by Laura Riina. Laura is a YWCA Toronto Volunteer with the Y Act Up Campaign.
While we have known for years that poverty disproportionally affects women, what remains hidden is the rapid increase in Canadian women’s homelessness- as well as the domestic violence, growing economic inequality and sexual abuse that creates many of the conditions for homelessness.
What is important to remember is that women’s homelessness seems to affect some categories for women more than others. It impacts many vulnerable groups, including single mothers, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, women with mental health & addiction issues, racialized women, members of the LGBTQ population, and women with precarious immigration status. These groups are more likely to be at risk in the future as women are now Canada’s fastest growing homeless population. Even more concerning is that the majority of women’s homelessness is “hidden”.
Because of the great safety risk women face living on the streets, women are far more likely to resort to “hidden homelessness”. This can include couch-surfing with friends, staying with exploitative and abusive relatives, spending time in a shelter, or continuing to stay with an abusive partner. That women in these situations are homeless is often not recognized, and, as a result, women are greatly under-counted.
As a result, women are greatly under-counted in the homeless population and services are underfunded.
The phenomenon of increased women’s homelessness and economic inequality is not likely to change without rapid, comprehensive action from every level of government. This is an issue that impacts Canadian women, or status: Every year, 75,000-100,000 women and children leave their homes for the temporary safety of a shelter for abused women. 42% of homeless girls in Vancouver were First Nation, Métis or Inuit- a rate 10 times their representation in the general population. 55% of homeless women in Toronto have a mental health diagnosis, at double the rate of homeless men.
Our system for dealing with the homelessness of women and girls homelessness in Canada needs to change.
To combat this issue, YWCA Canada has created Homes for Women, a national campaign to prevent, reduce, and ultimately end the homelessness of women and girls in Canada. YWCA Canada believes individuals and governments, community groups and corporations, trade unions and local leaders can all take meaningful action that prevents and reduces women’s homelessness. Some of the important policies the Homes for Women advocates include:
- A minimum wage that generates an income beyond the poverty level- women account for 70% of part-time employees and two-thirds of Canadians working for minimum wage.
- A National Housing Strategy that takes into account the causes of women and girls’ homelessness and responds appropriately
- Addressing Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is intimately connected to ensuring every woman and girl has a safe place to live. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has been collecting signatures on an inquiry.
- The adoption of by-laws that stimulate the building of affordable housing- such as requiring affordable housing units within all housing projects and providing relief on development charges and property taxes for builders who guarantee long term affordable rents.
If you believe women have the right to a safe, secure home, please sign YWCA Canada’s national pledge to end women’s homelessness Sign the Pledge and consider donating to this important cause.