If finding rental housing in Nelson is difficult at the best of times, imagine what it would be like to be a woman fleeing from your family home with your kids because your partner threatened to kill you and burn the house down.
How would you find a place to live then, in a town with one of the lowest rental vacancy rates in the province?
What if you found a place, but your partner kept breaking in and leaving threatening notes and the landlord evicted you because of the break-ins?
What if your partner harassed your co-workers looking for information about you and you had to quit your job? What if you had to rely on welfare and had to worry about your partner showing up at school one day and taking the kids? How would you find a place to live that you could afford?
Housing for women fleeing family violence was the topic of a public forum held last week as part of Homelessness Action Week. It was attended by about two dozen people and was headed by a panel of women who work for women in Nelson (see photo). It was chaired by Mayor Deb Kozak and opened with a showing of Surviving, Not Thriving by local film maker Amy Bohigian.
A focal point of the meeting was the perspective and advice of panelist Michele Morin, whose stories of getting away from abuse and starting a new life were graphic and startling. After some bad years she’s gone back to college and is helping other abused women.
Here are some comments from the discussion, not just about Morin’s life but generally about the housing problems faced by women escaping violence and looking for housing.
- “They say, ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ Well, I wanted to be alive. If I had not done certain things I did, I would not be alive today.”
- “There is the complexity of leaving an abusive situation, but then throw poverty into the mix as well. Affordable housing is a big one. Thirty days used to be enough to find a place, and then trying to find job and find childcare …”
- “I knew I had to just pack and go before he gets out of jail.”
- “We could maybe start with education for landlords: for example that dogs are not a bad thing in a rented home. I have a guard dog (to protect me from the violent ex-partner). I have to put myself in a landlord’s shoes. He has to deal with someone like me that had two break-ins but cannot prove it was him (the violent ex) who did it. The landlord just sees that as someone destroying his property.”
- “Budget yourself to live on $550 a month, and do it. That’s the best self- education you can do.”
- “There are very few programs targeting the abusers and holding them accountable. The criminal justice system has its own set of problems. Whenever I try to make a case for more programs for abusers, what comes back is, ‘That will put the women’s services at risk.’ And I say, ‘Why?’ We can keep supporting women till the cows come home, and we will. But it does nothing to change the dynamic.”
- “If people in this room told ten people about it, and then those people told others, everyone in town would know about it in a month.”
- “We need public investment in affordable housing that is real, and we need a good way to measure what affordability is. Nelson has had no vacancy in [subsidized] affordable housing since the buildings [those run by Nelson CARES] opened. We need clear language about what affordable housing is. We need a federal, provincial and municipal partnership. You can not rely on the private sector.”
- “You are not eligible for subsidized housing unless you have children.”
- “They have to move to Pass Creek, the Junction, Salmo. It’s few and far between that women are finding rentals in Nelson proper. You are out on the street, or you return to the home, or to the homeless shelter.”
- “There’s a program called Be More than a Bystander. They have purposely partnered with the BC Lions because football is a macho sport, so we have these football players talking about respectful relationships, and this is powerful. There are some templates out there to look at.”
- “There is a ‘why doesn’t she just leave’ tool kit, with an open opportunity for a community member to go through all the steps that people fleeing violence would have to go through. It makes you understand what it feels like.”
- “People say ‘Just go to the transition house and it will be sorted out by the end of the month.’ But the court dates and harassment can go on for years.”
- “Abuse starts when people move in together, or when they have a child, not on the first date.”
- “I am thrilled now that we have men calling themselves feminists, and are supportive.”
- “Once you manage to find the housing, then there is the hydro bill.”
- “The BC Society of Transition Houses website is a great resource.”
- “There is a family court program in London, Ont. that is the model. Why not here?”
- “I said he told me, ‘I am going to kill you and burn this house down,’ and they said, ‘Oh he was just mad, he’ll calm down.’ This is blaming the victim.”
- “Some personality types, they know they have done wrong but they just don’t care. When these charismatic, psychopathic abusers walk out of the police station and say, ‘look what she did to me,’ people say, ‘Oh poor baby.’ My ex-landlord came to me and said, ‘Why are you doing this to him? You know he didn’t mean the things he said.”’
- “We need a cultural shift. The victim gets blamed, so we need to think about how to reach out to the broader community.”
- “Some people can afford $1,200 a month for an apartment. They pick their parking ticket off the front of their car and laugh. That is the cost of my food.”
- “There is a crisis coming in co-op housing in Canada. People have to wake up and exercise their political will and get involved.”
- “There is a campaign urging parties to address women’s issues. It’s called Up for Debate.”
- “Educate yourself and educate others.”
- “There is no us and them. It is we. Look after each other.”