Violence against women is one of the main causes of homelessness and housing instability among women and children.
Approximately 30% of Canada’s homeless population are women, 91% of whom have also endured some form of violence or assault in their lifetime.
Women’s homelessness is often less visible, and women are more likely to stay with family or friends than they are to access shelters or stay on the streets.
Monica* is a survivor of domestic violence. She fled her home with her young child in 2015. While trying to figure out where to go and how to secure private housing on her own, she began sleeping on couches and in basements.
When women leave their home to escape violence, they face limited housing options and numerous barriers. There is a lack of affordable housing options available to women and women often report experiencing discrimination from landlords based on having children and being a survivor of domestic violence, as well as stringent eligibility requirements and costs associated with accessing housing. WomanACT’s Successful Tenancies research found that 64% of respondents have experienced discrimination from landlords when applying to rental housing, with most common forms based on income source, marital status, and race and/or ethnicity.
As a single mother, Monica routinely met landlords not wanting to rent to her.
Unable to find a rental apartment or house for her and her son, Monica stayed at a local shelter. During this time, she continued to look for housing in the private rental market. After 6 months, she finally found a landlord through an online housing website that rented to her. Monica spends approximately 70% of her income on rent.
Leaving home when fleeing violence causes significant life disruptions to survivors. Survivors often lose their jobs because of relocating, lose touch with friends and connections from neighbourhood, and are forced to change their children’s school or childcare. This wasn’t any different for Monica. Moving from place to place was tiring for her and hard on her son. Even with multiple disruptions, Monica can find a source of gratefulness. One thing that she is thankful for is that her son did not have to change schools through all the relocation.
Unfortunately, leaving the home and finding new housing doesn’t always equate to safety. Monica is still faced with abusive emails from her ex-partner.
In her current housing situation, she feels under surveillance by her landlord.
She lives in fear of losing her housing and finds herself telling her son to keep quiet and not make a lot of noise to not upset her landlord.
Access to safe and affordable housing will prevent further violence and allow women to have stability, but it also requires good landlords and housing providers.
Check out more research findings from WomanACT’s Successful Tenancies project.
*The name ‘Monica’ is a pseudonym to safeguard the identity of the survivor in this blog.
As the nation prepares to observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we emphasize the critical importance of this day in shedding light on the heartbreaking issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. WomanACT, a non-profit organization dedicated to gender equality and anti-violence against women, recognizes the urgent need to address this issue as part of our commitment to social justice and equity.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation serves as a solemn reminder of our collective responsibility to confront the truth of our history, including the tragic legacy of violence against Indigenous communities, particularly Indigenous women. The day provides an opportunity to reflect on the systemic issues that have disproportionately affected Indigenous women, including the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Indigenous women have endured unimaginable suffering, with their lives tragically cut short or forever altered due to violence and systemic inequalities. This is a deeply disturbing reality that demands our unwavering attention and action. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation compels us to acknowledge and reckon with these injustices, fostering a society where all women are valued, protected, and empowered.
WomanACT stands in solidarity with Indigenous communities and organizations advocating for justice and accountability for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Our mission aligns with the imperative to address violence against women from all walks of life. We recognize that the fight for gender equality and social justice cannot be fully realized without addressing the unique challenges faced by Indigenous women, and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation serves as a platform to amplify their voices and experiences.
As we observe this day, let us remember the lives lost and commit to taking meaningful action. We must work collaboratively to dismantle systemic barriers, promote healing, and ensure that the voices of Indigenous women are heard and respected. By acknowledging the truth and seeking reconciliation, we move towards a future where all women can live free from violence, discrimination, and fear.
Executive Director, WomanACT
WomanACT is a Toronto-based non-profit organization dedicated to advancing gender equality and addressing violence against women. We strive to create a society where all women are empowered, safe, and valued.
Connect with and support Indigenous Organizations:
WomanACT’s submission for the National Housing Council’s Review Panel on the Financialization of Purpose-Built Rental Housing.
Financialization is a growing trend toward the use of housing as an investment to acquire wealth. Financial firms develop housing with a goal of maximizing returns rather than providing affordable homes for the community.
In January 2023, the National Housing Council launched a review panel on the “financialization of purpose-built rental housing.” The Council has invited individuals and organizations to address topics such as the impact of financialization on the human right to adequate housing, especially for communities that experience marginalization. Respondents may outline the actions and inactions by the federal government that have exacerbated the negative impacts of financialization. The panel would like to hear suggestions on how Parliament could address financialization and protect the right to housing. WomanACT prepared the following response.
