Shelters for abused women in Canada, 2012

By Benjamin Mazowita and Marta Burczycka

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Women experiencing violent victimization often rely on social services that exist outside of the formal criminal justice system (Sinha 2013). In Canada, referrals to residential services and emergency shelters are among the most common referrals made by victim service providers (Munch 2012). Using data from the 2012 Transition Home Survey, this Juristat Bulletin presents the most up-to-date information on shelters for abused women in Canada.1

The Transition Home Survey (THS) was developed under the federal government's Family Violence Initiative in consultation with provincial and territorial governments and transition home associations.2 The objective of the THS is to collect data that will provide a profile of residential services for abused women and their children during the previous 12 months, as well as provide information on the clientele being served.

The information presented in this article refers to two distinct time periods. First, data pertaining to the characteristics of facilities, the number of annual admissions, and the types of services offered were collected in 2012 and are based upon a 12-month period that preceded the survey.3 Second, information on the women being served in shelters was collected on a specific “snapshot date” (April 18, 2012).

Most women seeking shelter turn to transition homes and emergency shelters

On April 18, 2012, the THS identified 601 shelters for abused women operating across Canada (Table 1).4 Of these facilities, 369 (61%) indicated that they solely serve a population centre, defined for the purposes of the THS as an area with a population of 1,000 or more people. A further 173 shelters (29%) reported that they serve both population centres and rural populations, while 41 shelters (7%) indicated that they provide services specifically to rural populations.5

There are various types of shelters available to women who have experienced abuse in Canada (Text box 1). Of the women admitted to shelter facilities in 2011/2012, half of admissions were to transition home facilities (50%) which offer short or moderate-term secure housing. An additional 44% of admissions were to emergency type facilities - emergency shelters and women’s emergency shelters - which typically offer temporary short-term accommodations. A further 3% of admissions were to second-stage housing facilities, which offer long-term secure housing. The remaining 3% of admissions were to safe home networks, interim housing (Manitoba only), family resource centres (Ontario only), and all other residential facilities offering services to abused women (Table 2).

The total number of available beds in shelters for abused women as of April 18, 2012 was 11,820, an average of 20 licensed beds per shelter. The majority of these beds were occupied on the snapshot date: among facilities that only admit women and children, approximately 71% of funded and licensed beds were occupied.6

Text box 1
Types of residential facilities for abused women

For the purposes of the Transition Home Survey (THS), the term 'shelter' is used broadly to refer to all residential facilities for abused women. In addition, the following generic categories were developed to further define the various types of shelters. Referring to these definitions, those responding to the THS were asked to select the facility type that best described their shelter.

Transition home/shelter: Facility offering short- or moderate-term (1 day to 11 weeks) secure housing for abused women with or without children. This type of shelter may also be referred to as first-stage emergency housing.

Second-stage housing: Facility offering long-term (3 to 12 months) secure housing with support and referral services designed to assist women while they search for permanent housing.

Women's emergency centre/shelter: Facility offering short-term (1 to 21 days) respite for women and their dependent children.

Emergency shelter: Facility offering short-term (1 to 3 days) respite for a wide population range, not exclusively abused women. Some facilities may provide accommodation for men as well as women. This type of facility may accommodate residents who are not associated with family abuse but are without a home due to an emergency situation (e.g., eviction for non-payment of rent).

Safe home network: A network of private homes in rural or remote areas where there is no full-fledged operating shelter. It offers subsidiary short-term (1 to 3 days) emergency housing for women.

Other: Includes all other residential facilities offering services to abused women with or without children, not otherwise classified.

End of text box.

Most shelters in Canada offer a standard range of services for women. In 2011/2012 the most common services provided by shelter facilities were safety and protection planning (91%), advocacy on behalf of women (90%), transportation services (87%), individual short-term counselling (87%), and housing referrals (85%).  

Many shelters in Canada offer culturally sensitive services that accommodate the diverse needs of Aboriginal women and children. For example, these services may recognize traditional healing methods and Aboriginal cultural norms and beliefs. In 2012, 66% of shelters responding to the THS reported offering culturally sensitive services for Aboriginal women, while 52% reported offering culturally sensitive services for Aboriginal children. Further, 19% of shelters in Canada offered services in at least one aboriginal language, most commonly Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut.

In 2011/2012, shelters across Canada reported 62,594 admissions of women, representing a rate of 424 admissions per 100,000 women 15 and older.7 The rate of admissions tended to be higher in the Territories and the western provinces. Manitoba had the highest rate of admissions among the provinces (771 admissions per 100,000 women) while Nova Scotia reported the lowest (184 admissions per 100,000 women).8

One in three women residents had sought shelter at the facility before

On the April 18, 2012 survey snapshot date, there were 8,136 women and children staying in shelters across Canada for reasons of abuse and otherwise. Of these residents, 4,566 were women (56%) and 3,570 (44%) were their dependent children.

