You want the best for your friend, your neighbour, your relative. She has confided in you that she has been abused by her partner and left the family home with her children. Then you learn she has gone back and you find yourself confused and scared for her, pondering the question, “why would she go back?”
So, why would she go back? The answer is, of course, complicated. From a psychological perspective, we know that decision making is not always black and white when someone has experienced trauma and abuse. However, returning to an abusive home can also be the result of limited alternatives and one of the many consequences of the current housing crisis in BC.
Women often have to make the decision between housing and safety. A lack of affordable and appropriate housing has perpetuated a cycle of violence against women. Fleeing violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women. If women become homeless, they also experience disproportionate rates of violence in co-ed shelters and sleeping on the streets. So, in the absence of available housing, some women remain in abusive households to avoid homelessness and further violent victimization.
The stark reality for women fleeing violence is that transition houses and second stage housing are often full and there are not enough affordable long-term housing units available in the private rental market, social housing, or community housing stock. In just one day in 2020, 77 women and their children were turned away from transition houses in BC, largely due to a lack of available space.
In BC, women make up 30% of the visible homeless population; however, the actual proportion of women experiencing homelessness is probably much higher. This is because women are more likely to be part of the invisible homeless population living in cars or couch surfing with friends or family to avoid the violence that can be experienced when “sleeping rough” on the streets. For more information on this trend across Canada, check out the important research found in the Pan-Canadian Women’s Housing and Homelessness Survey Report.
As for the women that do find temporary accommodation in transition houses, the likelihood of them finding long-term affordable and appropriate housing is devastatingly low in BC. Only 25% of women leave transition houses for permanent housing, while only 4% of those women manage to find affordable housing. The other 75% of women remain temporarily sheltered, become homeless, or return to an abusive home.
The reality is, there are so many barriers in place that prevent women from accessing housing after violence. Some barriers are systemic, such as the gender wage gap and discrimination, and will take time and persistence to overcome. Other barriers could be removed if people start paying attention and listening to the experiences of women fleeing violence.
For example, according to the National Occupancy Standards that have been adopted as policy to guide household composition by many housing organizations and landlords, a woman with two children of different genders over the age of five will need a three-bedroom accommodation as room sharing is not allowed among herself and her children. While three bedrooms is a reasonable amount of space for this family, the current occupancy standards become a significant barrier when we consider that in much of BC a three-bedroom unit is hard to find and very expensive when available.
What’s more, she may also need housing that is close to transit, her children’s schools and appropriate childcare options; and, hopefully, in a location where she feels safe.
But that is still not all. Since she had joint bank accounts with her abusive partner and they drained the funds immediately after she left, she doesn’t have the cash to cover the damage deposit or the furniture she will need to purchase because she had to leave everything behind.
She could apply for social housing but the waitlists for units in her community would leave her and her children homeless in the meantime.
So, you ask “why did she go back?”
All this considered, it is likely she went back because there was nowhere else to go.
The above captures just a few of the multitude of barriers faced by women looking for housing after violence, but the experiences of women fleeing violence are diverse. The barriers in place are multiplied when various positionalities are heard, such as the experiences of disabled women, immigrant and refugee women and Indigenous women.
It is time for our governments to take real action to end the perpetuation of violence against women and take the steps to ensure that every woman and her children who have experienced violence has the ability to secure a permanent and safe home.
The amount of affordable and appropriate housing units for women and their children who have experienced violence must be increased, immediately. Women cannot wait. To learn more about what you can do in your community and a list of policy recommendations to decrease barriers to housing, please visit www.bcsth.ca/gettinghome.
Getting Home Final Report Launch:
Please join us for the launch of the Getting Home Project Final Report on Dec 2nd, 10 AM (PT) to find out more about the project’s successful partnerships across British Columbia and key research findings.
Register for the Report Launch: https://bcnpha.ca/events-learning/getting-home-project-final-report-launch/
The BC Society of Transition Houses (BCSTH) is a member-based, provincial umbrella organization that, through leadership, support and collaboration, enhances the continuum of services and strategies to respond to, prevent and end violence against women, children and youth. Started by BCSTH in 2018, the Getting Home Project is in partnership with BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Co-operative Housing Association of BC, BC Housing, and Vancity Community Foundation and made possible from funding by the Women and Gender Equality Canada.