British Columbia

Support programs, housing make women safer when fleeing violence, say advocates

For many Metro Vancouver women escaping domestic abuse, the choice is homelessness or returning to their abuser. 

Offering supervised locations for ex-spouse to meet children can also reduce tensions

D.C. is one of many women in Metro Vancouver who left a violent domestic partner only to find herself without any affordable, stable housing. Advocates say emergency shelters are full, subsidized housing wait lists are long and market rents are too high for most single mothers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For many Metro Vancouver women escaping domestic abuse, the choice is homelessness or returning to their abuser. 

As the affordability crisis makes it harder for women to take their children and flee violence, advocates are calling for more housing across B.C.

They want more emergency shelters for women to stay in the first weeks after fleeing abuse, more subsidized housing and stricter rent controls — and are calling for all levels of government to bring Vancouver's housing market into line with the wages people are paid in Metro Vancouver. 

But beyond housing concerns, advocates are proposing several other ways to make women's lives safer and more affordable after they escape an abusive partner.

Community-based support

Tracy Porteous, who runs the Ending Violence Association of B.C., says her research has found 100 fatalities due to domestic violence in the province between 2010 and 2016.

"One of the things that is an astonishing discovery that we've made is that not one woman died who was a client of one of these community-based advocacy programs," said Porteous.

Porteous says there are 69 community-based advocacy programs across B.C. including justice system support programs, liaison services for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and mental health resources.

Still, that is not enough to keep up with the demand. She says B.C. needs more community workers and programs to walk women through the process of leaving a violent home. 

The housing affordability crisis is making it even harder for women to take their children and leave violence. (ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock)

Supervised custody drop-off and government child support

Porteous says after women with children leave an abusive partner, they need "supervised access visits."

Oftentimes mothers face conflicting orders from the authorities. For example, social workers say protect your children from violence at all costs, but family law courts say the abusive parent needs regular access to the kids. 

Lisa Rupert, director of housing services and violence prevention at the YWCA, says she is haunted by a story of a mother who was dragged into her ex's car when she was meeting him to hand their child over as part of a visitation arrangement. 

Rupert says there needs to be semi-public, supervised, safe places where a mother can drop off a child and then leave before the ex-spouse arrives to pick up the child.

This supervision, says Rupert, should be paid for by the government or organizations — not by women.

Furthermore, Rupert says, the government should assist with child support, as many women struggling to pay rent cannot always count on their former spouses to pay up. 

"I think we could go even further as a society and emulate some places in Europe where the government pays the child support, so that you know that you're getting it on a regular basis and then they try and recoup it from the non-custodial parent," she said. 

There were 100 domestic violence deaths in B.C. between 2010 and 2016, according to Tracy Porteous, who runs the Ending Violence Association of B.C. (Shutterstock)

Listen to the full story by The Early Edition story producer Jodie Martinson:

Story producer Jodie Martinson speaks with Stephen Quinn about the different options that could be available to women to help them leave dangerous situations. 7:17

Where to get help:

VictimLinkBC is a toll-free, confidential, multilingual telephone service available across B.C. and the Yukon 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-563-0808.

Service is provided in more than 110 languages, including 17 Indigenous languages.

VictimLinkBC is TTY accessible. Call TTY at 604-875-0885; to call collect, please call the Telus Relay Service at 711. Text to 604-836-6381. Email VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca

Safe Home is a CBC Vancouver series on domestic abuse and housing affordability. It can be heard on The Early Edition at 7:10 a.m. PT starting Nov. 12 as well as local morning radio shows across the province. You can also watch for coverage on CBC Vancouver News at 6 weekdays and read stories online at cbc.ca/bc. 

With files from The Early Edition

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