The provincial government’s recent announcement of $6 million in additional funding for women’s shelters and sexual-assault centres across Alberta is welcome news for agencies providing services to victims, but doesn’t go far enough according to Laurie Blakeman, MLA for Edmonton-Centre and Justice Critic for the Alberta Liberal Party.
Blakeman says the problem is that victims aren’t getting the support they need and this funding increase will do little more than make a dent in the numbers of women and children currently falling through the cracks.
“Given how chronically under-funded both sexual-assault centres and women’s shelters have been under this government, I’m happy to see any amount of money directed to these areas,” Blakeman says. But she’s critical of the lack of clarity in the government’s announcement and wonders if the funding will be stable. “These organizations and Albertans who depend on their services need to know if the funding will be permanent.”
Alberta Human Services spokesperson Cheryl Tkalcic says it will be: “This is stable, sustainable funding. This funding is not a one-time grant or special project.”
Tkalcic adds the provincial government is firmly committed to providing supports for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and points out that sexual-assault centres across the province saw their funding, on average, more than double following the announcement.
With the 2012-13 Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters data report indicating that 15 032 women and their 12 881 children could not be accommodated by shelters, and only 5966 women and 5847 children were, Blakeman is concerned that even with this additional funding, women and children will continue to be turned away when they are fleeing domestic violence.
“I am concerned that more vulnerable women are going to be turned away simply because there still are not enough resources,” Blakeman says. “This is one area where clarity and predictability can mean the difference between finding a safe haven and having nowhere to go to escape violence.”
Blakeman says just as many women are turned away from shelters in Alberta as are served by them.
“This is especially true for women without children,” she notes. “While we can’t fault shelters for making women with children a priority, we can’t pretend that we are serving all of the women who need help here.”
According to an ACWS fact sheet, more than 103 343 women and 108 955 children were turned away by women’s shelters across Alberta over the past decade. Of these, more than 80 percent were from Edmonton and Calgary. Due to the high demand for shelter spaces, shelters are forced to prioritize admissions of abused women with children. As a result, admissions of abused women with children represent about 60 percent of all admissions in the province’s two largest cities. ACWS data confirms that single women, including senior women, rarely gain admission due to bed shortages.
Of the new funds, $3 million will be used to provide 70 emergency shelter beds in high-needs areas, with Calgary to receive 22 of those beds. Edmonton will not be getting any additional shelter beds, but the five contracted agencies in our city and the one in Sherwood Park will get a portion of that $3 million for outreach.
Tess Gordey, executive director of WIN House, (Edmonton’s Women In Need shelter) says her agency is grateful for their share of the outreach money.
“We already have a half-time outreach position and this money is going to pay for that,” she says. “We appreciate not having to fundraise for that.”
Gordey also notes that WIN House will benefit from their share of the funding being allocated to the shelters so that they can increase the wages and benefits of their staff or hire new staff.
Similarly, Liza Sunley, executive director of Lurana Shelter, says her agency will be able to create 1.5 new outreach positions. “This is really important when it comes to supporting women who don’t come into the shelter but still need support,” she says.
Christie Lavan, communications and partnerships advisor with ACWS says that although the government’s announcement might have been a little short on specifics, the umbrella agency, which speaks for women’s shelters across the province welcomes the funding with open arms.
The increases to help shelters recruit and retain staff are a step in the right direction, according to Jan Reimer, executive director of ACWS and former mayor of Edmonton. In a press release welcoming the new funding, Reimer says it is good to see the government acknowledging the abuse and violence faced by women.
“It’s all connected,” Reimer says. “Sexual abuse and domestic violence are symptoms of a deep-rooted, societal pandemic related to women.”
The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, along with the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre will each be getting a share of the $2 million promised to the 10 sexual assault centres across the province, which, Tkalcic points out, is—for some of the centres—more than double what was promised in the March budget.
“The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, for example, will be receiving more than double,” Tkalcic says, “with $444 000 in new money bringing their total this year to $692 000.” She says the university’s centre, which has never received provincial money before, will receive $30 000 and the Saffron Centre in Sherwood Park will see a boost of $65 000, bringing their total government funding this year up to $158 000.
Still, Blakeman, who has fought for increased resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault since she was first elected in the ’90s, cannot bring herself to jump on the bandwagon of those singing the government’s praises.
“I’m sorry, but this is a government that is riding on the backs of women in this province, and they are riding on the backs of charities who are forced to fundraise in order to support the women who need them,” she says. “So, no, the government doesn’t get a standing ovation for this. For this, they get polite applause.”