New funding for Quebec women's shelters a 'welcome beginning,' but far from sufficient, groups say
Women's shelters groups got a third of what they asked for in Tuesday's 2020 budget
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.
Amid growing concern about a bed shortage that has resulted in hundreds of women and children being turned away, Quebec women's shelters had pressed for increased funding from the provincial government.
They asked for an additional $77 million annually. In Tuesday's budget, they got $24 million a year until 2025.
"Of course, it's not what we asked for — it's less than what we asked for — but it's a very good beginning," said Manon Monastesse, the executive director of the Quebec federation of women's shelters.
"It's going to stabilize the situation. We can start hiring. If we can put different social workers on external services, we'll be able to react faster and more accurately [in our emergency shelters]," she said.
In the provincial budget tabled Tuesday, the Coalition Avenir Québec government promised $181 million over five years for victims of domestic violence. Of that, $120 million will go to shelters' operations and an additional $6 million will be dedicated to improving and renovating their facilities.
The groups say they have developed a good relationship with the government and will give input on how the funds should be divvied up.
"Now, we have to negotiate, because it's more than 130 shelters in Quebec that are in that money pot," Monastesse said. "Now, we are part of the discussion."
Critical needs, critical funding
A national CBC News analysis reveals that in November 2019, an average of 620 women and children a day were turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada. That month, 120 women and children were turned away in Montreal, 30 in Laval and 20 in Quebec City.
Melpa Kamateros, executive director of Shield of Athena, an independent shelter for immigrant women and children in situations of domestic violence, said she has been trying for years to get increased funding for new rooms.
But every new bed means more services which require expenses they currently cannot afford, such as psychosocial support and legal aid.
"You can't put a woman in a shelter and not work with her," she said.
According to experts, help for children who come to shelters with their mothers is a crucial issue. There are no funds set aside for this purpose in Tuesday's budget.
"We need to take into account what it means to be a child exposed to violence, to have witnessed that violence which will possibly affect you throughout your whole life," said Kamateros. "I do hope that some money will be directed in that area as well."
Long-term, secure housing a priority
"Second-stage shelters are the single-most important resource for women to access after their stay at an emergency shelter," said Kamateros.
Her organization has been working on establishing their own second-stage shelter for 10 years.
Four more are in the works and could benefit from the new funding, according to Gaëlle Fedida, co-ordinator of the Alliance des maisons de 2e étape. However, it is unclear how big a piece of the pie second-stage shelters will get.
The $6 million is dedicated to renovating aging facilities and making some of the 420 units accessible to seniors as well as disabled women and children, an amount the groups say is not enough.
A total of $14,300 per unit can not realistically cover those expenses, said Gaëlle Fedida.
But the government's commitment to extend the funding to 2025 could mean approvals for the 98 units the Alliance has been planning for months.
Seven out of 16 regions across Quebec do not have a second-stage shelter. Requests and references must go through first-stage shelters, and the unavailability of units creates a backlog.
Additional complementary measures
"We are happy to see there is money for more than shelters. They are a necessity. But we need training for all professionals. We need co-ordination," said Louise Riendeau, the spokesperson for the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale, an association of Quebec women's shelters
Special representatives will be appointed to all regional health authorities to improve coordination and crisis cells will be put in place to prevent intimate partner homicides.
A total of $17.4 million will be allotted over four years to support the mandate of the minister responsible for the status of women.
Another $17.4 million over five years will go to ministries partnering in the fight against domestic violence.
"It took a long time for this increase and it's very, very welcome," said Kamateros.
To read all the stories in CBC's Stopping Domestic Violence series, visit cbc.ca/stoppingdomesticviolence
With files from Tara Carman, Lauren McCallum and Sarah Leavitt