Advocates say B.C. falling short on transitional housing for domestic violence victims

Click to play video: 'B.C. seeing increased demand for transition housing'
B.C. seeing increased demand for transition housing
WATCH: The province is announcing several new safe homes opening for women and children fleeing violence. There is currently a high demand for these spots, with hundreds turned away every day. Richard Zussman has more. – Mar 9, 2023

The B.C. provincial government announced 150 new homes for women fleeing domestic violence Thursday, but advocates say it’s just a drop in the bucket and the available resources are badly lagging demand.

“It’s very worrisome,” said Amy Fitzgerald, executive director of the B.C. Society of Transition Houses.

“We are seeing an increase in intimate partner violence and family violence, and that is reflected in the Stats Canada report that shows it’s the seventh consecutive year of an increase in intimate partner violence and the fifth consecutive year of an increase in family violence.”

B.C.’s NDP government announced funding in its 2018 budget for 1,500 spaces for people fleeing domestic violence.

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Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said Thursday that 868 of them were “open or underway,” but the government later confirmed that just 188 of those spaces are actually complete.

Another 181 are expected to be complete by the end of June.

Click to play video: 'Spike in deadly domestic violence in Metro Vancouver'
Spike in deadly domestic violence in Metro Vancouver

“We know … that the pace of constructing new units is taking too long. We hear this all the time, whether that’s permitting or rezoning processes at local government level, whether that’s a shortage of labour for the companies actually constructing our projects, there are challenges in the way for some of these projects to move forward,” Kahlon said.

“But many of them are actually moving on time and on the pace and the scale that we thought we were going to see.”

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The Opposition BC Liberals, however, accused the government of misleading numbers.

“We don’t have enough, and the government’s own numbers don’t show us how many they’ve actually created. All of the announcements today … every one of those is a reannouncement that still has yet to open and still has yet to be built,” housing critic Karin Kirkpatrick said.

“Not having the appropriate housing means more violence against women. If they don’t have anywhere to go and they’re staying in a home with their abusers, then this government is failing them.”

Click to play video: 'Vigil to remember victims of domestic violence'
Vigil to remember victims of domestic violence

The gap in services, according to Fitzgerald, is daunting.

A recent census of B.C. transition houses found they served more than 1,800 people in a single 24-hour period. Another 571 were turned away because of a lack of capacity, she said.

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Her group called on the province to dedicate funding for another 1,500 units of transition housing in the 2023 budget, but was denied, she said.

What’s more, data shows that the vast majority of women using transition houses aren’t getting the longer-term housing they need to thrive.

“Only four per cent of them are able to move onto affordable housing,” Fitzgerald said.

“Seventy-five per cent of them leave the transition house and they are temporarily sheltered or they return home to their abusive partner, and 21 per cent of them find housing, and it’s usually beyond their means and very precarious.”

And the consequences for women returning to an abusive home can be deadly.

According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory, 173 women died by violence in Canada last year, up from 155 the year prior.

According to Fitzgerald, at least 24 of them were in British Columbia.

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