Women put at risk by housing shortages

Kelowna’s affordable housing shortage is putting at-risk women in an even more precarious position.

In today’s Capital News, reporter Alistair Waters speaks with a woman who offers some insights on how the path to homelessness is a slippery slope of one small change after another. Here we speak with a women’s advocacy worker on the challenges women in precarious personal positions are facing.

Kelowna’s affordable housing shortage is putting at-risk women in an even more precarious position.

“In my opinion it forces women to stay in situations that are potentially dangerous,” said Jessica Haefner, with the Elizabeth Fry Society. “If they’re trying to leave an abusive situation, more often than not it’s easier to stay because it’s so overwhelming to look at all the things they are going to be faced with if they leave.”

Those things include a rental rate that’s 0.3 per cent, with an average rental fee for a one bedroom somewhere in the $1,000 a month range.

If a woman has children, finding a home with more than one bedroom is even more difficult and more expensive.

“It’s barrier after barrier for a lot of women,” Haefner said.

Many women she deals with who do make the leap out of a dangerous situation end up couch surfing for awhile or, at times, they find refuge in women’s shelters, which are oftentimes at peak capacity.

“There’s not a lot of places for women to go,” she said.

“I’ve only been in this position for a year and it’s been eye-opening. You don’t realize it until you are a person trying to find housing or, trying to help someone find housing.”

There are some government programs available to alleviate the burden on women in need, such as a BC Housing rental supplement and Income Assistance.

These, however, require filling out lots of paperwork, which is particularly onerous for women who are trying to flee an abusive relationship.

“It’s not a fast process,” said Haefner. “For women who are trying to leave an abusive relationship, housing is the No. 1 issue. ‘Where am I going to go, how will I afford to be there? When they can’t answer these questions, many times women will go back to an abusive situation.”