That women experiencing homelessness in Chilliwack make up forty per cent of the total is no surprise to Patti MacAhonic, executive director of the Ann Davis Transition Society (ADTS).
The 40 per cent rate emerged from the FVRD 2020 Homeless Count results showing the total number of homeless in Chilliwack increased from 221 people in 2017, to 306 in 2020.
“We have the highest rate of homeless women in the entire province, not just the Fraser Valley,” MacAhonic said.
The ADTS official said she’s been trying to sound the alarm about the high proportion of homeless women in Chilliwack since the last official homeless count.
“When the forty per cent stat first came to our attention it was three years ago. We were struggling with it and lobbying for emergency housing. We had women lined up outside our doors,” MacAhonic.
They had to turn them away.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has made things even worse. They’ve seen “safety calls” to ADTS increase by 135 per cent in April, and “crisis calls” went up 43 per cent.
A new “rent bank program” is just getting off the ground, MacAhonic noted. The rent bank will be geared to offsetting high rental costs by providing either a bursary or a loan to those eligible.
They are also working on bringing two long-term housing projects to fruition, one with housing for women, and one geared to housing women with children, MacAhonic underlined. That’s on the heels of ADTS opening a women’s centre last year in partnership with BC Housing to get more women off the streets, as well as the operation of the existing transition house for women fleeing domestic violence.
Funding from donations and volunteer labour allows ADTS to offer tools and resources like outreach services and a Bad Date program, from their thrift store, Ann’s Treasures and Thrift, where women can anonymously report incidents violence at the hands of bad dates, she said. The bad date reports can sometimes lead to RCMP efforts to get the most violent cases dealt with since Chilliwack has an extremely high rate of violent crime.
Local service providers like ADTS, Salvation Army, Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, have been working closely with City of Chilliwack, BC Housing and other partners under the aegis of the Chilliwack Healthier Community network. About 100 people from the streets of Chilliwack moved into brand-new supportive housing units built by BC Housing in the past year as a result, as well as many more shelter spaces created since 2018.
“But despite all that we’re still seeing more homeless women,” MacAhonic said.
A high percentage have mental health issues.
“Being homeless is dangerous, we know that and many people medicate to stay awake and stay safe. They are really at risk out there.”
Studies show that most homeless women have experienced domestic or sexual violence.
“So permanent housing is critical, and without access to it, a survivor may be forced to stay or return to an abusive partner or live in unsafe conditions.”
The trauma of an abusive relationship has a big impact on a survivor’s likelihood of becoming homeless..
“Domestic violence victims can struggle with anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and substance abuse while also trying to find or maintain safe and stable housing,” MacAhonic said.
“This is unfortunately what we are dealing with.”
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