Kitchener-Waterloo

Housing crisis forcing domestic violence victims to stay longer in shelters

Women fleeing domestic violence in southwestern Ontario are staying longer and longer in what are supposed to be temporary shelters. A tight housing market has left them with few options of where to go next.

Length of stays on the rise in Guelph, Waterloo region

A glance inside one of the rooms at the Haven House shelter, run by Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. The shelter is among others in southwestern Ontario reporting longer wait times caused by a tight rental market. (Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region)

This story is part of Stopping Domestic Violence, a CBC News series looking at the crisis of intimate partner violence in Canada and what can be done to end it. 


Women fleeing domestic violence in southwestern Ontario are staying longer and longer in what are supposed to be temporary shelters. A tight housing market has left them with few options.

Women's shelters in Waterloo region and Guelph report that the average time women are staying has been on a steady increase — in one case more than doubling in just a few years.  

At Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, the average length of stay has gone from about 6.5 weeks during the 2017-2018 fiscal year to about 9.5 weeks in the current fiscal year.

At Marianne's Place, a shelter run by Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis, the average length of stay went from 5.5 weeks in 2017, to 12 weeks in 2019.  

"People used to be able to find a place easily … and now it's months and months of looking, and they're getting turned down or not hearing back," said Christine Wilson, residential programs manager at Marianne's Place.

Christine Wilson is residential programs manager at Marianne's Place. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Wilson said some people leaving abusive relationships may have also dealt with financial abuse. In some cases they may not even have a credit history, she said.

Sharing these details with a landlord, Wilson said, can yield mixed results.

"Some people will be sympathetic to it and want to help, and other times it will just bring out their fear, as if something will happen to them if they rent to that person," she said.

"For somebody who is in a shelter, trying to find a place … there's just a lot of presumption about what that may mean."

'I just want to settle'

Terice Jules began staying at a local shelter since December and is on a waitlist for community housing.

In the meantime, Jules has also been going to multiple viewings each day, trying to find an affordable place for herself and her children.

"I'm hoping … [to] maybe finding somebody that's willing to take me on as a tenant," she said.

"I just really want to settle and get my kids on the right track."

Priority access to housing

Survivors of both domestic violence and human trafficking do have priority access to community housing units.

But Ryan Pettipiere, director of housing services for the region of Waterloo, says the demand for community housing is so great that everyone is waiting longer — even those with that status.

"As fewer people are able to move into community housing that backs things up," he said.

"When you zero in on a particular demographic, like individuals that are fleeing domestic violence or human trafficking, it also has an impact on those specific populations as well, which is really unfortunate."

Pettipiere said a few years ago, people with priority status would be looking at an average wait time of about two to three months for housing. Nowadays, the average wait time is more like five or six months.

Lori Richer, housing stability manager for Wellington County housing services, said those with priority status in her community are also looking at an average wait time of about six months.

She noted this is still a far shorter wait time than what people without priority status can expect: a wait time that can span three to six years.

Possible solutions

In 2017, the province piloted a portable housing benefit program that offered financial assistance to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.

According to the province, over 1,400 households across Ontario have been approved to receive monthly assistance through the program.

The benefit has since been made permanent and will be folded into the new Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit, which will begin in April 2020.

Those who work in shelters and in affordable housing say that beyond subsidies, more housing stock is simply needed.

CBC reached out to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to ask what investments in affordable housing will be made in the upcoming budget.

A spokesperson said no details will be released until the budget is made public on March 25.

In the meantime, Jules said she hopes to find a place for her family as soon as possible.

"It would mean the world," she said.  

Survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking do have special priority status on wait lists for community housing, and access to a portable housing benefit. But advocates say more housing stock is needed. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area click here.

To read all the stories in CBC's Stopping Domestic Violence series, visit cbc.ca/stoppingdomesticviolence

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