The largest proportions of women and children residing in shelter facilities on the snapshot date were staying at transition homes (34%), second-stage housing (25%), emergency shelters (22%) and women’s emergency shelters (13%). The remaining 5% were staying at other types of facilities such as safe home networks and interim housing.  

The most common referral sources for women in shelters on the snapshot date included other transition homes (13%), other community agencies (13%), and family or friends (8%). About one in three women (34%) reported not having been referred to the shelter.

Approximately one-third (33%) of all women residing in a shelter in Canada on April 18, 2012 had stayed at that shelter before. Of these women, 633 (42%) had stayed at the same shelter one time previously in the past 12 months, 333 (22%) had stayed there two to four times previously in the past 12 months, and 176 (12%) had stayed at the same shelter five or more times during the previous 12 months. A further 319 women (21%) had stayed at the same shelter before but it had been more than 12 months since their last stay, while 39 women (3%) had stayed at the same shelter in the past 12 months for an unknown number of times.

The highest rate of re-admissions was reported by emergency shelter facilities, where almost half (49%) of snapshot date residents had stayed at the shelter before. Conversely, 18% of the women residing in second-stage housing facilities on the snapshot date reported a previous stay at the shelter (Chart 1).

Chart 1

Description for chart 1

Most women seek shelter for reasons of abuse

Of the women residing in shelters on April 18, 2012, 3,389 or 74% were there primarily because of abuse.9 This represents a rate of 23 women per 100,000 women aged 15 and older in Canada.

The THS asked shelters to provide information on all the reasons women sought shelter at their facility. On average, each woman reported five different reasons for seeking admission to a shelter (Table 3). Emotional abuse (68%) and physical abuse (52%) were the most common reasons women sought shelter on April 18, 2012. Many women in shelters on the snapshot date also cited threats (42%), financial abuse (37%), harassment (31%), and sexual abuse (23%) among their reasons for seeking shelter.

Protecting children from abuse or witnessing abuse was also a common reason women sought shelter: 27% of women identified wanting to protect their children from witnessing abuse as among their reasons for admission, while 23% of women identified wanting to protect their children from psychological abuse as a reason for seeking shelter.

Other reasons for admission identified by women staying at shelters on the snapshot date included being unable to find affordable housing (35%), mental health issues (24%), short-term housing problems (22%), drug or alcohol addiction (19%), and housing emergencies (12%).

The majority of women residing in transition homes, second-stage housing, and women’s emergency shelters cited abuse as their primary reason for seeking shelter. Emergency shelters and other shelter facilities reported similar proportions of women seeking shelter for reasons of abuse and for reasons other than abuse (Chart 2).

Chart 2

Description for chart 2

Abuse by current intimate partners prevalent among women in shelters

Of the 3,389 women reporting abuse as their primary reason for seeking shelter on April 18, 2012, the majority (68%) identified a current intimate partner as their abuser. A further 17% indicated their abuser was a former intimate partner.10 The remainder of abused women (15%) reported abuse from other types of relationships, such as family members, friends, and acquaintances (Chart 3).

Chart 3

Description for chart 3

A total of 2,416 women in shelters on April 18, 2012 identified their abuser as a current or former spouse or common law partner, representing a rate of 25 women per 100,000 married, common-law and separated or divorced women (Table 4).

The largest proportion of women seeking shelter primarily because of abuse on the snapshot date identified their abuser as a current common-law partner (38%). This finding is in line with self-reported victimization data showing that Canadians living in common-law relationships are approximately three times more likely than their married counterparts to report having experienced spousal violence (Brennan 2011).

The majority (78%) of women residing in shelters for reasons of abuse were under the age of 45. Among women residing in shelters for reasons of abuse, the largest proportions were aged 25 to 34 (34%) and women 35 to 44 (26%). Women under the age of 25 represented 18% of residents and women aged 45 to 54 equated to 15% of residents. The remaining 7% were women aged 55 or older. These findings are consistent with victimization data that indicates that younger women are most at risk of police-reported violence, with rates of violence decreasing with increasing age (Sinha 2013). 

Of the women who sought shelter primarily because of abuse on April 18, 2012, just over half (53%) were admitted with their children. A further 27% of women in shelters did not have children or parenting responsibilities, while 19% came to the shelter facility without their children.

Shelters responding to the THS indicated that the abusive situations which cause women to seek shelter are often not reported to police: considering the most recent abusive situation, 46% of incidents were not brought to the attention of police. Conversely, about one in three (32%) incidents were brought to the attention of police, while for 22% of women it was not known if the incident was brought to the attention of police. Findings from the General Social Survey of Victimization also indicate that a minority of incidents of spousal violence come to the attention of police, with less than one-third of female victims of spousal violence stating that the police found out about the incident (Sinha 2013).

