Shelters for abused women in Canada, 2014

by Sara Beattie and Hope Hutchins

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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 (Allen 2014, Munch 2012). Using data from the 2014 Transition Home Survey, this Juristat bulletin presents the most up-to-date information on shelters for abused women in Canada.

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.Note 1 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 2014 and are based upon a 12-month period that preceded the survey.Note 2 Second, information on the women being served in shelters was collected on a specific “snapshot date” (April 16, 2014).

While the THS 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, such as protecting their children and housing issues. Additionally, although a minority of the facilities responding to the survey offer services to men as well as to women,Note 3 the focus of this report is on the women seeking shelter for reasons of abuse.

Transition homes and emergency shelters are the primary providers of shelter

The THS identified 627 shelters for abused women that were operating across Canada on April 16, 2014 (Table 1).These facilities were asked to indicate the area(s) they served, including population centres, rural populations, and reserves. Of these facilities, 357 (57%) 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 28 shelters (4%) reported that they provide services specifically to rural populations. In addition, 72 facilities (11%) provided services to population centres and rural populations only.

Although the THS does not collect information on the Aboriginal identity of women staying at shelters, it does ask facilities to indicate whether or not the facility serves an on-reserve population as well as whether or not it is located on a reserve. In 2013/2014, 17 facilities (3%) exclusively served an on-reserve population. However, approximately one quarter of all shelters (27%), including those who also serve population centres and/or rural populations, indicated that they provide services to an on-reserve population. A total of 32 shelters were located on a reserve, some of which also serve population centres and rural populations.

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 2013/2014, half of admissions were to transition homes (50%) which offer short or moderate-term secure housing. An additional 41% of admissions were to emergency shelters and women’s emergency centres which typically offer temporary short-term accommodations. A further 3% of admissions were to second-stage housing, which offer long-term secure housing. The remaining 6% of admissions were to other residential facilities including safe home networks, interim housing (Manitoba only), family resource centres (Ontario only), and all other residential facilities offering services to abused women (Table 2).

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Text box 1
Types of residential shelters 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: 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. In 2013/2014 there were 281 transition homes known to be in operation.

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.  In 2013/2014 there were 123 second stage housing facilities known to be in operation.

Women's emergency centres: Facility offering short-term (1 to 21 days) respite for women and their dependent children.  In 2013/2014 there were 80 women’s emergency centres known to be in operation.

Emergency shelters: 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).  In 2013/2014 there were 84 emergency shelters known to be in operation.

Safe home networks: 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.  In 2013/2014 there were 17 safe home networks known to be in operation.

Other: Includes all other residential facilities offering services to abused women with or without children, not otherwise classified. In 2013/2014 there were 42 other residential facilities known to be in operation.

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The availability of space within shelters can be measured through the concept of bed space.Note 4 The total number of funded or licensed beds in residential shelters as of April 16, 2014 was 12,058, amounting to an average of 19 licensed beds per shelter.

The majority of these beds were occupied on the snapshot date: among facilities that admit women, menNote 5 and children, approximately 66% of funded and licensed beds were occupied. Among facilities that admit only women and children, approximately 70% of funded and licensed beds were occupied.Note 6

Most shelters in Canada offer a standard range of services for women. In 2013/2014, most shelter facilities provided the following services: safety and protection planning (90% of shelters), transportation services (87%), advocacy on behalf of women (86%), housing referrals (85%), and individual short-term counselling (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 2013/2014, 63% of shelters responding to the THS reported offering culturally sensitive services for Aboriginal women, while 46% reported offering culturally sensitive services for Aboriginal children. Further, 21% of shelters in Canada offered services in at least one of the following Aboriginal languages: Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut. 

In 2013/2014, shelters across Canada reported 60,341 admissions of women, representing a rate of 403 admissions per 100,000 women 15 and older.Note 7 The rate of admissions tended to be higher in the Territories and the western provinces. Saskatchewan had the highest rate of admissions among the provinces (717 admissions per 100,000 women) while Prince Edward Island reported the lowest (138 admissions per 100,000 women).Note 8

The rate of funded and/or licensed beds available to women tended to be higher in the Territories. Among the provinces, Manitoba had the highest rate (178 beds per 100,000 women) while Quebec reported the lowest rate (55 beds per 100,000 women). Across all three territories the rates exceeded 400 per 100,000 women.Note 9

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

On the April 16, 2014 survey snapshot date, there were 7,969 women and children staying in shelters across Canada for reasons of abuse and otherwise. Of these residents, 4,476 were women (56%) and 3,493 (44%) were their dependent children. Among these women and children, 78% were there primarily because of abuse and the remaining 22% of residents were there primarily for other reasons.

The largest proportions of women and children residing in shelter facilities on the snapshot date were staying at transition homes (37%), second-stage housing (23%), emergency shelters (21%) and women’s emergency centres (13%). The remaining 6% were staying at other types of facilities such as family resource centres.  

The most common referral sources for women in shelters on the snapshot date included other community agencies (14%), other transition homes (12%), and family or friends (8%). About one in three women (32%) reported not having been referred to the shelter.

Of the 4,476 women residing in a shelter on April 16, 2014, one-quarter (25%) had stayed at that same shelter before. Of these women, 412 (37%) had stayed at the same shelter one time in the previous 12 months, 188 (17%) had stayed there two to four times in the previous 12 months, and 116 (10%) had stayed at the same shelter five or more times in the prior 12 months. A further 335 women (30%) had stayed at the same shelter before but it had been more than a year since their last stay. 

