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.
“They were not willing to rent to me, some of them, because I was single. As a single mother they would ask me how I am going to pay?”
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.
“The one thing that is steady for my son is school. I am glad I managed to keep him in the same school and keep that stable.”
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.
“The emails are non-stop. He is ridiculing me, trying to keep me down.”
In her current housing situation, she feels under surveillance by her landlord.
“There is no privacy. I also must tell my son to be quiet, don’t be loud. They are always watching me, saying oh you went out there. Why do they need to know?”
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.
“Once you have stable housing, you can work on yourself. If you are always traveling with so many other things, you cannot. This was my big secret for years, I only shared in 2018 for the first time. It is a miracle that I am sitting here today. I hope that my story can help someone.”
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.