Housing Needs of Indigenous Women Leaving Intimate Partner Violence in Northern Communities

The problems of intimate partner violence and housing insecurity are independent issues and each worthy of discussion on their own. However, for women in northern communities these issues are often co-occurring. Violence is a major contributor to women experiencing homelessness, but the threat of homelessness can be an ever-present concern in a place where access to housing is, in its own right, a challenge. Understanding the problem of intimate partner violence in the Canadian North requires, as stated by Moffitt, Fikowski, Mauricio and Mackenzie (2013), that the problem be explored in context of the “unique geographic, economic, political and cultural features” of women’s experiences in these communities (p. 2). Understanding housing in the North likely requires consideration of these same factors. The affordability and availability of housing in the Canadian North is unto itself and this issue takes on greater meaning when the lack of housing options becomes a barrier to dealing with intimate partner violence. That these issues are impacted by gender makes them even more troubling.

Though few studies have explored intimate partner violence in the specific northern context, those that do highlight the high prevalence of intimate partner violence in rural locations (Peek-Asa et al., 2011; Wuerch et al., 2016). An American study found that both frequency and severity of physical intimate partner violence grew with increasing rurality (Peek-Asa, 2011). In Canada, women in rural and northern locations experience more instances of physical violence, more severe physical violence and higher rates of psychological abuse, and are at greater risk for intimate partner homicide (RESOLVE Alberta, 2015; Wuerch et al., 2016). Locating Indigenous women, who are at greater risk for intimate partner violence than non-Indigenous women, in this context requires a further understanding of the social injustices and cultural oppression faced by Indigenous people (Daoud et al., 2013; Moffitt et al., 2013; Oelke, Thurston & Turner, 2016; Wuerch et al., 2016). Beyond facing high rates of violence there are likely additional barriers to accessing services in these rural and northern locations. Unfortunately, the research does not go much further than identifying intimate partner violence as a serious issue in the North and further research is needed to understand women’s needs and the effectiveness of services in these areas (Wuerch et al., 2016).

Literature on the pathways women take into homelessness describes a diversity of experiences but the common thread of intimate partner violence runs throughout. Intimate partner violence is characteristic of many women’s experiences (Fotheringham, Walsh & Burrowes, 2014; Mayock, Sheridan, & Parker, 2015; Menard, 2001; Sullivan, Bomsta, & Hacskaylo, 2016; Tutty et al., 2014, YWCA Canada, 2013) and is a major facet of the gendered dynamics of homelessness. Including gender in the discussion on homelessness brings to light the unique and numerous challenges women face when leaving abusive relationships. There is no single way of accessing resources (Coy et al., 2011) and women are dealing with their own individual histories in addition to intimate partner violence (Wendt & Baker, 2013). Many of these issues are compounded for women who reside in rural and northern communities, and the legacy of colonization has further impacted Indigenous women (Moffitt et al., 2013).

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