Shelter remains shuttered

Seven months after a press release trumpeted the reopening of WIN House III—the only specialized emergency shelter for immigrant and refugee women and children fleeing domestic abuse in Canada—the facility’s doors remain shut and its future remains up in the air.

Launched by Edmonton Women’s Shelter as a pilot project in 2010, WIN III operated as a four-room, 10-bed specialized emergency shelter offering culturally-sensitive services to immigrant and refugee women and their children. On October 31, WIN III closed its doors, blaming a lack of stable funding.

A number of factors complicated the situation for EWS as it sought funding partners. Many of the women presenting at the shelter had uncertain immigration status, placing limits on both ability to work and to access social-assistance benefits. Combined with language barriers and lack of social supports, it meant the average stay of women and their children at WIN III was 52 days, well beyond the 21-day maximum mandated by the province in mainstream emergency shelters.

“This model just doesn’t fit into that line item,” explains Tess Gordey, executive director of EWS.

WIN III received 2800 crisis calls and provided temporary emergency shelter to 409 women and 536 children in 2012 alone. Since its closure, those needing assistance at a first-stage shelter have had to find it from one of the other two EWS shelters or in a third, independent shelter, Lurana Shelter.

City council passed a motion in November to provide the not-for-profit organization with assistance in developing a business case and Mayor Iveson committed to lobbying other levels of government for funding support. Things looked better a month later when local media outlets carried headlines declaring that the facility would soon re-open due to a $250 000 donation from Renee Gouin-Katz. The facility was to be named “Carol’s House” after Gouin-Katz’ mother, but the fanfare turns out to have been premature.

EWS estimates the total operating costs required to get WIN III up and running are $544 850 in the first year, increasing to $585 002 by year five. It projects that the organization would be able to fundraise about 20 percent of that amount, with the donation from Gouin-Katz spread out over three years with it and the other 80 percent divided by all three levels of government.

Although the provincial government announced last month $3 million in additional funding to shelters across the province, none of that money was earmarked to help WIN III.

“We continue to work with the city and other partners to try to resolve the situation,” Gordey says.

“We are determined that we cannot continue to try to rely on one-time grants or special-project funding,” Gordey says.

Between 2012 and 2013, a period during which WIN III was still operating, 84 percent of women seeking shelter services in Edmonton were turned away due to lack of space. It’s unknown at this point how high that percentage his risen since last fall, but there’s no doubt about the pressing need that is going unaddressed while the agencies involved work out the details and get commitments from various governments to turn the lights back on at WIN III.


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