Violence can lead to homelessness

A soon to be published study details how domestic violence often leads to homelessness.

Women in northern communities, homeless as a result of violence, may soon have more support due to an upcoming report from the Northern Society for Domestic Peace (NSDP) in Smithers.

The study: Critical Choices: Rural Women, Violence and Homelessness is authored by Molly Wickham, a graduate of the University of Victoria’s indigenous governance program.

She conducted interviews with women who shared their experiences and found some commonalities.

“Domestic violence and homelessness for women are very closely linked,” Wickham said.

“In nearly every case of a woman fleeing violence, some form of homelessness is the result.”

Canada doesn’t have a definition of homeless, so the national statistics are hard to tally and at times don’t reflect the reality that a woman fleeing violence may find herself homeless, Carol Seychuck, NSDP executive director explained.

“We run the transition house and when a woman is helped by us she’s immediately considered homeless,” Seychuck said.

“She wouldn’t self-identify as homeless because she does have places she can stay.”

Seychuck describes one of two types of homelessness defined by the United Nations called relative and absolute homelessness.

Relative homelessness includes people who are couch-surfing to people who pay more than 30 per cent of their income toward rent, according to Wickham.

Absolute homeless is anyone who lives on the street to people who frequent shelters for food or lodging.

There are organizations in Canada, like the Homeless Hub, that are attempting to create a national definition of homelessness, but in the meantime Wickham will provide a snapshot of this specific form of homelessness in the northwest.

She began her project last June with a review of literature on homelessness and found some details lacking.

“There isn’t a lot of research about northern rural communities, most of the data is about urban spaces,” Wickham said.

During the interview process, which Wickham hopes to complete by January 2013, a trend has become apparent.

“From the discussions I’ve had in the area there are a number of young homeless people in the Smithers,” Wickham explained.

“Teens will come from a place that has no school and find it hard to adjust and they sometimes end up homeless.”

The NSDP has been operating for over 20 years and is well-versed in the obstacles women face in Smithers if violence leads to homelessness.

“Family and friends often do not want to get involved and the woman will go back to the abusive environment,” Seychuck said.

Not all communities in the north have shelters for women fleeing violence and they become transient.

“We had a woman from Yellowknife stay here on her way to the lower mainland because she had nowhere else to go in her home community,” Seychuck explained.

“I’m not advocating for all families to stay together at all cost, but I believe everyone should be given the chance to work things out if they so choose,” Seychuck said.

“Northern communities require the operating budget to provide the help families need.”

B.C. Housing, one of the main sponsors, will review the study upon its completion to determine where services for women could be improved in the north, but an equally important outcome is also hoped for, according to Seychuck.

“I would like communities in B.C. to take some responsibility to recognize women’s experience with violence and create needed support for them,” Seychuck said.

For information call the NSDP office at 250-847-9000 or Molly Wickham at 778-210-1610.