Monday, January 30, 2023

More than 10,000 women turned away from Alberta shelters lacking capacity in last year

Women’s shelters across Alberta turned away more than 10,000 requests for admission in 2021/2022, according to new data from the Alberta Council on Women’s Shelters (ACWS). A report released this week found shelters received 65,390 calls seeking support between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022.

Of those calls, 25,530 were seeking admission and only 16.6 per cent of callers were admitted — 11,546 were turned away because shelters were at capacity; this includes  6,421 children who would have accompanied clients. 

“Our members are under extreme strain due to chronic underfunding and they are struggling to meet the level of need in their communities. I don’t want this fact, which in itself deeply troubling,  to prevent anyone who needs help from reaching out,” said Jan Reimer, executive director of ACWS. “The reality is that the sheltering sector in Alberta is experiencing a compounding of pressure on their operations.”

She pointed out that some shelters are considering closing their unfunded beds, despite being at capacity each night. “Some shelters don’t receive government funding at all,” she said. “I am using this platform to call upon governments at all levels to listen and to implement the changes we have been asking for for years and in some cases decade, to keep women and children alive and safe from harm.”

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Women’s shelters use a voluntary danger assessment to determine risks to a victim and help them make decision about their safety. The report compiled data from those who completed the assessment and found 72 per cent of survivors were at severe or extreme risk of being killed by their partner or ex -partner. In transitional housing, this number rises to 85 per cent.

“This points to the fact that leaving isn’t a simple thing and that danger doesn’t end once a woman leaves the relationship.” Reimer said. “The danger is real, the need for support is urgent and when a woman phones the shelter, potentially fearful, for her life, what happens when she is told they don’t have any room that day?”  She added shelters will do all they can to assist the person, but there is a gap in the level of need and what shelters are resourced to provide.

Reimer called on Albertans to donate to shelters when they can and added it is important to make all levels of government see that change is needed. “We need to let them know that it is not acceptable for these circumstances to persist,” Reimer said. “They need to address the skimpy shelter wages for sure — the staffing model is antiquated and they need to address the operating cost immediately. This is a significant challenge for our members across the province.”

Reimer said she believes shelters can expect an increase in domestic violence and abuse as shelters return to pre-pandemic admission levels. She added the lack of capacity at shelters was one thing from the data that stood out and it has not been addressed for many years.

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