Survivors of gender-based violence face unique challenges to housing. These include landlord discrimination, poor rental histories and economic insecurity. Survivors require a range of housing options when leaving violence. Financialization of purpose-built rental housing is an obstacle for survivors to remain safely in their private rentals or move to a new private rental, due to limited availability, accessibility and affordability of tenure.
In 2022 WomanACT conducted primary research with survivors on their housing needs and preferences. In this study, affordability emerged as a key consideration for accessing housing—and ultimately acted as a barrier for many participants. Survivors often mentioned that their housing search was restricted due to finances. Moving expenses alone were prohibitive for some. Survivors faced various economic challenges such as insufficient social assistance rates, financial abuse that affected their credit scores or eligibility for income supports, and the inability to work due to trauma and harassment carrying over into the workplace. These challenges were exacerbated by the broader context of a housing crisis in which rents were becoming less affordable in general.
Survivors did not have one common housing trajectory when leaving a violent relationship. In the most prevalent experience, reported by 58% of participants, survivors left the shared home and their partners stayed. Survivors most often went to an emergency shelter (35%) or stayed with family (22%) or friends (18%). Some survivors initially remained in the shared home without their partners (14%). No participants reported moving to a new home in the private housing market immediately after separation; they had to choose inadequate accommodation options. Overall, 80% of participants reported first accessing a housing option that involved relocation. Many participants endured life disruptions after separating from their partners. At least half of the participants experienced a loss of control over their housing options, the risk of harm from their partner, and disruptions to their social and family relationships.
Impacts of the financialization of purpose-built rental housing on the right to housing
The financialization of purpose-built rental housing significantly impacts the housing system, by prioritizing short-term profits and driving up the prices of the most affordable housing. This further marginalizes women and survivors of gender-based violence. In 2022, WomanACT researched survivors’ experiences in the private rental market in Toronto; our study shed light on these impacts and highlighted how financialization exacerbated the challenges faced by these individuals.
WomanACT found that most respondents (77%) experienced core housing need, where affordability standards were unmet. Rising rental housing costs made it increasingly difficult for women and survivors of gender-based violence to access and maintain affordable housing options.
Financialization can perpetuate discrimination and create additional barriers in the rental housing market. With the focus on maximizing profitability, landlords favour the most privileged tenants who, they assume, have higher and more stable income.
Our research revealed that 64% of respondents experienced discrimination from landlords during the rental application process, based on income source, family and marital status, or race and ethnicity. This discrimination limited the housing options available to women and survivors of gender-based violence, exacerbating their housing insecurity.
Financialization contributes to housing instability, which disproportionately affects marginalized groups. The research showed that almost one-third of respondents received eviction notices or were evicted from their rental units. Factors such as overdue rent payments and renovictions were cited as common reasons for eviction. The instability caused by financialization disrupted the housing stability of women and survivors of gender-based violence, making it difficult for them to find safe and secure housing.
The research highlighted that survivors relied on various supports and services, such as food programs and social support networks, to maintain their private rental housing and enhance their safety. The lack of affordable and adequate housing options caused disruptions in accessing food and other vital needs. It compelled survivors to constantly rely on social support mechanisms which often were limited.
These impacts demonstrate that the financialization of purpose-built rental housing deepens the existing systemic issues within the housing system. It reduces housing affordability, reinforces discriminatory practices, increases housing instability, and limits access to vital needs for women and survivors of gender-based violence.
What could the Government of Canada do to address the impacts of the financialization of purpose-built rental housing, and advance the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing?
There has been a lack of robust policy, investment in affordable and social housing, commitment to the Right to Housing, and implementation of the right in federal and provincial policies. Also, actions such as Federal withdrawal from social housing provision in the 1990s, deregulation of rent control and policy support for the securitization of mortgages catalyzed the forces driving financialization. As a result, financialization has limited the access to safe and affordable housing for all Canadians, including women and survivors of gender-based violence.
To specifically address the impacts of financialization on women and survivors of gender-based violence, while advancing the right to housing, the Government of Canada could do the following:
Adopt gender-responsive approaches that recognize the unique challenges faced by survivors in accessing adequate housing. Incorporate a gender lens into housing policies and programs to ensure that survivors’ specific needs are addressed.
