Women facing intimate partner violence need housing

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Lambton’s politicians say intimate partner violence is an epidemic.
But whether the county will help with one of the biggest problems facing women who leave their abusers is yet to be seen.

Executive Director of the Women’s Interval Home, Jennifer Vansteenkiste, told county councillors Sept. 6 that one in three women experiences intimate partner violence and every six days a woman dies at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.

Vansteenkiste pointed out reports “outlines 52 femicides in 2020 to 38 femicide so far this year, and documents the seven femicides that occurred in Sarnia-Lambton since the beginning of the pandemic. Seven women murdered.”

Last year, she said, Sarnia police and the OPP went to 928 calls involving intimate partner violence. Calls for services are up dramatically without any added provincial funding to meet the need. Vansteenkiste was representing a number of organizations including Victims Services and the Sexual Assault Survivors Centre.

All, she said, are getting more calls for help as first the pandemic and now the economic downturn and housing crisis, lead to more violence in relationships.

The county agreed to declare Intimate Partner Violence an epidemic and supported a call for the province and the federal governments to provide long-term sustainable funding for the organizations which help woman and their children fleeing intimate partner violence.

But Vansteenkiste said there is an area the county could provide concrete help – housing.

Vansteenkiste says right now the county has three units available for women fleeing violence. An independent consultant says Lambton county needs nearly 20.

Vansteenkiste says Womens’ Interval Home and the Sexual Assault Survivors Centre has a plan to build housing for women who are ready to take the first step into the community. But she says, they should be in the same building so women’s groups can provide support services.

The groups approached the county for help to apply for federal funding, but were turned away.

Vansteenkiste says without funding from other levels of government, the project won’t be feasible.

She tells The Independent its clear politicians are facing a crisis in housing but transitional housing for women fleeing intimate partner violence would help.

“Domestic violence is actually a pathway to homelessness for women and their children, which leads to the next generation of homeless people. So, if they want to be proactive on the problem of homelessness, they really need to address domestic violence and transitional housing.”

Vansteenkiste told councillors without access to the housing they need, women and children end up returning to the home of their abusers.