Quebec women's shelters call for increased funding ahead of budget

There is a shortage of beds in women's shelters across the country, but Quebec advocates say they need more money just to keep their doors open.

Amid bed shortage, shelters say they need more money just to keep doors open

Shield of Athena’s living room. They welcome immigrant women and children in situations of domestic violence. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC) (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

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.

Groups representing women's shelters in Quebec say they are in need of a long overdue funding increase, calling the current situation make or break.

The Quebec federation of women's shelters (FMHF) and the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale (RMFVVC), which represent 79 shelters across Quebec, are asking for $77 million in the 2020 provincial budget, which will be tabled Tuesday.

A CBC News analysis revealed 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.

In the majority of cases, people were refused because the shelter was full.

Those who run the province's shelters say they need more money just to keep their doors open.

"Shelter managers are not 'trimming the fat' anymore," said Manon Monastesse, head of the FMHF.

External services, such as legal aid, help with immigration and psychological support, were the first services to be cut, she explained.

Manon Monastesse says women's shelters are the last line of defence for victims of intimate partner violence. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Shelters are now having to shut down beds and cut back on awareness campaigns over worries they cannot meet the demand those campaigns create.

CBC Montreal went through the 2018-2019 annual reports of 16 of the province's regional health agencies, and found that first-stage shelters — which offer emergency accommodations and psychosocial support for women and their children — received an average amount of $48,400 per bed.

The average number of beds per first-stage shelter was 13.

The FMHF says $106,500 is a conservative estimate of what shelters should have been getting per bed that year. For the coming year, they estimate that shelters will need $113,575 to cover the same needs.

"If women are not in our shelters, they are in danger," Monastesse said.

"Last year, 200 women told us they had been victims of attempted murder. It comes down to this: what is a woman's life worth?"

How are shelters funded?

Funding for shelters comes from the Programme de soutien aux organismes communautaires (PSOC), a Ministry of Health and Social Services program that supports community organizations through subsidies. Regional health agencies are responsible for calculating and awarding the subsidies every year.

A 2017 report on the underfunding of women's shelters Quebec found that the current base funding calculations are incomplete and do not take into account growing needs and changing demographics.

Shield of Athena has been planning to build a second-stage shelter in Laval for the last 10 years. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

The last time the funding needs of women shelters were evaluated was 2004. The shelters asked for $60 million. They received $30 million over five years.

Individual shelters were given a base funding of $600,000 for 12 beds, and $10,000 was added or subtracted for every bed above or below that number.

Funding is subject to yearly indexation. Until they were harmonized provincewide in 2018, each regional agency was free to set its own rate, leading to inequalities.

Historically, indexation rates for funding received by any of Quebec's community organizations were derived from the consumer price index, which does not take into account operating costs.

From 2012 to 2017, the average rate was 1.5 per cent, according to information from the umbrella group La Table des regroupements provinciaux communautaires et bénévoles.

The Quebec government uses a rate much higher than the consumer price index to increase its own operating budget.

After looking at government spending, the group calculated its members' budgets should be increased by 3.25 per cent every year.

A need for somewhere else to go

People usually stay in a first-stage shelter for anywhere from one to three months. After that, eight per cent of those residents generally need long-term, secure accommodations and other help because they are deemed to be in continued danger.

That's where second-stage shelters, which are secured studios or apartments, come in.

According to the Alliance des maisons de 2ième étape, a group that represents second-stage shelters, 65 per cent of requests to those shelters cannot currently be filled.

That means women sometimes have nowhere to go, and end up going back to their abusers.

Seven out of 16 regions across Quebec do not have a second-stage shelter. Requests and references to second-stage shelters must go through first-stage shelters, and the unavailability of units creates a backlog.

Second-stage shelters in Quebec only started getting direct government funding — $27,000 per unit — two years ago, as part of the 2018-2023 government action plan on domestic violence.

The funding, which comes directly from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, will stop when the action plan ends.

Gaëlle Fedida is the coordinator of Quebec’s Alliance des maisons de 2e étape. (Submitted by Gaëlle Fedida)

It takes years of jumping through hoops to get a second-stage shelter built, said Gaëlle Fedida, coordinator of the alliance.

She explained that shelter directors are bounced from one government ministry to another, trying to secure funding to build and operate future shelters. But if the planned opening date for the shelter is after the action plan ends, they're told funding commitments can't be made.

Two second-stage shelters are currently being built and three are awaiting approval. All together, those projects would represent a 70 per cent rise in the number of units available across the province.

Isabelle Charest, Quebec's minister for the status of women, has been meeting with representatives from women's shelters in the past months.

When reached for comment, her office issued a statement saying she is working with other ministries to come up with solutions, and that announcements will be coming soon.

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


Marie-Hélène Hétu is a CBC journalist based in Montreal. She has worked for the CBC's Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada's Enquête.

With files from Tara Carman and Sarah Leavitt