‘WHPC’ stands for the Women’s Housing Planning Collaborative, a group of charitable organisations within Hamilton who have decided that now is the time to start working together to eliminate women’s homelessness.
We believe in a housing first initiative. Through providing homeless women with a home in stable, safe, sustainable and most importantly, affordable housing they can begin to rebuild their lives. The member agencies aim to guide these women along the housing continuum by providing them with the support, resources and the care they need.
In order to best meet the needs of at risk and homeless women the Women’s Housing Planning Collaborative (WHPC) exists to develop, coordinate and facilitate a gender specific, comprehensive and seamless system of services to meet these stated needs.
WHPC’s members include:
- Womankind – One of Ontario’s three women only withdrawal management centres, dealing with addiction. A residential home with facilities for 24 women, located in west Hamilton.
- Mission Services – Inasmuch House provides safe, temporary accommodations and services to women, youth and children. Particularly catered to those who are victims of violence. Willow’s Place is a low-barrier resource hub for women experiencing housing precarity and homelessness. Both are located downtown.
- Native Women’s Centre- Honouring the Circle – Provides emergency shelter for women 24 hours a day, 7 days a week regardless of their ancestry, age or whether they are with children. Located downtown.
- Good Shepherd – Women’s services include Mary’s Place and Martha House which are situated within Good Shepherd Square. Mary’s Place accommodates women over 18 years of age while Martha House specifically caters to women and children fleeing abuse. Various outreach services are also offered.
- YWCA – The YWCA provides transitional housing for women where they can stay for longer periods of time. This is in addition to a variety of outreach and support services. Located in Downtown Hamilton.
With winter approaching you are probably focusing on buying new winter boots and remembering to get your winter tires put on before the ice hits. This is all without knowing the crisis that is about to occur on the doorstep of your community.
For women who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, the prospect of winter is extremely serious, and for a few women winter may even play a fatal role in their lives. Mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, cousins and grandmothers will go without shelter on a freezing night this winter.
The mortality rate for homeless women is less than half the national average, these women have a life expectancy of 39 years compared to the 81 years that a Canadian woman can usually expect to live. A truly horrifying statistic.
The members of WHPC who provide emergency shelter and transitional housing for women are persistently oversubscribed, if we look at October 2012 alone:
- Inasmuch house reported that in women were turned away 87 times, the shelter has 37 beds.
- The Native Women’s Centre in the same month had 117 turnaways, the shelter has 15 beds. 17 people were also on their waiting list for transitional housing.
- The YWCA had 10 people on there waiting list for transitional housing.
- Womankind had 36 “no bed” shelter beds and 8 “no bed” withdrawal management beds for a total of 44.
If they were lucky these women may have found a friend to stay with, if they were unlucky they would have found somewhere on the street. One thing we can be sure of is that when winter comes, which in Hamilton means an average daily high of between 2-4 degrees, the prospect of sleeping on the street becomes intolerable.
We need YOUR HELP NOW to spread the word about these shocking numbers and the impact the weather can really have on homeless women in Hamilton.
Women and Homelessness
Research which has been conducted by the SPRC, on women specifically has found a handful of key causes which in combination or alone can be the tipping point for some women who are at risk of homelessness to becoming homeless.
These can be sorted into these broad categories:
- Causes women to become homeless. Women are also more vulnerable to violence once they find themselves homeless, whether it caused their homelessness or not.
- This can lead to Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental illnesses, substance abuse, negative self-worth, learning difficulties which are all consequences of the violence in homeless women’s lives.
- The current provincial funding model prioritizes services for victims of current spousal abuse, potentially isolating those women who are victims of other forms of violence.
- The gender pay gap is felt with equal vigour on the streets where men can earn up to 50% more than women in the informal economy.
- Sex work and informal sex bartering is the only option for many women’s economic survival. Which is why homeless women are often “hidden”, finding themselves exploited for domestic roles, and sex, within short term unstable relationships in exchange for shelter.
- More than 4 out of 5 women jailed in Canada are jailed for offences related to poverty such as fraud, shoplifting and sex work. Without even considering the expense of this, it is a fact that women are more likely to become homeless after incarceration than before they entered, making it much harder for them to assimilate back into homed society.
- At least a third of homeless women outside of the Violence Against Women (VAW) shelter system are also mothers.
- These women are either seeking shelter with children or are seeking stable housing to regain custody of their children. A report about the health needs of homeless women in Hamilton states that the responsibility of children falls on the shoulders of women, making their needs all the more complex.
- Single women with young children who are not yet at school are particularly at risk of homelessness as they are less likely to be able to take on employment.
- A major problem for these mothers and guardians is that if they are to take their children to a hospital as a result of a lack of stable housing or an inability to feed them properly, Children’s aid will be called. The same goes for women who are targeted as substance abusers, if she were to enter treatment a woman could lose her kids.
- Homeless women have ten times the mortality rate of other women, and die at an average age of 39, half the Canadian life expectancy (81 years).
- Homeless women are two times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health illness than homeless men, according to a Toronto study.
- Addiction is also a huge problem, a third of women who seek addiction recovery services in Hamilton are homeless. In addition to this, relapses are more common when women don’t have safe and affordable housing.
What can be done to eradicate women’s homelessness?
- Improve the way women are treated in personal relationships, and in employment, and how they are portrayed in the media.
- Reduce the glorification and condoning of violence in Canada’s culture (and cultures around the world)
These steps would help reduce both the economic and violence factors that lead to homelessness among women.
- Increase the rates for social assistance, or replace the social assistance system with a Guaranteed Annual Income to match the price of rental units available to the homeless to allow women and men to live, eat and be sheltered and avoid homelessness.
- Expand the subsidized housing system (either through rent supplements or funding new rent-geared-to income units) and continue steps to recognize through funding that housing is a key determinant of health.
- Recognize that violence has been a part of almost all homeless women’s lives and extend the provincial funding for violence against women programs including trauma counselling and support services to all agencies serving homeless women and women at risk of homelessness.
- Adequately fund on-site and mobile housing supports and require that these services are better adapted to women’s needs and are culturally appropriate.
- Increase funding for mental health and addiction counselling and treatment.
- Create policy instruments to give non-custodial mothers additional income benefits when they are in the process of regaining custody of their children, so that they can secure safe and appropriate housing in order to satisfy the needs of child welfare agencies and/or the courts. These steps would create realistic options for women to find stable housing after seeking shelter.
- Coordinate services among providers to better collaborate and share strategies andexpertise, using the principles of The Playbook, the City of Hamilton’s Human Services Plan.
- Women’s shelter and housing service providers attend and take leadership in the City of Hamilton’s Women’s Sector Homelessness System Planning Meetings
- Provide more services tailored to homeless women’s specific needs for gender-segregated environments and gender-specific approaches Women-focused services must be welcoming to transwomen as their needs cannot be met in the men’s system.
- Work collaboratively with other organizations to help more Hamilton homeless women receive rapid re-housing services alongside homeless men, including meeting the unique needs of homeless women involved in sex work.
- Involve women with past or present experience of homelessness in the planning and evaluation of services, so that their voices and insights help to improve present and future programs and policies.
These steps would help organizations address the issues of the cyclical and/or chronic nature of many women’s shelter usage and provide more support to women so they can move along the housing continuum into more stable and permanent housing.
Some steps have already been taken as a result of these recommendations including the creation of WHPC but there is always more that can be done, particularly and this time of year when the issue of women’s homelessness hits crisis point.