The community needs the regional government to invest in enough subsidized housing to reduce wait times for women at risk that can be measured in weeks - not years.

opinionred 100x100By Andrew Drummond

March 4th,  2019

 BURLINGTON, ON

HWP - City Council (2)

From the left: Councillor Bentivegna, Mayor Meed Ward, Councillors Paul Sharman and Lisa Kearns

 

Halton Women’s Place held their annual fundraiser gala recently. It was a delightful affair with 413 attendees including politicians of all levels and parties. Part of the event was a live auction where one of the “items” being auctioned off was an evening party with a number of gentlemen from the Oakville Fire Department. It was a touching gesture (which raised $3,000) and was a wonderful way for the department to give back to the community.

However, as the department’s spokesperson took the stage to extol others to bid on them, he told the crowd about some startling statistics about Halton Women’s Place and the work that they do and the constraints that they work under. The most alarming statistic was that the shelter only has 52 beds and that as a temporary shelter, the majority of their residents are being transitioned to a full time, safe housing. This process used to take six to eight weeks, but now can take up to six to eight MONTHS.

There is such a lack of affordable housing in Halton region that a woman fleeing violence with her children can wait up to eight months in a shelter.

HWP - GraphWithin the HWP annual reports, an even more troubling trend appears. In 2014, the shelter housed 270 women and 211 children for some period of time over the year. The report also noted that “766 women did not receive shelter due to capacity”. In 2014, the shelter only was able to serve 39% of the need in the region. Compared to 2018 however, 2014’s 39% was a success. As a result of the reduced availability of safe, affordable housing in Halton, in 2018, HWP was only able to serve 173 women and 183 children. They no longer list the number of women turned away in the annual report, but only being able to assist 74% of their 2014 number cannot be a good sign.

There are two critical issues then, which need to be addressed for our community to be able to successfully assist women fleeing violence and abuse. First need Halton Women’s Place needs a stable source of funding.

Second Halton Region needs to ensure there is adequate housing for women to transition into. From the chart below, over the last 5 years, the level of funding from government sources has increased at less than the rate of inflation (8.2% total). As a result, HWP has increasingly relied on private funds to make up the gap in funding.

Fortunately for the shelter, the public has responded (+45.4% over 5 years), but raising private money is time consuming and unpredictable and forces HWP to devote its efforts away from its primary focus – helping abused women.

The second critical issue to alleviate the pressure on HWP is to increase the availability of subsidized housing across Halton Region. On the Region of Halton website for subsidized housing, there is an ominous note about wait times for subsidized housing.

“It is not possible to provide a specific wait time. Criteria used to place individuals and families changes regularly. Halton Region must follow provincial government regulations, which means the date on your application is not the only information used for placement on our wait list. The waiting time can sometimes take several years for units highest in demand…”

Finding affordable housing can take years. Hundreds of women fleeing violence are turned away from shelters in our region because of overlong wait times for safe, subsidized housing. This is simply not acceptable.
Turning battered women away is one part of the issue, but the longer wait times also have an impact on the women who do get into the shelters. One of the most important things these women need at this time is stability. They and their children are rebuilding a life, and the months they have to wait to start it is a significant strain on everyone. Permanency is a requirement for building a stable new life.

In its recent 2019 budget, the Region of Halton proposed a 1.9% tax increase for regional services. Regional Chair Gary Carr has taken to social media repeatedly to boast of “delivering an average property tax increase of 0.7% for Regional Services from 2007 to 2018, while maintaining or enhancing core services.” All of these increases fall below the rate of inflation. In other words, overall, Halton is collecting less tax to provide services and the end result has been, wait times for subsidized housing increasing year over year.

HWP - Room Shot (2)

Community level support was evident. Can’t say that much for the support from the Regional government.

The question is then, why is sufficient safe, affordable housing for our community’s most vulnerable people not considered a “core service”? There is clear evidence that the region is providing far less than what is required by its citizens and yet tax increases are still being kept below the rates of inflation. There is hope however, in 2018 Burlington elected a slate of progressive city councillors that are determined to work to support the more vulnerable among us.

But the effort needs to come from all levels of government. Our community needs the provincial government to increase shelter funding to at least the level of inflation. Our community needs the regional government to invest in enough subsidized housing that the wait times can be measured in weeks and not years. And our community needs the city to live up to its commitment to its most vulnerable.

In 2017 in Halton there were 3,156 police calls for domestic violence. And in Halton we only have 52 shelter beds for the women who made those calls.

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2 comments to The community needs the regional government to invest in enough subsidized housing to reduce wait times for women at risk that can be measured in weeks – not years.

  • Alfred

    Affordable housing in Burlington is nothing but a dream. The land costs in Burlington are simply too high. Why build 1 house in Burlington when you can build 4 in Guelph for the same amount of money and provide housing for 4 families. Burlington has become a luxury that very few can afford. Even families with 2 incomes can no longer afford to live here. Having to leave their relatives and settle in other cities. I have a feeling that the high rise buildings are going to get even taller as the City trades off more height for affordable units. The large developers are circling the City like buzzards in anticipation.

    • Andrew Drummond

      Hi Alfred,

      Thanks for commenting. I completely agree that for many in our city housing is a dream that many will never be able to realize. And the large developers are pushing crazy projects that well exceed any standards that have ever been set (the most recent I’ve been involved in is Lakeside Plaza).

      All of that said, the region still has a responsibility to safely house its residents. And they have been abgorgating that responsibility recently with an ever-increasing focus on maintaining a tax rate despite our growth.

      Most importantly, it doesn’t do our community any good to have shelters if there is never a chance to leave them.

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