Women's shelters facing staff shortages amid COVID, high rates of gendered violence

Shelters stretched to limit

Women's shelter workers are feeling even more pressure as the latest COVID-19 wave hits Canada, fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Lise Martin, executive director of Women's Shelters Canada, says shelters are overwhelmed in part because of significant staff turnover and shortages due to workers in COVID-19 isolation.

Martin says those in the sector were already working under pandemic-era strains, including a spike in demand for shelter and services along with rising rates of gender-based violence across the country.

Erin Griver, director of women's services at Mission Services of Hamilton, Ont., says their women's shelters have seen outbreaks and staff testing positive throughout the pandemic, but the current rates of infection moving through their sites have not been seen before.

She says the workload has been exhausting, and that every person she's spoken to in the sector is "drowning."

Lanna Many Grey Horses, who manages women’s and children’s services in Powell and Springhouse shelters in Vancouver, says they are seeing a significant reduction in the number of people applying for positions.

Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, advocacy director of YWCA Toronto, says that because the sector's workforce is largely made up of women, these workers face compounding challenges including added caregiving responsibilities at home.

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