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High rent prolonging shelter stays for women on P.E.I.

Danya O’Malley, executive director of Anderson House, says the rental crunch in Charlottetown is hindering the healing process for women who have dealt with violence.
Danya O’Malley, executive director of Anderson House, says the rental crunch in Charlottetown is hindering the healing process for women who have dealt with violence. - Terrence McEachern

The director of an emergency shelter for women says the lack of affordable housing in Charlottetown is a roadblock that is keeping women from healing.

Danya O’Malley, the executive director of P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, which runs Anderson House, said she has seen the length of stay for women seeking shelter increase in recent years from an average of 11 days to 16. She said the longer stays are likely due to the steady loss of other affordable rental options.

"We're meant to be a place of healing and recovery from trauma and things that sort of shatter the self,” O’Malley said.

“We never really get to do that work as much as we would like in the shelter because we're so focused on getting people's basic needs met."

Charlottetown has seen a 13.7 per cent increase in average rental prices for two-bedroom apartments since 2014. The rental vacancy rate is estimated to be at 0.5 per cent.

Anderson House is an emergency shelter for women and children dealing with domestic violence, but it also caters to homeless women. O’Malley said the conditions of homelessness are inherently unsafe for women.

She said the number of women the agency has housed on a temporary basis has not increased over the last year. But staff members have noticed increased stress for women seeking to move on after staying at the shelter.

"What we're finding is that the pressure on people to find something – the clients are feeling it. It doesn't feel good to them or to staff to be looking for something that doesn't exist," O’Malley said. “It is bleak.”

Staff members at Chief Mary Bernard Memorial Women’s Shelter on Lennox Island have also noticed women staying longer.

Danielle Annand, the shelter co-ordinator, said women have often been unable to secure housing with the amount allocated to shelter under social assistance. The maximum shelter allowance under social assistance is $555 for a single person and $701 for a single person with one child.

Annand said staff has been allowing women to remain longer at Chief Mary in recent months.

"We're seeing that women are needing to use their six weeks and we've been extending ladies because of the fact that they can't secure housing," Annand said.

Annand said Chief Mary has also seen increased demand this year. She attributed this to greater awareness of the shelter’s services throughout the Island. The shelter is available for both First Nation and non-First Nation women in need of shelter.

But she also believes the high rental costs have played a role as well.

"This summer we have been quite busy," Annand said.

"We have been full for some time now."


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