City of Toronto’s Budget for 2024

January 16, 2024

WomanACT’s 2024 Pre-Budget Submission

Violence against women is not only a human rights violation but has devastating physical, emotional, social and economic consequences for women. Housing, homelessness, and intimate partner violence (IPV) are deeply connected. Violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness and housing instability among women and children.[i] One Canadian study found that 75% of women and gender-diverse people experiencing homelessness had experienced violence and trauma in their lifetime.[ii] A lack of access to housing, in addition to a lack of access to income, prevents women from leaving violent situations or lead them into precarious housing conditions. This puts survivors in high-risk situations and often forces them to have to return to their violent home. According to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, housing must be safe, which includes protection of women and girls against domestic violence.[iii] Therefore, women living in situations of violence are also experiencing a direct violation of their right to housing.

Recommendation 1: Inclusion of “hidden homelessness” in the City’s data collection and housing programs

In preparation for Budget 2024, we propose strategic investments aimed at integrating the concept of “hidden homelessness” into the City’s data collection processes and housing programs. Survivors of gender-based violence can experience homelessness due to a 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 are unable to afford rent. Because of 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.[iv] In some cases, they may be living in cars or other temporary arrangements. Unfortunately, this type of homelessness is frequently omitted from official government statistics, rendering it “hidden” and complicating accurate measurement and targeted interventions. When the extent of the problem is underestimated, the necessary support and resources are not provided to those affected.

WomanACT strongly urges the City of Toronto to thoroughly review its data collection policies and commit additional resources to enhance the accuracy of data for intimate partner violence and human trafficking. We encourage the City to engage in advocacy and collaborative efforts with the Federal and Provincial governments to bring about policy changes that include “hidden homelessness.” WomanACT continues to be willing to provide support in advocating at different levels of government.

Moreover, we recommend that the City of Toronto allocate increased resources to housing programs, fostering a more inclusive framework for survivors of gender-based violence. A critical aspect involves reviewing the backlogs of the existing housing programs, adjusting eligibility criteria to include hidden homelessness and implementing relevant mechanisms to prioritize survivors of gender-based violence who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Recommendation 2: Enhancing transit services for safe and violence-free transportation for women and gender diverse individuals

In 2022, WomanACT, in collaboration with Angus Reid, conducted an extensive poll involving 1550 Torontonians to assess safety issues within the transit system. The findings revealed that a staggering 90% of respondents had experienced harassment while using the TTC, and women were more likely to feel unsafe and experience harassment.[v] Given that women exhibit a higher propensity for transit utilization than men, it undeniably represents a pronounced gender-related concern.

The poll indicated that most riders (82%) felt that transit could be made safer with the right investments. Women rated good lighting in and around transit stops, security features such as cameras and emergency buttons, and request-stop programs as the most promising measures.

Moreover, 95% of participants stressed the importance of providing information to the public and transit personnel on identifying and intervening in instances of harassment. The consensus was clear — women’s groups should be actively consulted in developing public transit safety initiatives.

The poll underscored that the top reasons for women opting for alternative modes of transportation over the TTC were a reluctance to wait and issues related to overcrowding. Over half of the respondents articulated a need for increased service frequency. Importantly, women from low-income backgrounds and racialized communities often lack alternative transportation options, making them particularly vulnerable to the ramifications of transit inadequacies.

In light of these findings, we strongly urge the City of Toronto to invest in public awareness/education to support riders in knowing how to keep safe in transit. Additionally, leveraging the insights and recommendations provided by the users will bolster safety further, promote inclusivity, and contribute to the overall enhancement of the transit experience for women and gender-diverse individuals in our community.

Recommendation 3: Diversify the housing continuum by integrating progressive solutions, such as the inclusion of Safe at Home programs

The current economic challenges, compounded by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, are intensifying the difficulties faced by women experiencing domestic abuse. This financial strain creates additional obstacles, making it challenging for women to leave abusive situations while maintaining economic stability. The limited housing options necessitate women to leave their homes for safety, resulting in heightened housing and economic instability.

To address this, the City of Toronto should take steps to provide survivors with access to affordable housing. This requires a focus on sufficient affordable housing, investment in diverse housing options, prioritization of housing needs for marginalized communities and those at risk of violence, and policy measures supporting survivors to live free from violence in their homes.

The implementation of Safe at Home programs, proven effective in Alberta, the United Kingdom, and Australia, offers additional options for survivors. These programs enable women to stay safely in their existing homes or transition to independent housing with minimal disruption. Through legal tools, safety measures, and comprehensive support services, Safe at Home programs work to remove perpetrators from homes, minimizing harm to women and children. Collaboration among core partners, including community agencies, the criminal justice system, housing providers, and child protection services, has been instrumental in their success.

WomanACT’s two-year research and policy analysis demonstrates that 76% of survivors prefer the option to stay in their homes or independent housing, with less than 10% opting for shelters or staying with family and friends. By implementing mechanisms and allocating resources to facilitate survivors remaining safely in their homes with the perpetrator removed, the City of Toronto can address a significant barrier hindering survivors safety.

