OTTAWA — The federal government has announced funding to construct and repair hundreds of spaces for women and children fleeing violence.
Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen said the government will give over $121 million to build and repair a total of 430 spaces in shelters and transitional housing.
"The federal government is doing its part. Is there more work to be done? Absolutely. And we're committed to doing that," said Hussen in an interview.
The projects will be located across Canada, including Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Quebec.
The money comes from an initiative under the national housing co-investment fund, previously announced in the 2021 budget.
Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada, said the funding is welcome and a good start to meet the high demand from women seeking safe shelter.
"The need is so great. And so this, unfortunately, is like a drop in the bucket," said Martin.
Advocates and front-line workers have been sounding the alarm that domestic violence has been on the rise since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening the already dire shortage of shelter beds for women and children seeking safe places to stay.
Martin said she was disappointed the government did not renew the funding in the 2022 budget, and would have liked to see this initiative renewed until the end of the national housing strategy, which is set to end in 2027-28.
Asked whether the federal government would consider renewing the fund, Hussen's spokesperson Arevig Afarian did not directly respond but cited other programs in the national housing strategy that would benefit women.
The rapid housing initiative launched in 2020 will create 10,000 new housing units across the country, one third of which will support women or women and their children, Afarian said.
The government committed new funding in this year's budget to create at least 6,000 new affordable housing spaces, with at least one quarter of funding going toward women-focused projects, she added.
The funding announced Friday will flow directly to the non-profit organizations that are running the shelters, said Hussen.
The federal government has the flexibility to partner with provinces and territories as well as with organizations directly involved in the work, he said.
"In some cases they know what the needs are, and the money flows faster when we do that."
Provincial governments also might not step up when offered federal funding.
In 2020, Saskatchewan's then-minister for the status of women, Tina Beaudry-Mellor, said she was not aware that the province was leaving money on the table and not applying for certain programs that would help create funds to run shelters.
The province’s opposition corrections and policing critic Nicole Sarauer said at the time that although federal dollars are on the table to build more shelter spaces, operators can’t build them because Saskatchewan is one of only two provinces that does not provide operating funding for second-stage housing for survivors of domestic violence.
In fact, there are three provinces that don't fund second-stage shelters, including Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, said Martin.
She pointed out the announced funding is unique for including an amount that would temporarily cover the costs of running the new shelters after they have been constructed.
"That's often been the challenge for the shelters, that the federal government will provide funding to build shelters. But then you have to run the shelter, and that comes from the province," she said. "A province won't necessarily give the funds to run the shelter."
Experience has shown it often takes up to two years for operating funds to flow from provinces to new builds, said Martin.
The federal government's work to create more shelter spaces should be done in tandem with other levels of government doing their part, said Hussen.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press