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City spends thousands on hotel rooms because women's shelters are full

The city is spending thousands more year after year to put abused women and children in hotel rooms because there isn’t enough space for them in local shelters.

Last year, $112,000 spent on hotel rooms and food for maxed-out shelter system

The city is spending about $20,000 more every year to put people in hotel rooms. Last year, more than half of the cases were women and children fleeing abusive situations. (Shutterstock)

The city is spending thousands more year after year to put abused women and children in hotel rooms because there isn’t enough space for them in local shelters.

Taxpayers footed $112,000 for hotel rooms and food last year for people without homes because local shelters were maxed out. That's up nearly $20,000 from the year before.

The city also spends money on hotel rooms for families without housing and people displaced by fires. But increasingly, the cost is to cover women and children leaving violent situations, city data shows. Those accounted for more than half of the cases last year.

I wish I could give you an easy, straightforward answer.- Katherine Kalinowski, chair of the Women's Housing Planning Collaborative

“There’s little doubt that the demand is outstripping what's available in the community,” said Katherine Kalinowski, chair of the Women’s Housing Planning Collaborative.

“I would even call it a crisis without overstating."

City-funded hotel rooms for women’s shelter clients are used “if there is no space and we’ve exhausted all the possibilities we can think of,” Kalinowski said. That includes family and friends.

But when that fails, as it did in more than 80 cases last year, the city foots the bill for a temporary hotel room. And that's happening more every year.

In 2014, the city spent $112,000 on hotel rooms because there was no shelter space, said spokesperson Jen Recine. In 2013, the city spent $93,450 on hotel rooms, and in 2012, it cost taxpayers $73,880 for hotel rooms.

The number of rooms provided is increasing too. In 2014, there were 159 hotel placements, up from 84 in 2011.

In 2011, only 29 per cent were women and children who needed women’s shelters. Last year, it was 56 per cent.

No easy answer

The reasons for the increase are complicated and multifaceted, Kalinowski said. “I wish I could give you an easy, straightforward answer.”

If they had the shelter space and had money to do the proactive work necessary, they wouldn’t have to be putting people in hotel rooms.- Monique Taylor, MPP Hamilton Mountain

One factor, she said, is the lack of affordable housing in the city. The city’s waiting list for affordable housing currently sits at more than 5,000 people.

Fewer women might need shelters if they had more affordable options and better wages, said Renee Wetselaar, director of the Affordable Housing Flagship.

“For a lot of women, if there was some alternative for them around affordable housing, they would be able to make those choices,” she said.

The city doesn’t pay for hotel rooms for single men or women during cold alerts, Recine said. Shelters have extra beds to accommodate overflow.

Paid for with provincial homelessness funds

Families using the Good Shepherd Family Centre are also put in hotel rooms when space is full, accounting for 42 per cent of cases in 2014. People who have lost their homes from fire stay in hotel rooms too, Recine said, although the Red Cross pays for the first 72 hours.

The city pays for the rooms through Consolidated Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) funding, which is a funding envelope that’s provided by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The allocation is given to cover a range of services, including street outreach, emergency shelters and homelessness prevention programs. 

Monique Taylor, MPP for Hamilton Mountain, sees the increased reliance on hotel usage as a form of downloading to the city. The Ministry of Community and Social Services funds women’s shelters, but the money hasn't kept pace with demand, she said. 

“It’s putting it on the city to supply hotel rooms of these victims of violence,” she said. “Instead, the government should be putting more money toward funding the shelters and they’re not doing so. Instead, those funds have been declining.”

“If they had the shelter space and had money to do the proactive work necessary, they wouldn’t have to be putting people in hotel rooms.”

The ministry has increased funding for violence against women services by 51 per cent in 2013-14, for a total of $145 million for the province, spokesperson Kristen Tedesco said in an email. It spent $82 million, it says, on emergency shelter agencies to support 2,045 beds for abused women and children. 

Hamilton has received nearly $57 million for violence against women programs since 2003, she said.

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