British Columbia

Survivor of domestic violence gets an affordable, safe home — but hundreds more are still waiting

Dawn C. was profiled in a CBC Vancouver story on the challenges survivors of domestic violence face when trying to find an affordable, safe home. After she sent the story to B.C. Housing, she got a call from the agency and now she and her daughter have a new home.

Dawn C. says she's angry that without CBC coverage of her story, B.C. Housing would likely not have called her

Dawn C. unpacks her daughter's room in their new home. ‘Now that how we’re going to eat isn’t my first priority, building just a comfortable life now can be the first priority,’ she says. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Earlier this month, CBC News told the story of a mother who had been waiting for about three years to get into safe, affordable housing after leaving her violent ex.

After the story aired, the woman — who CBC is calling Dawn C. (D.C.) to protect her child's identity —  emailed the story to B.C. Housing. 

Two days later, she got a call: D.C. and her four-year-old daughter were finally going to get a subsidized home they can afford.

D.C. was profiled in a CBC series about the struggles of women trying to find a safe and affordable home for themselves and their children after leaving domestic abuse. 

She said she felt angry when she realized that without CBC's coverage of her story, she would not have had a home by the end of the month. 

"When you line up nicely, and you wait nicely, you're waiting forever," she said. "I was able to reach out in the right way, and put my voice and send it out," she said. 

"Something's not right, and it's not fair." 

Hundreds others at risk of homelessness

Getting an advocate can be a game-changer for women leaving violence, says Angela Marie MacDougall, the executive director of Battered Women's Support Services.

She says the subsidized housing system does not seem fair.

"The whole housing crisis is the result of unfairness," MacDougall added. 

She said her organization responds to up to 1,800 calls a year from women with limited housing options, some of whom are considering returning to their abusers. About 200 women and children fleeing abuse are turned away from B.C. emergency shelters every night, she added.

Long-time housing advocate Judy Graves says there are so many people on the B.C. Housing registry in a state of emergency that it's difficult to decide who gets in first. 

"What you're playing at B.C. Housing is musical chairs," she said.  

Judy Graves, the City of Vancouver's former advocate for the homeless, says it is difficult to determine who gets housing first through B.C. Housing because so many applicants are in a state of emergency. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

CBC's requests for comment from B.C. Housing and B.C.'s Minister of Housing Selina Robinson were turned down. 

Robinson emailed a statement saying her government has pledged $730 million over 10 years to build 1,500 new safe and affordable spaces for women and children leaving violence. The ministry calls it "the first significant investment in 20 years."

'You can exhale'

When D.C.'s story aired, she was paying $1,700 a month for a two-bedroom basement apartment in East Vancouver with low ceilings, an old carpet and limited natural light. 

In her new place — a two-bedroom closer to downtown with high ceilings and larger windows — she will pay $510 from the social assistance she receives.

It all came together quickly, she says. 

A B.C. Housing worker showed her the apartment. She agreed to the move. Two weeks later, she's not unpacked, but all moved in. 

"It already feels like home," she said. 

On moving day, D.C. dropped off her daughter at daycare, and celebrated by buying herself a drink that wouldn't have fit into her old monthly budget. 

"I treated myself to the French vanilla cappuccino [at] Tim Hortons," she said. 

"You can exhale, you're in, the stuff is in, your baby's at school, you're safe, it's good."

Angela Marie MacDougall with Battered Women's Support Services says emergency shelters are full, subsidized housing wait lists are long, and market rents are too high for many single mothers. Many are forced to choose between returning to their abusers or joining the 'hidden homeless' — people who essentially couch surf to get by. (CBC)

'Start the next chapter'

On their first night in their new apartment, D.C. said she and her daughter lay in D.C.'s new bedroom. It's an average-sized room, but felt massive compared to their old place. 

She said they laughed when they realized their voices were echoing off the blank walls. It felt like a fresh start, D.C. said. 

As for the future, D.C says it's now time to focus on Christmas: "Just have a really good end of year for me and this little person, and start the next chapter."

To hear CBC story producer Jodie Martinson speaking with D.C. about her new home, tap the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition