Strategies, policies and programs for effective action to prevent, reduce and end the homelessness of women and girls in Canada are well-documented in the rapidly growing literature. Three broad strategy approaches have been documented:
- ensure women have enough income to live on
- make it easier for women to find safe housing that is affordable
- provide effective programs and supports to address systemic issues intimately connected to women’s homelessness such as violence, abuse, trauma and discrimination.
For women’s safety and well-being, Canada needs to implement the right to housing.
Losing housing can arise from complex causes, but it is inextricably tied to poverty. Strategies to implement the right to an adequate standard of living and reduce women’s poverty include:
- Adopt living wage policies
- Improve income support and social assistance
- Provide quality, affordable child care
- Implement Poverty Action Plans.
Child Welfare and Homelessness
The connections between child welfare and the homelessness of girls and women are intricate and multi-layered. There is a high correlation between state care and girls’ homelessness. Many women who have experienced loss of housing or imprisonment have lost their children to state care. Mothers, including teen mothers, need housing and child care that is safe and affordable. The role of the child welfare system in the homelessness of women and girls needs re-examination with a gender lens.
2. Increase Women’s Access to Affordable, Safe Housing
To implement women’s right to housing, and ensure “security of the person” guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, we need to make more affordable housing available and the housing that is available, more affordable:
- Implement rent supports
- Increase the supply of affordable housing
- Adopt a National Housing Strategy
- Provide a range of housing options including transitional and supportive housing
- Improve tenant protection.
Girls on the Street
The majority of teenage girls leave home to escape sexual abuse. Preventing their homelessness requires a swift response to domestic violence and sexual abuse of girls, and quick access to supportive, safe, gendered housing. Programs can support girls to complete their education, train for employment and address addiction and mental health issues. The engagement of teenage girls in the sex trade demands innovative program responses.
3. Provide Active Prevention and Support Programs
While broad policy change is essential, programs can play a strong role in prevention and reduction. Ending homelessness requires addressing systemic issues such as violence against women and girls, criminalization, and women’s mental health. Given the impact of homelessness on First Nation, Métis and Inuit women, programs to overcome intergenerational impacts of Residential Schools, reverse systemic discrimination and improve the conditions of life in northern and rural areas are essential. Programs and services need to be inclusive and to promote and respect women’s rights to dignity, autonomy and self-determination.
- Expand services for women recovering from abuse and trauma
- Expand housing and support programs for women leaving shelters and prisons
- Increase court diversion and prevention programs to reduce criminalization
- Expand addiction recovery and detoxification programs for women
- Expand support services for newcomer women.
“The root causes of women’s homelessness — unaffordable housing, insufficient incomes, inadequate services, discrimination, and violence — must be addressed by changes to economic and social policies at the federal and provincial levels.”
— We’re not asking, we’re telling, 2011