of women throughout Canada struggle without: the shelter and protection of a home.

YWCA Canada aspires to bring an end to women’s homelessness with the recent launching of the Homes for Women campaign. The campaign was started out of concern for the growing number of women who are either living in severe poverty or who are homeless.

“It is unacceptable that a country as rich as Canada has the extent and amount of homelessness and poverty that we have, and women are bearing the brunt of this,” said Leilani Farha, executive director of Canada Without Poverty. “The hope is that the campaign will ignite discussion and debate and that will influence public policy.”

The YWCA has partnered with Canada Without Poverty-Advocacy Network and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies for the campaign and is also supported by the Canadian Labour Congress.

The key strategies of Homes for Women include improving accessibility to jobs and to safe, affordable housing. Through improved and more effective social assistance programs, the campaign members wish to address and take preventative measures to the systemic issues at the root of women’s poverty, which are typically domestic violence, discrimination and abuse.

Farha explained that  many women who have escaped violent homes have nowhere to turn, seeking refuge in women’s shelters or on the street.

“There are rapidly increasing numbers of women in street counts for homelessness,” said Farha.

Elizabeth Clarke, CEO of YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo commented on the national campaign and the growing need for public awareness, saying, “People tend to dismiss homelessness, tend to think that it’s because people are mentally ill, or it’s because people are addicted to drugs, and although those things certainly do occur, it’s not the main reason that people are homeless. The main reason is simply poverty.”

Canada’s Federal Parliament voted last week on Bill C-400, an Act to ensure secure and adequate housing for all Canadians. The bill was dismissed. Barbara Byers, executive vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress, commented on the quick dismissal of the bill saying, “I think it’s shameful that the Conservatives would do this. Absolutely shameful. They cannot talk about family values and then take action against families having reasonable housing.”

“A national housing strategy would have included provisions for women escaping violence, so it’s a real blow to those women who are in those circumstances for the government to flat out say that they didn’t support the bill,” added Farha.

The defeat of Bill C-400, explained Byers, is discouraging, although the Homes for Women campaign was certainly not dependent on its passing. “It means that we have to get tougher and double our efforts, making sure that housing is on the agenda for politicians at all levels,” said Byers.

Farha emphasized that the campaign’s driving force will be behind the public. Their greatest tool is through spreading awareness to Canadians and addressing the root causes of poverty and homelessness.

“This is a real social problem,” said Farha. “But it is a problem that can be solved. I think that if everyday people in Canada knew that our governments and policy makers aren’t doing anything to address this problem, I think they would be more outraged than they are right now. And I think that outrage goes some distance in changing government attitudes.”

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