Between the Abuser and the Street: An Intersectional Analysis of Housing Challenges for Abused Women

By Little, Margaret | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Between the Abuser and the Street: An Intersectional Analysis of Housing Challenges for Abused Women


Little, Margaret, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

Connie had it all. "I had a job, I had a house, I had 2 cars, I had a cottage" (Interview #4, Kingston). But her husband was physically and psychologically abusive. She describes how difficult it was for her to decide to leave her children and her home:

I would call the police and he [her husband] talked his way out of it, so he ended up getting the home, so of course the kids got to stay with him. So if I wanted to leave the abusive situation I had to leave the kids because he was never abusive towards the kids. So it was me who left, so it made it look like I abandoned the children so, that was that! Basically you're screwed if you leave and you're screwed if you stay [because] when I leave the lawyer is not going to say the kids should go with a mom who's staying in a shelter (Interview #4, Kingston).

She quit her job and searched all day throughout her small town looking for housing or shelter for her and her three children. At midnight she called a 1-800 crisis number from a phone booth and located a women's shelter in a nearby city. After time in the shelter she could not find housing, consequently she moved to Toronto. She didn't want to live at a shelter again. She finds it very stressful to live with many other women in crisis when she, herself, is feeling terribly anxious, thus, she found herself on the streets, living behind City Hall.

By the time I met Connie she had lost custody of her children, her home, and was in a new relationship with an abusive man, but found this the best option to keep her off the streets at night (Interview #4, Kingston).1 This is the unfortunate reality for far too many women who have experienced violence in their lives. Local, provincial, and federal social housing and shelter policies do little to provide women like Connie with real options that would end the violence in their lives and provide the housing security they desperately need.

Housing concerns are a major reason why women stay in abusive relationships and often return to abusive partners. Drawing upon a SSHRC-funded research project involving qualitative interviews, in seven languages across Ontario, of 64 women receiving welfare who have experienced intimate partner abuse, this article explores the limited housing options for abused women (Mosher et al. 2004, Anon#1)2. This research project explores abused women's experiences of a variety of social policies that are critical to their survival: social assistance, child welfare, housing, and immigration. During the interviews these women lived in shelters, in subsidized housing, in private rental accommodations, and in their own home. The vast majority of them had experienced homelessness within the last decade. Unfortunately we were not able to interview women in second-stage housing or safe homes. While this research project was Ontario-based, I have conducted more recent interviews with service providers across Canada and explored provincial and federal social policies that affected low-income abused women.3 These findings highlight an increasing concern about how Canada's lack of a national housing policy significantly contributes to gendered and racialized poverty, particularly amongst abused women. Through an intersectional analysis this article explores the erosion of a commitment to housing for Canada's marginalized and the exceedingly limited housing possibilities for abused women (shelters, second and third stage housing, social housing and the private market). All of this makes clear the alarming connection between housing and abuse, and the desperate need for a national housing plan with commitments from all levels of government.

As a consequence of housing policy changes over the last two decades Canada's housing system now is the most private sector market-based of any Western nation (Hulchanski and Shapcott, 2004: 6). Canada also has the smallest public housing sector of any major Western nation, except the United States. …

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