British Columbia

Domestic abuse survivor says stable housing 'impossible' to find after moving out of transitional home

Jane, who fled domestic abuse with her children, says recent changes to local housing policies and a cutthroat housing market have made it "impossible" to find a place to live while on income assistance.

Victoria support centre says recent policy changes have worsened options for clients

The Cridge Centre for the Family in Victoria says the city's worsening housing shortage creates more barriers for women and children who've fled domestic abuse and are trying to find permanent homes. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

Jane says she and her children are packing their bags with nowhere to go. 

After more than three years living in a transitional home offered by The Cridge Centre for the Family in Victoria, their extended lease ends in two weeks.

Jane, whose real name CBC has agreed to withhold, says when she and her children fled an abusive relationship a few years ago to live with the centre, they were told the Capital Region Housing Corporation would put them into a stable, affordable place to live when their three years were up.

But last August a policy change at CRHC moved away from working directly with local organizations and now pools all candidates for affordable housing into one collective system.

Jane says it means she's been put on a wait list and is now battling to find other housing options while on income assistance. 

"Basically I just feel like I'm floating in thin air," said Jane. "I came here under the impression that we were going to have a place [to live] after we leave." 

'A more coordinated, transparent process,' says CRHC

Candace Stretch, the manager of supportive housing and family services at the Cridge Centre, says permanent housing has never been a guarantee. But for years the Cridge Centre has worked informally with the CRHC to find more immediate housing solutions for many of the centre's clients — mostly women and children fleeing domestic abuse. 

"Under the policies they had at the time … [the CRHC] was able to often offer women a unit," said Stretch.

The Cridge Centre says the worsening housing shortage has caused many of its clients to look into market housing, rather than supportive housing. Jane says market housing options in Victoria have all declined her applications because she's on income assistance. (Google Maps)

Don Elliot, senior manager for the Capital Region Housing Corporation, said its new coordinated access and assessment (CAA) system pulls together a "more fair, transparent, and consistent process" to find housing for vulnerable residents.

Residents apply through B.C. Housing's supportive housing registry, where a CAA placement committee then sifts through the pooled applications, he said.

'A tricky situation,' says support centre

Joanne Linka, the Cridge Centre's communications manager, said due to a housing crisis in Victoria families are told it can take up to three years — even with the help of support staff partnering with other local organizations — to find stable housing. They're also advised to fill out their B.C. Housing application immediately because the wait list is a few years long, even for residents at risk of homelessness.

Linka said residents are told that they should not become complacent, and that they need to be looking at all housing options. Residents' leases can be extended on an individual basis, if housing is impossible to find.

Stretch said more residents today are in Jane's position — unable to find proper housing between when their lease ends and when they're offered a home through the CRHC, and so the centre is now trying to help these residents "fill the gap."

Even so, it's a tricky situation for residents and staff because the centre's resources are limited, and with "hundreds of women waiting to get into [Cridge] housing, we really don't want there to be a ... backlog," especially when a resident's lease has been extended multiple times.

The most vulnerable must be prioritized, she said.

'Dropped back into an abusive situation'

Jane said she feels like she's been tossed back into an abusive situation, and said other families at the centre, many of whom are not white, are facing the same problems.

"It's not easy to be a black family just out on the streets trying to look for a house on income assistance," said Jane, who's the primary caregiver to her children, and hasn't been able to work.

She said after the Greater Victoria Housing Society declined to offer her a place to live, citing her unstable income, she contacted over 200 market housing options. They also turned her down.

 "I am literally out on the road, driving everywhere.... It's impossible to get back into the housing market after you've been living under an umbrella all this time," said Jane.

She says her children realize how sad and frustrated she is. 

"But I keep reassuring them … 'I'm sure it'll work out.' They're definitely not happy about it."

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