The highest rate of re-admissions was reported by women’s emergency centres, where over 4 in 10, or 246, snapshot date residents had stayed at the shelter before. Conversely, 10% of the women residing in second-stage housing facilities on the snapshot date reported a previous stay at the shelter (Chart 1).

Chart 1

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Most women seek shelter for reasons of abuse

The THS asked shelters to provide information on the various reasons women sought shelter on April 16, 2014 at their facility.

Emotional abuse (reported by 66% of women residents) and physical abuse (50%) were the most common reasons women sought shelter. This finding held true for most provinces and territories (Table 3).

Many women in shelters on the snapshot date also cited financial abuse (38%), threats (36%), harassment (27%), sexual abuse (21%), and other abuse (12%) among their reasons for seeking shelter.  Further, on that snapshot date, 67 women (2%) indicated human trafficking as a reason for seeking refuge.

Protecting children from abuse or witnessing abuse was also a common reason women sought shelter: 26% of women identified wanting to protect their children from witnessing abuse, 18% of women identified wanting to protect their children from psychological abuse, and 10% of women identified wanting to protect their children from physical abuse as among their reasons for seeking shelter.

Housing issues were also a common reason for women seeking shelter: 30% of women identified being unable to find affordable housing as among their reasons for seeking shelter, while 17% of women cited short-term housing problems and 10% reported housing emergencies as reasons for their admission. The proportion of women residents with particular housing issues was higher in some provinces and territories. For example, the proportion unable to find affordable housing was higher in certain provinces such as Prince Edward Island (67%) and territories such as Nunavut (47%). 

Other reasons for admission identified by women staying at shelters on the snapshot date included mental health issues (25%) and drug or alcohol addiction (19%). On snapshot day, the proportion of residents with mental health issues was highest in Newfoundland and Labrador (43%) followed by New Brunswick (39%).

The majority of women residing in transition homes, second-stage housing, and women’s emergency centres cited abuse as their primary reason for seeking shelter. This was also true for emergency shelters, although in comparison to these shelter types, there was not as much of a difference in the proportion of women seeking shelter for reasons of abuse and those seeking shelter for other reasons. Most women staying at other types of shelters (such as safe home networks, family resource centres, and interim housing) reported reasons other than abuse as having motivated their stay (Chart 2).

Chart 2

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Abuse by current intimate partners prevalent among women in shelters

For the majority of women residing in shelters on the snapshot date, the abuser was an intimate partner. Intimate partners include individuals who are legally married, common-law (same and opposite sex), in a dating relationship, and other intimate partners. Of the 3,249 women reporting abuse as their primary reason for seeking shelter on April 16, 2014, 69% identified a current intimate partner as their abuser and 17% indicated their abuser was a former intimate partner.Note 10

In particular, a total of 2,329, or 78% of women in shelters on April 16, 2014 identified their abuser as a current or former spouse or common-law partner, representing a rate of 23.6 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%) (Chart 3). The rate of common-law women in shelters for reasons of abuse was over six times higher than the rate for married women. 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).  

Abusers were not limited to intimate partners. Other abusers reported by women residing in shelters on the snapshot date included family members (10%) and other types of relationships such as friends or acquaintances, authority figures, or caregivers (5%) (Chart 3).

Chart 3

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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 highest rates were reported for women aged 25 to 34 years (45 per 100,000 women) followed by women aged 35 to 44 (31 per 100,000 women) and women aged 15 to 24 years (24 per 100,000 women). Women aged 65 years and over reported the lowest rates (2 per 100,000 women) of residing in shelters for reasons of abuse.

Of the women who sought shelter primarily because of abuse on April 16, 2014, just over half (51%) were admitted with their children. A further 31% of women in shelters did not have children or parenting responsibilities, while 17% 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 experienced by women residing in shelters on snapshot day, 49% of incidents were not brought to the attention of police. Conversely, about one in three (30%) incidents were brought to the attention of police, while for 21% 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 16, 2014, 133 women and 90 accompanying children departed shelters in Canada. Of these 133 women, 7% reported that they were returning to their spouse or common-law partner. Approximately one in five women (21%) indicated they were departing to new accommodations without their spouse or common-law partner, while 17% specified they were departing to live with friends or relatives. A further 13% reported returning home without their spouse or common-law partner, 8% reported that they were departing to another shelter or residential service, and 4% reported going to a hospital upon departure. Other locations were identified for 6% of women departing shelters. For 32 of the 133 women (24%) it was unknown where they were going upon departure.Note 11 

On the snapshot date, 338 women and 201 accompanying children were turned away from shelters in Canada. Alcohol and drug issues (8%), mental health issues (6%), and women being on a non-admit or caution list (4%) were among some of the reasons for turning away women and children. However, the shelter being full was cited as the most common reason, accounting for more than half (56%) of all reasons for turn-aways.

Survey Description

The scope of the Transition Home Survey (THS) 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 627 residential facilities providing services to abused women and their children in 2013/2014, 514 returned their questionnaire for a response rate of 82%. 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, trend analysis on admissions data is not possible.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Number of shelters, beds, and women and children residents, provinces and territories, April 16, 2014

Table 2 Annual number of admissions of women to shelters, by type of shelter, provinces and territories, 2013/2014

Table 3 Women's reasons for seeking shelter, provinces and territories, April 16, 2014

Table 4 Women in shelters because of abuse by a current or former spouse or common-law partner, provinces and territories, April 16, 2014

References

Allen, Mary. 2014. “Victim services in Canada, 2011/2012.” Juristat. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X.

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

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.

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