Full capacity most common reason for turning women and children away

The THS asked shelters to provide information regarding how many women and children departed their facility on the snapshot date and on how many women and children were turned away from shelters.

On April 18, 2012, 86 women and 27 accompanying children departed shelters in Canada. Of these 86 women, 13% reported that they were returning to their spouse or common law partner. Approximately one in five women (22%) indicated they were departing to new accommodations without their spouse or common law partner, while 15% specified they were departing to live with friends or relatives. A further 15% reported that they were departing to another shelter or residential service. For 14 of the 86 women (16%) it was unknown where they were going upon departure.

On the snapshot date, 379 women and 215 accompanying children were turned away from shelters in Canada. The shelter being full was cited as the most common reason for turning away women and children, accounting for more than half (56%) of all reasons for turn-aways. Other reasons included alcohol and drug issues (6%), the women being on a non-admit or caution list (6%), and mental health issues (5%).

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Number of shelters, beds, and women and children residents, Canada, provinces and territories, April 18, 2012

Table 2 Annual number of admissions of women to shelters, by type of shelter, Canada, provinces and territories, 2011/2012

Table 3 Women's reasons for seeking shelter, Canada, April 18, 2012

Table 4 Women in shelters because of abuse by a current or former spouse or common-law partner, Canada, provinces and territories, April 18, 2012

References

Brennan, Shannon. 2011. “Self-reported spousal violence, 2009.Family Violence in Canada: a Statistical Profile. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224-XWE.

Munch, Christopher. 2012. “Victim services in Canada, 2009/2010.Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Sinha, Maire. 2013. “Measuring violence against women: Statistical Trends.Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Notes

  1. The scope of the Transition Home Survey is limited to those facilities that come to the attention of Statistics Canada through its consultations with provincial and territorial governments, transition home associations and other associations. See Text box 1 for a description of the shelter types surveyed. Of the 601 residential facilities providing services to abused women and their children, 528 returned their questionnaire for a response rate of 88%. For those respondents who did not provide their information through the questionnaire, and for those respondents who did not answer some of the key questions on their survey forms, an imputation procedure was used to estimate the missing data. In rare cases, where appropriate, respondents could have data from their previous year’s questionnaire carried forward. For the purposes of the THS children are defined as being under 18 and accompanied by a parent or caregiver. A systematic respondent error in the reporting of annual admissions was detected during the processing of 2011-2012 data. As a result, data collected prior to the 2011-2012 survey year are no longer available. For this reason, no trend analysis is included in this report.
  2. The Family Violence Initiative is a horizontal collaboration of 15 federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations. For more information see www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fund-fina/cj-jp/fv-vf.html
  3. Shelters were asked to provide 12 months of data corresponding to a standard fiscal year (April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012), a calendar year, or a 12 month period of their own choosing. In 2011/2012, 89% of shelters responding to the survey reported their annual information based on a standard fiscal year.
  4. The Transition Home Survey is designed to collect information pertaining to residential services for abused women. Though a minority of the facilities responding to the survey offer services to men as well as to women, the focus of this report is on the women who utilize these services. Among the 601 shelters that offered services to abused women in 2011/2012, 43 or 7% have policy allowing the admission of adult men, usually to emergency shelters or safe home networks.
  5. Although the Transition Home survey does not collect information on the Aboriginal identity of women staying at shelters, it does ask facilities to indicate whether or not the facility is located on a reserve or serves an on-reserve population. In 2012, approximately one quarter of all shelters (26%) indicated that they provide services to an on-reserve population. A total of 44 shelters were located on a reserve, while 18 (3%) exclusively served an on-reserve population.
  6. The availability of space within shelters can be measured through the concept of bed space. Facilities responding to the Transition Home Survey provide a count of the funded and licensed beds they have for clients (whether or not a bed is currently occupied). Respondents are asked to exclude unfunded and unlicensed emergency beds, such as cots or sofas. The total number of beds available presented here may therefore undercount the total number of beds that shelters are prepared to provide to clients, if those shelters chose to offer unfunded or unlicensed beds. In order to accurately present occupancy rates, the presence of child residents is used in this calculation.
  7. The total number of admissions of women includes those who may have been admitted more than once. Each shelter visit is counted as a separate admission.
  8. Admission rates vary according to shelter capacity. As a result, differences among the provinces may be influenced by the number of high capacity shelters in operation.
  9. While the Transition Home Survey is designed to collect information pertaining to residential services for abused women, shelters responding to the survey may admit women for reasons other than abuse.
  10. Current intimate partner includes individuals who are legally married or common-law (same and opposite sex), in a dating relationship, and other current intimate partners. Former intimate partner includes individuals who are separated (including legal and common-law, same and opposite sex), divorced, ex-dating relationship, and other former intimate partners. In 2011, this definition was expanded to include dating partners.
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