Victims of domestic violence trying to flee abusive relationships are being thwarted by a housing crunch that makes it too expensive to leave, according to new research from Brescia University College.
“We hear stories about having to go back to an abuser because the options aren’t there and, long term, they can’t stay in a shelter – they need long-term solutions.” said Brescia professor Roula Hawa, who with her students teamed with London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) to collect data on the housing crisis’s impact on survivors of gender-based violence and their supporters.
Rents in London grew at the fastest pace in Canada over the last year. Including condos and other properties for rent, average rents in the city have risen 33.1 per cent over the past year, according to Rentals.ca, a website used by landlords to advertise their properties.
The ongoing Brescia project, which has spanned two years and 20 interviews, includes input from leaders in the fight against domestic violence and gender-based violence survivors who advise LAWC.
“Due to long wait lists (for housing), a lot of time they end up leaving the shelter and going back to the abuser until they finally find something,” Hawa said. “These were the majority of stories of the women we talked (to).”
About 50 students took part in the experiential learning project, which included interviews with sector leaders within the City of London, she said.
“We wanted to know what was missing, and what (more) can the city do,” she said, adding the second year focused on talking to survivors, “so they have a voice.”
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As part of the project, LAWC sent staff to Hawa’s classroom to help train students on how to interview vulnerable people. The students went on to interview 10 women with lived experience.
“Most of the . . . women we talked (to) – almost all single mothers – say (their situation) was exacerbated during the pandemic,” Hawa said. “The pandemic was a perfect storm because it made the abuse harder because they had no place else to go (during lockdown). ”
The project developed nine recommendations for the City of London, including boosting funding for priority access to housing for women and girls fleeing domestic violence, prioritizing trauma-informed counselling, safety planning and emotional support, enhanced training for city staff, more proactive policies for developing more housing, and investing in an awareness campaign to “put the issue in the spotlight.”
Jennifer Dunn, executive director of LAWC, said the research will lead to new programs and resources for those facing gender-based violence.
“Women deserve to have their voices heard,” she said. “It takes an enormous amount of courage for women and girls who are being abused, exploited and trafficked to come forward to seek help. Experiences of women and girls can often be traumatic, so it is important we transform services to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.”
Project findings have been presented at national and international forums, said Hawa, who hopes to continue the research in coming years.