'Extraordinary' number of homeless women in CBRM sparks call for shelter

A recent study found there are more women than men who are homeless in Cape Breton Regional Municipality, but there's no shelter for women.

2016 study found more homeless women than men, but there's no women's shelter

The cold weather has advocates in Cape Breton worried about the number of women without a place to live. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The number of women in Cape Breton without a place to live is worrying advocates who say the island needs a year-round women's shelter.

There is a homeless shelter for men in Sydney but it does not serve women, however the shelter does give women a referral to help them find emergency shelter elsewhere. 

A study by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in 2016 found there are more women than men who are homeless, but there's no shelter for them. 

"I don't think a lot of people here in Cape Breton are aware that there is a homeless situation for men, women and children, but there is and we really need to do something about it," said Christine Porter, who runs the Ally Centre of Cape Breton.

Christine Porter is director of the Ally Centre in Sydney, N.S. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Porter often sees women who are homeless, but her centre isn't open 24 hours. With no place to go at night, women can end up trading favours just so they have somewhere to crash, she said. 

"So that could be maybe sexual favours or providing them with their drug or something like that ... so it's not a safe place for them to be."

Violence and homelessness

Women who are homeless are therefore more likely to be victims of violence, said Helen Morrison, director of Transition House. Experiencing violence can also force them out of their homes and onto the street, she said. 

The Transition House has expanded its role to take in women who need emergency shelter, but Morrison said that is not the organization's primary mandate.

Every Woman's Centre in Sydney also provides emergency shelter for women, but that service is not funded by the province.

Helen Morrison, executive director of Transition House, says the number of women in CBRM who are homeless is "extraordinary." (Joan Weeks/CBC)

While homelessness in CBRM can appear hidden as people move from couch to couch, the 2016 study showed that 24 people were either sleeping outside or in a place not suitable for habitation.

The municipality surveyed a total of 137 people who identified as being homeless, and most were women, over the age 55 or Indigenous.

"The homeless population in this area of women is extraordinary," Morrison said. "And I think we have to look at that and why that is and how we can work from there."

Morrison said the community also needs more resources dedicated to solving the reasons for women's homelessness.

With files from Joan Weeks