Recommendation 4: Support the coordination of existing community tables to ensure the smooth integration of IPV risk indicators into their safety and services assessment processes.

WomanACT proposes strategic investments in enhancing the coordination of existing community tables, to ensure they are using a GBV lens and assessing for evidenced-based risk indicators for intimate partner violence. The aim is to effectively reduce lethality in high-risk IPV cases.

In addition, we know existing community tables review a high volume of cases for multiple marginalized/vulnerable groups. We also advocate for developing an IPV-specific community high-risk table to align with the existing community tables and support risk management of IPV-specific cases in the city. This tailored approach ensures alignment with existing community initiatives, fostering a joint comprehensive and targeted safety planning to respond to IPV. By strategically investing in these high-risk table initiatives, the City of Toronto can fortify its commitment to finding solutions to address the gender- based violence epidemic in Toronto.

Recommendation 5: Increase investment in gender equity initiatives.

As an organization actively involved in collaborative efforts with the City through strategic partnerships with the Gender Equity Office, SafeTO, and HousingTO, we strongly advocate for substantial investments to support the effective implementation and inter-divisional collaboration of gender equity initiatives.

While the development of a gender-equity office and work plan for the unit is a start, the animation and implementation of the Gender Equity unit’s work plan is contingent upon the availability of adequate resources, and strategic cooperation among different City divisions and community organizations. This entails securing a budget to facilitate permanent staffing for coordinating and collaborating activities, allocating appropriate funding for each strategic action and providing resources to support external advisory activities.

Our organization looks forward to sustained collaboration with the City of Toronto to realize a secure and equitable environment for women and gender-diverse individuals.

Recommendation 6: Establish and forge connections between senior and long-term care services and the violence against women sector to provide comprehensive support for senior women facing abuse.

We recommend supporting and establishing a network of specialists that focuses on support for senior women facing abuse. By fostering effective connections, the City can enhance the accessibility of services, promote timely intervention, and create a more protective and supportive environment for vulnerable senior women within the community. The network should focus on raising awareness of the needs of senior women (public education), developing referral pathways and engaging survivors to inform and engage in system change.

A significant discovery from WomanACT’s research on economic abuse and senior women highlights a recurring theme in existing literature. Notably, senior immigrant women are less inclined to report abuse or seek assistance.[vi] Beyond language and isolation barriers, there exists a pervasive fear among senior immigrant women regarding reporting instances of abuse. Stakeholders, including women and service providers, emphasized the imperative of addressing ‘women’s isolation and enhancing access to services, particularly those responsive to the intersecting needs of our diverse communities in Toronto. It was underscored that increasing the community’s and senior women’s knowledge of their rights and available resources is crucial for establishing financial independence and, ultimately, a life free from violence.

Furthermore, service providers also stressed the importance of building the capacity of services to identify and comprehend the available support for victims of abuse.

Recommendation 7: Enhancing public awareness of intimate partner violence in the City of Toronto.

In response to the pressing issue of Intimate Partner Violence and Gender-Based Violence, we strongly advocate for the City of Toronto to allocate dedicated resources towards the implementation of targeted public education campaigns. This strategic investment is critical in elevating community awareness, cultivating a culture of consciousness, and substantively contributing to the prevention and early intervention initiatives against intimate partner violence within our City.

By prioritizing resources for public education, the City has the opportunity to proactively engage and empower its residents. Through well-designed campaigns, we can equip the community with the knowledge and tools needed to recognize the signs of intimate partner violence, encouraging early intervention and support. Furthermore, fostering a culture of awareness will promote a collective responsibility to address and mitigate the impact of intimate partner violence on individuals and families. This recommendation aligns with our commitment to building a safer and more informed community, emphasizing the importance of education as a powerful tool in addressing complex societal issues. The allocation of resources for public education campaigns will not only contribute to the immediate well-being of those affected by intimate partner violence but will also establish a foundation for long.

[i]Baker, C.K., Billhardt, K.A., Warren, J., Rollins, C and Glass, N.E. (2010). Domestic Violence, Housing Instability, and Homelessness: A Review of Housing Policies and Program Practices for Meeting the Needs of Survivors. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15 (6), 430–39.

[ii]Schwan, K., Vaccaro, M., Reid, L., Ali, N., & Baig, K. (2021). The Pan-Canadian women’s housing & homelessness survey. Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

[iii]United Nations Human Rights. Officer of the High Commissioner. Women and the right to adequate housing. https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/housing/pages/womenandhousing.aspx

[iv]Klingbaum A. (2022) “A Place of My Own” Survivors’ Perspectives on the Safe at Home Housing Model, accessed https://womanact.ca/wp- content/uploads/2022/11/WomanACT_A-Place-of-My-Own-Report.pdf

[v]WomanACT, Infographic: Women and public transit in Toronto (2022) accessed https://womanact.ca/publications/infographic-women-and-public-transit-in-toronto/

[vi]Roger, K.S. Brownridge,D.A., & Ursel, J. (2014) Theorizing low levels of reporting of abuse of older immigrant women. Volence Against Women, 424-434

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