The National Housing Council’s Financialization Review Panel is a good opportunity to look at the impact of a significant economic trend. In the research conducted by WomanACT, women and survivors of gender-based violence have shown how financialization marginalizes them further. There are important actions that the government can take to advance the right to adequate housing for communities left behind in the rush to economic growth.
Older women are disproportionately affected by violence. Older women are victims in 58% of family violence cases in Canada[i] and are twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than older men. [ii] In 2021, older women in Ontario had a 12% higher rate of femicide than women aged 18-34.[iii] Typically, the perpetrator is a current or former intimate partner or a male family member like an adult son, son-in-law, or grandson.[iv] These statistics illustrate the significant risk of gender-based violence for women aged 55 and over in their homes and communities.
WomanACT’s Aging, Gender, Equality, and Safety (AGES) project conducted research that engaged with survivors aged 55 years and older to understand better the experiences, needs, and risk factors of older women affected by violence. Survivors shared how aging and gender inequality intersect in many areas of their lives, shaping their risk and experiences of violence.
This blog shares what we heard in our focus groups from older survivors about gender-based violence and key themes from literature to illustrate the experiences of older women affected by violence. These insights aim to increase the knowledge and understanding of services and practitioners to provide age-inclusive wrap-around support for older gender-based violence survivors.
What are the experiences of older women experiencing violence?
Some researchers advocate for a lifespan approach to understanding violence against older women.[v] A lifespan approach examines the different experiences of violence and power across a women’s lifespan to understand how they interconnect.[vi] Ageism and gender inequality represent significant societal power imbalances that can enable, compound, and perpetuate gender-based violence.[vii] Gender inequality is widely understood as an overarching societal structure whereby individuals are discriminated against based on gender or sexual identity.[viii] Similarly, ageism is a societal construct that perpetuates differential treatment based on age.[ix] Like gender inequality, ageism can show up at the individual level, such as stereotypes about older people as frail or confused, or at the institutional level, such as having systems or programs not designed to meet the needs of older women.[x]
The survivors we spoke with shared their experiences of how ageism and gender inequality compounded to shape their experiences of violence.
Ageism and experiences of gender-based violence
A couple of AGES participants shared how perpetrators used ageist stereotypes as a tactic of emotional abuse or control. For example, a survivor shared how:
This experience illustrates how perpetrators draw upon ageist stereotypes, such as slower cognition, in an attempt to make victims feel bad about themselves and undermine their perception of the abuse.
Survivors who experience abuse in their older age expressed that the physical changes accompanying aging exacerbated their experience of abuse. For example, they shared how they felt that their age made physical and emotional abuse “more difficult to deal with” and “harder to bounce back” from. Other participants felt that there are “more chances to get hurt” from the abuse in their older years or that the abuse may worsen underlying health issues like diabetes or heart problems.
The insights from survivors align with findings in academic literature. Research shows that women aged 55 or more who are survivors of intimate partner or family violence experience long-term health effects, such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain[xi], and sexual trauma.[xii] Additionally, changes to their health or financial status, such as a decline in physical or cognitive capacity or retirement, can increase an older survivor’s sense of dependency on those within their immediate social circle, like friends or family relations.[xiii] In short, the physical and societal realities of aging can make experiences of gender-based violence worse and further isolate survivors from seeking help or reporting abuse.
Ageism within the service system
Survivors shared their experiences of ageism with services and practitioners. Some participants felt service providers dismissed or downplayed their experiences of abuse because of their age. For example, one participant recalled how her memory of the abuse was questioned because of her age; other participants recounted how service providers told them they were being too sensitive and overreacting.
A common myth participants spoke about was the misperception that older survivors were well-established members of society with access to substantial financial resources or social supports, like friends or co-workers. Survivors believed this misperception contributed to downplaying the seriousness of abuse and led to a lack of urgency in responding to their experiences of violence as an older woman. For example, a participant shared:
The survivor’s experience illustrates the difference between an ageist stereotype, such as being an established older woman with financial resources, and the lived experience of gender-based violence, which left her economically insecure. Her story illustrates how ageism is a reality within the services and systems from which older survivors seek support.
