Survey paints disturbing picture of need

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Like all 13 of the women’s shelters in Toronto, the physical address of Interval House is, out of necessity, a carefully guarded secret.

But because of that need for secrecy, few outsiders understand the urgent need for financial support.

This month, the Canadian Network of Women's Shelters and Transition Houses lifted the veil slightly on that need, with the results of its first-ever national survey painting a very disturbing picture.

On the day of the survey, 14,178 women and 2,490 children were living in shelters across Canada. One statistic was particularly grim: 286 women and 205 children were turned away that day because there simply wasn't room.

“These statistics are alarming,” Interval House’s Paula Del Cid says. “Without funding there’s a risk that that number could double. What’s going to happen to these women and children. Are they going to put up with abuse just to get food and shelter? Are they just going to be another murder statistic in Toronto?”

Most women who use shelters don't know how to navigate the social service system, and they often stay in violent and dangerous living situations to avoid becoming homeless.

That’s what makes financial support so critical — but the reality in Ontario is that government funding for shelters like Interval House has not increased since 2008.

In fact, the survey showed that a lack of funding is the biggest challenge for staff.

“Having our shelters is so important,” says Paula. “Our dream would be that shelters wouldn’t have to exist in the first place. But the reality is we do exist and we need to help these women. They don’t know all the help that’s available out there. We want women to know we’re here to help. We say to them: “We can offer a bed, some food and help to get through this. It’s not going to be easy but we’re going to work at it together.”