Alberta budget includes $10M for women’s shelters, more beds

Click to play video: 'Help calls to Alberta domestic violence shelters at 10-year high'
Help calls to Alberta domestic violence shelters at 10-year high
Alberta domestic violence shelters and services are seeing an increase in demand, but experts say help is available to those who need it. Adam MacVicar reports. – Jan 17, 2024

In its 2024 budget, the United Conservative government is investing $10 million for Alberta women’s shelters to add more beds and fund spaces that are not staffed.

If approved, the budget will allocate $10 million over four years, including $5 million immediately and $5 million over the next three years.

“In terms of the one-time stimulus that we’re doing this year, approximately $3.9 million of that will be used to fund 81 unfunded beds here in the province and an additional $1.1 million will be used to fund 20 new beds,” said Searle Turton, minister of Children and Family Services.

There will also be more flexibility given to shelters in how to allocate the funding, Turton said, “loosening the red tape to make it easier for women’s shelters to continue to do the amazing work they do.”

The changes to women’s shelter grant agreements take effect April 1.

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He said the 17 shelters receiving additional funding are in Banff, Brooks, Calgary, Camrose, Cochrane, Cold Lake, Edmonton, Fairview, Fort McMurray, Grand Prairie, High River, Lloydminster, Morinville, Rocky Mountain House, Sherwood Park, St. Paul and Whitecourt.

“It’s been 10 years since women’s shelters had any kind of increase,” said Jan Reimer, executive director of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.

In that time, she said groups have struggled to meet increasing demand for services and support amid population growth, a pandemic and inflationary pressures.

“We know how needed this funding is and we’re appreciative that the government has moved forward and actually front-loaded some of this funding as part of their election commitment,” she said.

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The funding for this year alone will mean “being able to keep some of those beds open,” she said. “I think shelters in some areas of the province were really challenged because they didn’t have the funding. They were doing this funding solely on the backs of their staff and their community. So being able to have the funding to keep those beds open means a lot to women in those rural communities.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates'
Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates

Reimer said there has been a huge need for more funding as well as less onerous reporting requirements and there has been movement on both fronts.

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“It takes a lot of courage to reach out. Shelters also, when they receive that call, do all they can to support women to get the supports they need. But that doesn’t always mean they always get what they need when they need it. The additional capacity that’s been announced today I think helps to free up that system a little more.”

Reimer estimates money to fund these previously unfunded shelter beds will help about 1,100 women and children.

“We’re very grateful and we know these initial investments will make a difference.”

Turton said he hosted a roundtable with shelter advocates and organizations and also visited women’s shelters across the province.

“We really appreciate his commitment to listening and hearing and understanding that there are needs,” Reimer said.

Turton said the funding announcement “addresses the biggest needs that were communicated to me at the roundtable we had a month or so ago. It’s the start of a conversation,” he said. “This is a first step.”

Turton added that he’s looking forward to having ongoing conversations with shelters to come up with long-term ways to support women and children — through outreach work, prevention and wrap-around services.

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Reimer said the budget commitment was a good start.

“We know there’s a lot more that needs to be done both in terms of how we’re delivering programs and also in terms of shelter capacity across the province.

“Women’s shelters provide a safe place. They understand and know the risks and work with women to manage those risks so that they’re alive.”

Both Turton and Tanya Fir, minister of Arts, Culture and Status of Women, said the Alberta government is working on an action plan to support survivors and address root causes of gender-based violence.

Albertans can get 24/7 support by calling or texting the Family Violence Info Line at 310-1818. Phone support is offered in more than 170 languages, including all Indigenous languages spoken in Canada. A 24/7 confidential webchat is also available in English online.

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