What we’ve heard from survivors adds to existing research about systemic ageism for older survivors. Research shows that older adults experience age discrimination from various services and systems, including landlords, healthcare providers, social services, and employers.[xiv] Examples include being denied rental housing because of a perceived incapacity to live independently[xv] or dismissing signs of abuse and trauma as aging.[xvi] Systemic ageism also appears as a lack of age-inclusive services across sectors, leaving many services unable to respond to older survivors’ health and age-related needs. For example, research consistently highlights the lack of appropriate and affordable housing options for older survivors[xvii], the inability of domestic violence services to provide health and medical care[xviii], and a lack of age-inclusive outreach materials and programs.[xix]
Gender inequality across the lifespan
The survivors we spoke with also shared some of the many ways gender inequality specifically impacted their experiences of violence and prevented them from seeking help. For instance, gender norms about women as caregivers persisted even at later life stages. Some participants shared how they perceived it more difficult to leave or change an abusive relationship because it would be disruptive to their older children. As stated by one participant:
In the violence against older women literature, studies have shown that some older survivors have a sense of caregiving obligation to their intimate partner, despite the abuse, and may believe that the perpetrator is better off in their care rather than in an institutional setting, like mental health and addictions systems.[xx]
Gendered experiences of economic insecurity also significantly impinge older survivors’ experiences. For instance, older women in Canada are more likely to be living in poverty due to the gender wage gap and gender pension gap. According to Ontario’s Pay Equity Office, Canadian women only make 82 cents in retirement income compared to Canadian men.[xxi] Additionally, the gender wage gap of Canadian women aged 65 and older is 3.9% higher than those aged 35-44.[xxii]
AGES project participants shared how intimate partner violence reduced their economic security over the long term as an outcome of economic abuse and decreased financial independence. According to one participant:
It is particularly telling that many services lacked the capacity to improve the financial security of older survivors. One participant shared how difficult it was to get support for the financial abuse she was experiencing:
It is a clear message from older survivors that improving their economic security was front of mind. Unfortunately, experiences of gender inequality and gender-based violence during their lifespan limits their capacity to build that economic and financial security. It is equally unfortunate that many services are not currently addressing this significant gap.
How to better support older women experiencing violence?
Services and practitioners can better support older women experiencing violence by being more responsive to older survivors’ intersecting challenges and needs. Unfortunately, existing approaches to elder abuse lack a gendered analysis[xxiii], and responses to violence against women rarely incorporate attention to age and ageism.[xxiv] Developing responsive and preventative violence against older women and elder abuse strategies and programs must be centered on the experiences, needs, and perspectives of older women survivors of violence.
Our recommendations for creating an inclusive and responsive service system for older women experiencing violence include the following:
Supporting older women’s leadership
Social and community services need to intentionally empower and engage older women to counter the impacts of ageism. This means engaging older survivors in designing and evaluating programs and services. Intergenerational and peer support opportunities also help older survivors to form social bonds with others experiencing similar situations.
Improving collaboration and accessibility
Services and systems need to be age-inclusive and accessible. This means collaboration and coordination across social and community agencies that work with older women who are survivors, such as health and mental health professionals, gender-based violence services, and senior services or elder abuse agencies. Cross-sectoral collaboration maximizes resources and strengthens programs so that older survivors have wrap-around support for age and trauma-related needs.
Community agencies also need to be more proactive in their outreach strategies and go to where older survivors are, such as senior programs, faith organizations, doctor’s offices, or grocery stores.
Training and education
Preventing and responding to violence against older women requires sustained public education and training. WomanACT has launched two e-learning micro-lessons to raise awareness and build professional capacity to identify and respond to violence against older women. For more information, check out https://womanact.thinkific.com/.
For more information on violence against older women
Chellapermal, P. (2021). Economic abuse among senior immigrant women. Woman Abuse Council of Toronto. https://womanact.ca/publications/economic-abuse-among-senior-immigrant-women-literature-and-research-report/
The Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses. (2023). Aging without violence. https://www.oaith.ca/oaith-work/aging-without-violence/i-provide-professional-support/vaow-handouts-and-tools.html
Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (2023). Violence against older women infographics. https://womanact.ca/our-work/publications/?issue=54&type=
[i] Conroy, S. & Sutton, D. (2022). Violence against Seniors and their Perceptions of Safety in Canada. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2022001/article/00011-eng.htm
[iii] Hancock, H. (2022). Taking Count & Taking Action: 2020-2021 Femicide in Ontario Report. Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses. https://www.oaith.ca/assets/library/Taking-Count-And-Taking-Action-2020-2021-Femicide-In-Ontario-Report.pdf
[iv] Conroy, S. & Sutton, D. (2022). Violence against Seniors and their Perceptions of Safety in
Canada. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2022001/article/00011-eng.htm
[v] Walsh, C.A., Lohfeld, L., Ploeg, J. & Lai, D.W.L. (2007). Violence Across the Lifespan: Interconnections Among Forms of Abuse as Described by Marginalized Canadian Elders and their Care-givers. British Journal of Social Work, 37(3), 491-412. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcm022.
