Alberta women's shelters turn away thousands due to lack of space and staff

Shelters turn away 1,000s

Emergency shelters in Alberta haven't been able to provide refuge to thousands of women who were fleeing domestic violence due to a lack of space, a report shows.

The data, which runs from April 1, 2021, to March 30, 2022, was compiled by the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters from 37 member organizations that operate more than 50 shelters across the province.

"Our members are under extreme strain due to chronic underfunding and they are struggling to meet the need in their communities," Jan Reimer, executive director of the council, said in a video released later Wednesday.

"I don't want this fact, which in itself is deeply troubling, to prevent anyone who needs help from reaching out, but the reality is the sheltering sector in Alberta is experiencing a compounding of pressures on their operations.

"Some shelters are even considering closing their unfunded beds, despite being at capacity every night. Some shelters don't receive government funding at all."

The annual report shows the shelters received 65,390 calls for help, and about 25,530 of those callers requested admission. About 16 per cent of those calls led to a woman being admitted, said the report.

It said shelters had to turn away 11,546 requests for admission by women and seniors, along with 6,241 children, because they were full.

Another 7,570 women and seniors, as well as more than 3,336 children, were turned away for other reasons such as staffing shortages or the shelter not having enough resources to meet the complexity of their needs.

The report said people who use substances could negatively affect children and other shelter residents. People with mental health concerns might be turned away because the shelter doesn't have resources to address them, it added.

Reimer said those are not just statistics, but "living, breathing Albertans — many of whom are in severe danger."

When people are turned away from a shelter, the report said they often have limited options for a safe place to stay.

"Many will end up sleeping in cars, on the streets, living temporarily with friends or relatives, or returning to their abuser," said the report. "There is a critical need for safe and affordable housing in the province of Alberta."

Jeremy Nixon, minister of seniors, community and social services, said at a separate news conference about affordable housing Wednesday that he saw the report earlier in the day.

"This is something that's important to me, it's important to this government that when people are experiencing domestic violence, that they have somewhere to go," he said when asked about it by a reporter.

"We are doing and will do everything we can to make sure that individuals fleeing domestic violence have supports, and I am looking into this."

At the news conference, Nixon announced $55 million over three years so Albertans have more access to affordable housing.

The government said the program is to help public, non-profit and private sectors build more homes for seniors, families, people with low incomes, disabilities, and victims of violence.

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