Sask. has highest shelter use

By Terrence McEachern, The StarPhoenix, February 28, 2014 - Saskatchewan tops the list among Canadian provinces with the highest rate of women residing in shelters because of spousal abuse.

It is also the only province to have more children than women admitted to shelters, according to Statistics Canada's Transition Home Survey released Thursday. In 2012, Saskatchewan had 2,965 children admitted to shelters compared to 2,668 women. By comparison, Canada had 62,594 women and 36,105 children admitted to shelters.

"Probably we see more children in our shelters than what is reflected in this report," said Diane Delaney, co-ordinator with the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS).

"Women often bring more than one child. So, that's a concern - to think about the future of the children and what lies ahead."

Based on a one-day snapshot on April 18, 2012, the rate of women residing in shelters because of spousal abuse - 32.98 per 100,000 residents - is a decline from 2010 when the rate in Saskatchewan was 34.86. The rate in Canada in 2012 was 24.86.

Delaney has been involved with women's abuse issues and shelters for 20 years.

Over that time, she has noticed that women's abuse cases have become more complex in that they are not merely about violence but also tend to involve poverty, addiction and First Nations people dealing with separation and isolation from their culture.

As well, society has improved its understanding of the issue and recognized that violence against women is unacceptable. The justice system has also improved its response to the issue by allowing police officers to lay a charge when supported by evidence rather than leave it up to the victim to lay charges, Delaney said.

"For a number of reasons, she might not pursue charges. So, it was seen as a public crime against society in general," she said.

Regina's lack of affordable housing has also had an impact on shelters because women are forced to stay longer if they can't afford to go elsewhere.

"I hear of cases where women are staying up to three months when normally we don't expect more than a six-week stay at maximum. But they can't find housing, so what can they do? The housing crisis has had an enormous impact on the shelters," she said.

"And then, when women are staying in shelters longer because they can't find housing, then we have to turn people away because we don't have room."

Moving forward, PATHS has identified four areas that need to change - raising children in a secure environment, strong values system, economic equality for women and education about the issue. "Unless we see a change in all these four areas, we'll never see an end to violence (against women)," Delaney said.

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