[vii] Latzman, N.E., D’Inverno, A.S., Niolon, P.H. & Reidy, D.E. (2018). Gender Inequality and Gender Based Violence: Extensions to Adolescent Dating Violence. In D.A. Wolfe & J.R. Temple (Eds.), Adolescent Dating Violence: Theory, research, and prevention, (pp.283-314). Elsevier.
[viii] European Institute for Gender Equality. (20203). Gender Inequality. https://eige.europa.eu/publications-resources/thesaurus/terms/1329?language_content_entity=en
[ix] Canadian Centre for Elder Law. (2017). We are Not All the Same: Key law, policy and practice strategies for improving the lives of older women in the lower mainland. https://www.bcli.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/OlderWomenDialogueReportMarch_2017Web.pdf
[x] Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2001). Time for Action: Advancing human rights for
[xi] Fisher, B.S., Regan, S.L., & Zink, T. (2011). Abuses Against Older Women: Prevalence and health effects. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(2), 254-268. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260510362877
[xiii] Walsh, C.A., Ploeg, J., Lohfeld, L., Lai, D. (2007) Violence across the Lifespan: Interconnections among forms of abuse as described by marginalized Canadian elders and their care-givers. The British Journal of Social Work, 37(3), 491-412. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcm022
[xiv] Sinha, S.K., Griffin, B., Ringer, T., Reppas-Rindlisbacher, C., Stewart, E., Wong, I., Callan, S., Anderson, G. (2016). An Evidence-Informed National Seniors Strategy for Canada – 2nd edition. Toronto, ON: Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy.
[xv] Canadian Centre for Elder Law. (2017). We are Not All the Same: Key law, policy and practice strategies for improving the lives of older women in the lower mainland. https://www.bcli.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/OlderWomenDialogueReportMarch_2017Web.pdf
[xvi] Breckman, R., Levin, M., Mantrone, L., & Solomon, J. (2020). The Things They Carry:
Advancing trauma-informed responses to elder abuse. NYC Elder Abuse Center. https://eapon.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/TheThingsTheyCarry-JAN2020.pdf
[xvii] Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. (2019). Final Report: Elder abuse
network community consultations. https://www.oaith.ca/assets/files/assets/AWV%20EAN%20Community%20Consultations%20Report-%20June%202019-%20English%20FINAL%20(2).docx
[xviii] Atira Women’s Resource Society. (2015) Promising Practices Across Canada for Housing
Women who are Older and Fleeing Abuse. https://atira.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/Promising-Practices-for-Housing-Women-who-are-Older.pdf
[xix] Beaulaurier, R.L., Seff, L.R., & Newman, F.L. (2008). Barriers to Help-Seeking for Older
Women who Experience IPV: A descriptive model. Journal of Women & Aging, 20 (3-4), 231-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952840801984543
[xx] Beaulaurier, R.L., Seff, L.R., & Newman, F.L. (2008). Barriers to Help-Seeking for Older Women who Experience IPV: A descriptive model. Journal of Women & Aging, 20 (3-4), 231-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952840801984543
[xxii] Moyser, M. (2019, August 30). Measuring and Analyzing the Gender Pay Gap: A Conceptual and Methodological Overview. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-20-0002/452000022019001-eng.htm
[xxiii] Weeks, L., Dupuis-Blanchard, S., Arseneault, R., MacQuarrie, C., Gagnon, D., & LeBlanc, G.M. (2018). Exploring Gender and Elder Abuse from the Perspective of Professionals. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 30(2), 127-143. https://doi.org/10.1080/08946566.2017.1388756
[xxiv] Edwards, Peggy. (2009). Elder Abuse in Canada: Gender-based analysis. Division of Aging and Seniors, Public Health Agency of Canada. https://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/webinars/recorded-webinars/2015/Elder_abuse_in_Canada-A_gender_based_analysis.pdf
Toronto, June 1, 2023 – YWCA Toronto, WomanACT, Social Planning Toronto, and City for All have joined forces with more than 45 community organizations to launch the Show Up for a Better Toronto – #ShowUpTO campaign. This initiative aims to rally Torontonians to show up for a better Toronto and urge mayoral candidates to take decisive action in addressing the escalating poverty and inequality afflicting the city.
