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'Choosing between homelessness and abuse': B.C. housing crisis trapping women in abusive homes

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If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, Victim Link BC is available 24/7. Please call or text 1-800-563-0808 or email VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca. Additionally, the Vancouver Island Crisis Line can point you to the right supports for your region. Call 1-888-494-3888.

A Vancouver Island woman says she can’t escape an abusive home because there’s nowhere else to go amid B.C.'s tight housing market.

For months, the woman has been calling housing providers up and down Vancouver Island, only to be told she has to put her name on a lengthy waitlist for women escaping violence.

"You don’t want to wait a day, or a week, or, 'Call back in two weeks and we’ll see where we’re at,'" said Julie, a pseudonym that CTV News is using to protect her identity.

"They could be dead by then," she said.

Julie claims her ex berates and belittles her in front of her child, and sometimes, gets physical.

"The only thing that keeps me going is my son," she said. "He’s the only thing I get out of bed for."

'WE SHOULD ALL BE HORRIFIED'

Two support workers in Victoria were horrified, but not surprised, to hear about Julie’s experience.

"Demand has always been high for transition house services," said Marlene Goley, who has worked in the field for 31 years.

"That’s the shocking fact that I think we should all be horrified and ashamed of, is just how prevalent violence against women is and continues to be."

Goley manages the Cridge Centre for the Family transition home, which has as many spaces available as it does names on the waitlist.

"We have eight women and 10 children on our waitlist, so we could fill another transition house right now," she said.

For the women who manage to make it into emergency or secondary housing, there’s often nowhere to go after that.

The cost of rent and childcare, paired with limited income assistance rates, has pushed vulnerable women out of the market, said Candace Stretch, Cridge’s supportive housing manager.

"A woman three or four years out of an abusive relationship might have to go back into it because of a housing crisis," Stretch said.

"They’re choosing between homelessness and abuse."

PROVINCE INVESTING $734M

Julie, Goley, and Stretch are calling on the province to fast-track the construction of homes for domestic abuse survivors and their children. They’re also calling for funding to boost wages for staff who are burning out.

"The saying is that, 'We’ve done so much with so little for so long that now we can do just about anything with nothing,'" Goley said.

"When it comes to funding, [it’s] a little bit like, 'Oh well, they’ll manage,'" she said.

The housing ministry said it supports more than 110 transition houses, safe homes, and second-stage housing sites for women who have experienced or are at risk of violence.

"Our government knows more women’s transition spaces are needed, which is why in 2018 we created the Building BC: Women’s Transition Housing Fund, a $734 million investment over 10 years to build and operate 1,500 transition housing, second-stage housing, and long-term housing spaces for women and children fleeing violence," a statement from the ministry reads.

As of Tuesday, construction of 824 units is complete or underway.

THERE IS HOPE

Goley and Stretch have seen many women launch into violence-free lives. They believe with time, the same can happen for Julie.

They’re urging people to put their names on as many housing waitlists as possible.

"Keep phoning and phoning and phoning," Goley said. "Make sure they don’t forget your name."

Stretch is calling on landlords to partner with transition homes and for people with extra suites to consider renting them to women escaping violence.

"Now is a time for creative solutions to the housing crisis," she said.

Julie said she’ll keep pushing until she and her child have a safe place to live.

"I do believe that you can move on and live a really good life if you’re able to have those basic needs met," she said. 

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