Canada

City hall covered in purple ribbons as women’s advocacy groups demand more affordable housing

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Advocates and allies demanding an end to violence against women staged a vigil Monday evening and laid thousands of purple ribbons as part of a memorial at city hall earlier in the day while calling on council to increase supports for affordable housing.

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To mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, city hall was covered in 13,000 purple ribbons — one for every household on the waiting list for subsidized housing in the city — in an illustration of the intersection between gender-based violence and Ottawa’s affordable housing crisis.

The Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) launched a letter-writing campaign calling on the city to match the $38.5 million for the local shelter system, already earmarked in the budget, with equal investments for affordable and supportive housing.

“We would rather see that money go to housing than the shelters, because the shelters are experiencing a bottleneck, where women are coming into the shelter system, but there’s nowhere for them to go after,” said Ray Eskritt, executive director of Harmony House.

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“There’s just no housing. The waitlist is about seven to 10 years and there are 13,000 households on the waitlist. That’s not individuals, that’s households, families on the waitlist for housing, and some of them are in high need.”

People held candles and roses at the annual memorial service in Minto Park to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women Monday, Dec. 6, 2021
People held candles and roses at the annual memorial service in Minto Park to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women Monday, Dec. 6, 2021 Photo by Errol McGihon /POSTMEDIA

Eskritt cited one example of a woman with schizophrenia staying at Harmony House — the city’s only “second-stage” shelter, bridging the gap from the shelter system to independent living — who was in desperate need of more supportive housing, and was placed on a waitlist more than 3,000 days (eight years) long.

“We have had women stay at Harmony House for four years before finding housing, and they’re considered high priority,” Eskritt said. “No one should have to live in a shelter that long. It’s very frustrating to see these women — who have done nothing wrong — and they’re stuck in the shelter system because we can’t get our act together on affordable housing.”

Domestic violence shelters are also children’s shelters, Eskritt said. “And I know children who don’t know life outside of a shelter.

“It’s incredibly frustrating when you’re dealing with children and women who have lost their homes due to violence and had to flee, and they’ve been put into these vulnerable situations… when they’re already on really shaky ground. It’s very scary.”

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The letter-writing campaign asks residents to lobby their councillor for more money in the budget for shelter capacity, to improve safety with current emergency housing and to “maintain and create deeply affordable housing” in the city.

Until there is enough “deeply affordable” or “rent-geared to income” housing, Eskritt said, shelters will be forced to continue to turn survivors away.

“Right now, the best way to protect women is to make sure they have a safe place to live,” Eskritt said.

“Rent subsidies are not enough and it’s not a permanent solution, and it amounts to subsidizing landlords. We have other women stuck in hotels, which again is not a permanent solution that subsidizes the already-wealthy (hotel owners).

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“Who are we doing this for? How many dwellings are going to stay empty when the city could provide community or alternative housing? To me, the idea of my tax dollars feeding landlords and hotel owners instead of those who need it is deeply offensive.”

Eskritt said Monday’s grim anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre should bring attention to the violence that women in Canada continue to face, and should serve as a call to action.

“Given the housing crisis in Ottawa and beyond, this year’s action is focused on meeting the housing needs of survivors of violence against women and gender-based violence.”

[email protected]

Twitter.com/helmera

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