Toronto is currently grappling with a housing crisis, the soaring cost of living, and an alarming rise in violence. These issues disproportionately affect women, Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, newcomers, seniors, youth, gender diverse individuals, people with disabilities, and those on fixed incomes. The #ShowUpTO campaign seeks to shed light on the urgent need for change and demand that mayoral candidates prioritize the pressing concerns facing its residents.
A better Toronto is possible. This election offers an opportunity to shape the city’s direction for the next three years.
Toronto needs a mayor who will actively engage with and address the needs of its diverse communities, focusing on affordability, safety, and systemic equity across racial, gender, and neighbourhood lines. The campaign calls on all candidates to prioritize gender and racial equity and to invest in poverty and violence reduction.
The #ShowUpTO campaign urges mayoral candidates to show up by:
To learn more about the #ShowUpTO campaign and take the pledge to show up for a better Toronto on June 26, visit www.ShowUpTO.ca.
Sami Pritchard, YWCA Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org
Devika Parsaud, WomanACT, email@example.com
Melissa Wong, Social Planning Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog originally appeared on Homeless Hub.
Survivors of gender-based violence can experience homelessness due to lack of access to safe and secure housing. They may be unable to access the local housing market for various reasons, such as the stigma associated with gender-based violence, or because they cannot afford rent. Due to these barriers, survivors are likely to go to an emergency shelter (35%) or stay with family (22%) or friends (18%) as their initial housing option. In some cases, they may live in cars or other temporary arrangements.
This type of homelessness is often overlooked and therefore “hidden” in official government statistics and research, making it more difficult to accurately measure and address the issue. The ‘invisibility’ of these experiences of homelessness means that the extent of the problem is often underestimated, and the necessary support and resources are not provided to those affected.
WomanACT’s Successful Tenancies research worked with survivors to understand their experiences navigating the private rental market in Toronto.
Case study: Sara
Sara’s temporary housing journey started when she decided she would not put up with the recurring violence from her husband and decided to leave her home.
Like many women in this situation, she called for help from her family and sought refuge at her brother’s house despite years of estrangement. Although her brother was willing to provide her with a safe haven, staying with him was not the same as returning home. The tension between them was palpable, and it was difficult for her to feel at peace in such an unfamiliar and awkward atmosphere.
Her words highlight a tension between gratitude for housing and frustration with living in inadequate circumstances. In this case, her temporary housing led to stress, fear, physical discomfort, and frustration.
WomanACT’s research reveals that like Sara, many women in temporary housing struggle with these conflicting emotions. When asked about how they felt about temporary housing, some of the research participants shared that they felt “hopeless”, “anxious”, “overwhelmed” and “uncomfortable”. While others expressed more positive feelings such as “thoughtful”, “grateful” and “fortunate”. For many women, temporary housing is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It can also be a source of stress and insecurity, as women struggle to make sense of their new environment and adjust to a new lifestyle.
All of the survivors who participated in the research had at least one issue regarding the safety, privacy, or the conditions of the house where they were temporarily residing. Some of them did not have access to a private room or a bathroom. Others had to live in an isolated or remote area without any work opportunities or with scarce transportation facilities and limited access to services.
The lack of a safe and private space to call home can prevent individuals from feeling a sense of belonging or feeling connected to their community, which is an essential part of having a home. The research illustrates that having a home is about more than just having a physical space to live in, but about having access to resources, opportunities, and a sense of safety and security within one’s environment.
Barriers to Stability
Sara’s experience also highlights how many women in temporary housing are working on becoming more resilient and trying to stabilize themselves financially. However, there are many obstacles that they must overcome in order to achieve these things.
Nonetheless she does not give in. She tries to re-build her life by developing a community.
Sara’s experience is an example of how homelessness is broader than male-centric definitions like sleeping rough or living in shelters. Sara defines homelessness as “when you don’t have a place you go to everyday where you are safe, and when you cannot be independent to take care of yourself.”
Her hopes for the future provide us with an answer to the question of what makes a place a “home’:
Next Steps: Working to Expand Housing Options
Using this knowledge, Successful Tenancies plans to increase the capacity of housing providers to better meet the needs of survivors of gender-based violence, through training, building networks and partnerships.
WomanACT is conducting research to better understand the policies, programs, and practices that support women to remain in their own home when leaving a violent relationship. We engage survivors and stakeholders to work together, develop policy recommendations and advocate for system change.