Women’s shelter stretched thin amid high inflation, housing crisis

The Hamilton Spectator

Ritika Dubey The Hamilton Spectator Thu., Sept. 22, 2022

The 22-bed facility isn’t meeting the growing demand at a west Mountain women’s shelter.

Interval House of Hamilton is currently home to about 31 women and children — well over its designed capacity.

While the non-profit organization has had capacity-related issues before, it’s different this time, says Sue Taylor, executive director of Interval House of Hamilton.

Taylor said the pandemic has “created the perfect storm” and women have been experiencing far more violence “and are at a far greater risk of lethality,” she said. Hence the higher number of crisis calls and more women showing up at the facility.

More than half the women’s shelters in Canada reported an increase in the number of crisis calls compared to before the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada.

Rob Mastroianni, the city’s manager for residential care facilities and the emergency shelter system, told The Spectator the social and economic effects of the pandemic “exacerbated pressures within Hamilton’s emergency shelter system, and also the provincially run Violence Against Women’s (VAW) system, putting vulnerable families, often female-headed, under significant strain.”

So, how are they accommodating individuals beyond their capacity?

This is where the shelter gets creative, Taylor told The Spectator.

The staff members have placed cots for kids in bedrooms to keep women and their kids in the same room. In cases of no vacancy at the facility, women are being placed in select community rooms or counselling rooms.

Those nonresident rooms, however, are without bathrooms or showers. “We may put somebody there, hopefully not long — perhaps overnight — while we try to find (them) space in Hamilton or out of town,” Taylor said.

“Safety is our priority,” she added.

Once at the shelter, it could take up to six months for women to navigate life back into the community, find employment and means to support a living for themselves and their children.

“The stabilization of income is a barrier,” said Taylor, which affects pathways to finding affordable housing.

Rising inflation, costly food items and the spiralling housing market have made it harder for women to find their way back to the community — and for the shelter to match the demand for services in their limited budget.

“In the last little while, the costs have gone up substantially,” Taylor said. The organization, funded primarily by the province but also relying on private donations, had budgeted to provide for women and children as per the bed occupancy.

Since the occupancy has gone up unexpectedly, Taylor said the organization is not only finding food supplies like milk and lunch higher than budgeted, but also has the need to hire additional staff to keep up with the demand.

Taylor said the organization is in need of monetary donations more than ever. Shoppers Drug Mart’s LOVE YOU campaign is raising funds for Interval House until Oct. 14, which Taylor said would help run their day-to-day activities.

People can also call Interval House of Hamilton at 905-387-9959 to make donations.