Sky-high prices and low vacancy rates in Nova Scotia are making it even more difficult for people living in abusive households to escape.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind right now that what we’re experiencing is a housing crisis,” said Meghan Hansford, the housing support program manager at Adsum House.
Adsum offers a few different housing options for women, children and gender-diverse people, including an emergency shelter and long-term supportive housing. Most of Adsum’s clients have been victims of gender-based violence, said Hansford.
While there have always been barriers to leaving abusive households, the pandemic is making it even more difficult.
“And the reality is that a lot of women and children are at the greatest risk in the place that they should feel the safest, and that’s within their homes,” she said.
“As professionals in the field, we’ve all been really concerned about the potential increase in intimate partner violence and the availability of people to be able to escape safely, when typical resources that they might have used in the past are not an option.”
Like many places in Canada, housing prices have shot up during COVID-19. Many private landlords are choosing to take advantage of the market by selling their properties instead of continuing to rent them out, which has led to a decrease in rental stocks.
While Hansford said Adsum has begun getting calls from people outside of HRM, demand for their housing options hasn’t necessarily gone up, since it may be more difficult for victims to reach out for help when they’re always at home with their abuser.
“A lot of people in these circumstances are not able to safely, or have the luxury of freedom to be able to make calls for support,” she said.
“The question that we’re being asked constantly is, how can you shelter at home when you don’t have one? How can you escape violence with no place to go?”
‘A very hopeless place’
A Halifax woman who escaped an abusive relationship a few years ago knows that challenge all too well.
The woman left her partner of more than a decade, who she says emotionally and financially abused her for years. He isolated her from her friends and family and kept her bank accounts empty, so she struggled to find support and leave.
Global News has decided to keep her identity anonymous to protect her safety.
“I didn’t even recognize it as abuse for a really long time. There’s such a prevalent mentality of, ‘Well, if he didn’t hit you, it can’t be that bad,’” she said. “It becomes so much more intangible and harder to find support.”
Even before the COVID-19-era housing bubble, she had a difficult time finding a new place to live, especially since she had young children and many of the multiple-bedroom apartments were being taken up by students and roommates.
“I was very much reaching a very hopeless place,” she said. “Honestly, suicide was a consideration. It can get really, really, really dark when you don’t feel like you can escape.”
She said she was fortunate to be able to go back to school and take out a student loan, which she partially used to find a new place to live.
But she noted that many people don’t have that option, and prices and housing stocks have only gotten worse since then.
“It’s a mess,” she said. “If there’s nowhere to go, you can’t get out. You’re trapped.”
Hansford, Adsum’s housing support manager, said it’s important to note that some people are more affected by this issue than others, especially people of colour.
“The pandemic has kind of reinforced some truths and shone some light into some pretty dark corners of our society,” she said.
“Inequities related to the social determinants of health has been magnified … and I think it’s important to note that we know that sheltering in place doesn’t inflict equivalent hardship on everybody involved.”
She said Adsum House is currently working with the federal Rapid Housing Initiative to build a 25-unit affordable housing project that’s slated to be finished next year.
But she said there is work to be done on the provincial level as well.
“So it would be great for us to kind of connect and collaborate with the provincial government on the shortage of affordable housing,” said Hansford.
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, she said people living in abusive situations should try to make connections with people if they are safely able to do so. She said shelters are still open and taking calls.
“Isolation is one of the major tools that perpetrators and abusers use, and COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated that for people and intensified it,” she said.
“Reaching out to maybe health-care professionals or different people if you need support. Connecting with family or friends if they’re available. Thinking about a safety plan.”