Researchers this week recommended the construction of 16 “second-stage” housing units for women fleeing abusive relationships in Squamish and perhaps 16 more in Whistler, Pemberton and Mount Currie combined.
Supported, “second-stage” units — in which women could live for up to two years — would give women time to escape abusive situations while accessing the supports they need to build a new life for themselves and their children, researchers Margaret Forbes and Louise Godard told attendees at a workshop at the Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co. on Tuesday (Oct. 30).
The workshop was organized by the Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society (HSWC), which in September 2011 hired the pair to conduct a housing needs assessment specifically focusing on the needs of women fleeing domestic abuse. The centre paid for the study with a grant from Status of Women Canada.
Since then, Forbes and Godard have participated in focus groups with at least 35 corridor women, surveyed 50 victims and providers of needed social services and interviewed 41 others.
Forty-six per cent of the study participants who have experienced abuse were from Squamish and 42 per cent lived in Mount Currie. Significantly, 65.9 per cent of the victims who participated had incomes below the poverty line — or less than $20,000 a year.
While there are certainly male victims of domestic abuse, 90 per cent are women and for a variety of societal reasons, “women are far more likely to be affected by poverty and housing affordability issues,” Forbes told the group of about 40 attendees.
The pair detailed a number of challenges faced by women fleeing abuse, including a “palpable fear” of getting involved with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) at least partly because it might result in the forced separation of mother and child(ren), Godard said. That was especially true among First Nations women, she said.
The high cost of living in the corridor, geographic isolation (especially in the Lower Lillooet Lake communities) and concerns about navigating through the layers of bureaucracy to get assistance are also some of the challenges faced by victims during an already-difficult period in their lives, Forbes said.
Participants from Mount Currie and the Lower Lillooet Lake communities also identified a strong desire for a First Nations-specific, community-led solution, Forbes said. To that end, Godard said the pair last month made a presentation to the Lil’wat Nation Chief Lucinda Phillips and her council, which established a steering committee to examine the issue, she said.
“We see opportunities to partner with the Squamish Nation as well,” said Shannon Cooley-Herdman, HSWC housing programs manager.
Existing emergency transition houses in Squamish and Whistler are available to women for up to 30 days, while the women’s safe home in Pemberton is only available for up to 10 days, the researchers said. Given all the challenges, without “second-stage” housing, homelessness — which might include having to live with friends or relatives for a time — is a realistic possibility for many, Godard said.
While Godard and Forbes recommended 16 units in Squamish, they did not provide a specific number for areas to the north. Cooley-Herdman said she suspects another 16 would be needed in the Whistler and Pemberton-Mount Currie areas.
Godard said that in spite of the affordable housing options currently available in the corridor, “purpose-built” complexes are needed because they provide a supportive, self-sustaining community that best allows women to pull their lives back together. Co-op housing was the model preferred by study participants, she said.
In addition to physical housing units, “portable” rental subsidies are also being recommended as a way for women to access market housing.
Both Godard and Cooley-Herdman admitted that the HSWC will need the help of government and other community non-profit groups to make “second-stage” transitional housing a reality.
“No one organization can accomplish the recommendations alone, so we’re highlighting the need for advocacy and community partnerships to accomplish these goals,” Godard said.