As temperatures drop, the city of Hamilton is spending nearly $250,000 to provide 10 more beds to accommodate an increasing number of homeless women.

The city will spend $99,075 to temporarily boost the number of beds at Mary’s Place from 20 to 30 for the winter. It will also spend $152,815 to hire three more workers to help single homeless women find housing.

It’s welcome news in a community so lacking women’s shelter beds that 98 women were turned away in October, said Renee Wetselaar with the Social Planning and Research Council.

The money will provide more beds at the Good Shepherd Centre shelter on King Street East from Dec. 1 to May 31. It’s not that Hamilton has a sudden influx of homeless women, Wetselaar said. It’s that when shelter beds are earmarked for women, they feel more comfortable seeking help.

“What we’re finding is that once you put a flag up that says ‘women here,’ they’ll come,” she said.

Female homelessness by the numbers

254: Total number of Supporting Our Sisters clients since March 2012

42: Average age of SOS clients

36: Percentage of SOS clients with children under 18, but their children aren't living with them because of homelessness and related issues

87: Number of children separated from their mothers

17: Percentage of SOS clients who identify as Aboriginal

4: Percentage of SOS clients who identify as transgender

Source: Supporting Our Sisters

There’s been an overflow of homeless women seeking shelter beds for about three years, said Gillian Hendry, city housing director, in a report to the emergency and community services committee Monday.

The demand for shelter beds for single women has increased province-wide, she said. From 2011 to 2012, the number of times shelters used overflow beds for single homeless women increased from 107 to 199 times, she said.

So far in 2013, shelter workers have used overflow beds 791 times.

Should be a province-wide program

The $99,075 will include buying the beds and bedding (at $2,300 each), setting up the space, occupancy costs such as food and paying for the full-time equivalent of one and a half case managers and one shelter assistant.

The $152,815 will fund two case management and one housing support worker through the Supporting Our Sisters program, which helps homeless women transition into housing.

As the snow flies, other agencies have stepped in to help ease the shortage. WomanKind, an addiction treatment program for women, has made six shelter beds and two overflow beds available for single homeless women. The city also purchases overflow beds from women’s shelters when available.

Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 voted for the funding increase. But this should be a provincial responsibility so every city has the same level of service, he said.

“It should be a universal program,” he said. “You shouldn’t have one municipality standing out providing superior services to another. It should be a level playing field.”

Money spent on female homelessness

More than a million in government money has gone into homelessness and woman in the last two years. In 2012,  the federal government and the city invested $495,256 through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy to help staff Honouring the Circle through the Native Women’s Centre. That program provides transitional housing for homeless women and their children.

The strategy also funded Good Shepherd Centres $810,540 in 2013 in conjunction with four other agencies for the two-year Supporting Our Sisters program.

The city also gave Mary’s Place $133,6000 for more shelter workers to assist with the overflow of women, and to increase the number of beds by three.

The city gave the YWCA $250,000 for its Transitional Living Program, although that money will likely be cut in 2015 because of provincial cutbacks to the city.

The most recent money will come from a social services reserve. 

The problem of woman homelessness could be alleviated or even solved if Hamilton had enough affordable housing, Wetselaar said.

Also at Monday's meeting, the city funded to continue to fund its affordable transit pass program for low-income residents until the end of 2014 at a cost of $304,350.