Community groups sound alarm over lack of housing for domestic violence victims

Some advocates say the pandemic has put strain on an already fragile housing system.

Advocates say the pandemic has brought on a surge in demand

Gaëlle Fedida of l'Alliance MH2 speaks in Montreal Sunday about the lack of social housing and its effect on victims of domestic violence. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Social housing advocates and a provincial network of women's shelters are calling on the provincial government to give domestic violence survivors easier access to safe housing in Quebec. 

According to Gaëlle Fedida of the Alliance des maisons d'hébergement de 2e étape pour femmes et enfants victimes de violence conjugale (Alliance MH2), the province is currently dealing with a dangerous shortage of resources in its second-stage homes — shelters where women stay after they head to an emergency shelter but before they find permanent housing. 

She said the issue is even worse in western regions, including the Laurentians, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Mauricie and Lanaudière, and the consequences of this shortage can be deadly. 

"Second-state shelters are designed to prevent domestic violence and to prevent domestic homicides," Fedida said in a news conference Sunday.

"We know that this spring we will be overwhelmed by the demand and we won't be able to answer all the needs in sheltering the ladies. This is really a big big concern for us." 

The MH2 says it asked for an additional 106 additional units in its second-stage homes, but more than a year later, the government has yet to approve them.

"We're waiting for these units that we desperately need to speed up access to our services," said Fedida. 

On top of the current shortage of space, Alliance MH2 expects to see a surge in demand once the pandemic ends. 

In a Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale survey of women served by some of the province's women's shelters, 43.5 per cent of respondents said they were attacked more frequently during the province's COVID-19 lockdown last spring and 43 per cent said they did not ask for help because their partner was always home. 

Even with those units in place, social housing group Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) says only about 66 per cent of women who leave their second-stage homes manage to find affordable housing for themselves afterward. 

That's why the two groups are also calling on the province to fund the construction of 50,000 social housing units for women and children who survived domestic violence, over the next five years. 

"The needs are growing with the pandemic because the housing shortage is still going on and, as we've seen, women are more vulnerable," said Catherine Lussier of FRAPRU. 

With files from Josh Grant and La Presse canadienne