Nova Scotia domestic violence survivors spending longer in shelters due to housing crisis

Click to play video: 'Housing crisis causing long stays in N.S. women and children shelters'
Housing crisis causing long stays in N.S. women and children shelters
WATCH: The housing crisis has affected many Nova Scotians -- and it's been especially detrimental for those fleeing domestic violence. Women and children are staying in shelters longer, simply because they can't find a place to go once they're ready to leave. As Ashley Field reports, that means it's becoming harder to accommodate new women in need of help – Jul 25, 2022

Women and children fleeing domestic violence in Nova Scotia are spending longer in shelters due to the housing crisis, according to two local organizations.

Shelter Movers is a non-profit organization that helps women and families leaving abusive homes move in and out of shelters safely and free of charge. It also stores their items until they’re ready to leave.

Lately, however, Shelter Movers has been doing fewer moves, said Nova Scotia chapter director Erica More.

“Not as many families are going in and out of shelter at the moment, simply because they’re staying in shelter a longer period of time,” said More.

On average, the charity keeps a client’s belongings in storage for six months. At least one client has had their items stored for a record 32 months.

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“Because of the lack of affordable housing, what may have been a few applications to find homes can be upwards into the double digits,” said More. “So the number of applications and the amount of time that people are putting into finding safe and affordable housing has increased drastically.

“We are always looking for more storage space, because the longer current clients are staying with us, the less available space there is to new clients who need access to our service.”

One of Shelter Movers’ referral partners is Alice House, which offers second-stage safe housing to women and children who have fled intimate partner violence.

Heather Byrne, Alice House’s executive director, said a client’s average stay in one of the organization’s 18 safe houses is anywhere from six months to two years.

“We’re seeing women and families staying 50 per cent longer, simply because they have nowhere to go,” she told Global News, adding being unable to find a safe, affordable place to call home is “distressing” and “discouraging” for clients, and just one more barrier in their healing journey.

“Safe, affordable housing is imperative for women to be able to leave abusive relationships and abusive homes and there’s just not enough of them.”

Click to play video: 'Souls Harbour Rescue Mission unveils new shelter for women and their children'
Souls Harbour Rescue Mission unveils new shelter for women and their children

Because current clients are staying longer, it’s meant there’s been little movement between crisis shelters and second-stage safe housing like Alice House, said Byrne, which in turn means space is slim for new people in need of safety.

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“When we do get phone calls and we are full, we work really hard with the individual woman who’s calling or the referring agent to reach out and look for other resources and work with other community partners to find a solution for her. Her safety is the most important thing and we all work together and collaboratively to make sure that she can get herself somewhere safe,” said Byrne.

“That’s harder than it’s every been. So it requires more phone calls, more follow-up, more staffing resources in order to get one family to a safer circumstance. It’s just not as straight forward as it used to be.”

She said Nova Scotia’s current housing crisis has had a “significant” impact on the domestic violence sector, and new housing is needed now.

“We do have a strong community here of women’s organizations, in particular who support these women and help them face this barrier … but it’s not as helpful as a new home would be,” she said.

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