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A Free Hotel is Always Full

Emergency centres for women give scarce beds to transients

From the Alberta Report, July 21, 1997, page 33
By Lauri Friesen

In a province where the government is big on gauging itself by means of social "performance measures," a decline in admissions to women's shelters would seem to be a feather in the welfare department's cap.  The women who run Alberta's shelters do not feel that way, however; unsurprisingly, they see it as a sign of the need for more funding.  When Family and Social Services released its 1996 women's-shelter statistics July 3, the numbers showed a drop from 5,437 women and 6,426 children in 1995 to 5,410 women and 6,293 children in 1996.  Shelter managers promptly responded that the real number to look at was 8,436—the number of people turned away from shelters for lack of space.

    Karen Blase, director of the Calgary Women's Emergency Centre, told the Calgary Herald: "We did serve fewer women this year, but it's because we couldn't get them housing or we couldn't get them connected to other services."  For Ione Challborn, director of the Edmonton Women's Shelter, the decrease in the number of people served is meaningless: "The drop tells me nothing," she told the Edmonton Journal.  And Heather Richards, director of the Sherwood Park women's shelter, declares: "We always need more services and we're certainly inadequately funded ... all the social-service system pieces are under stress and everybody is just flat out."

  The department budgets about $8 million a year for family-violence prevention, and nearly 95% of that is dedicated to the shelters and other facilities.  The money is intended to provide food, housing, clothing, emergency transportation, crisis intervention and child care.  Bob Scott, the department's communications director, explains: "We provide for the basics.  Anything extra the shelters want to provide, they have to raise the funds on their own." [My Note: In the 1998 budget, the Alberta government increased the funding to women's shelter organizations by another $1 million/year, for the following three years.  Alberta has a population of just over 3 million. —WHS]

  Some of the extras the shelters do provide include referrals to other agencies and programs, outreach and follow-up services, individual counselling and assistance with health and financial issues.  They also provide housing to people not directly in their mandate.  A closer look at the numbers provided by Alberta's 19 emergency shelters, two second-stage housing facilities and seven rural violence prevention centres shows 19% of the people admitted were not victims of family violence, 7% "needed accommodation away from home," 1% "were awaiting hospital admission," 4% "were transient" and 7% "were having problems with parents, family or spouse."

    "The shelters make the decision to plug up their beds," says Mr. Scott.  "If they did not accommodate these people, there would be less congestion."  Mr. Scott also notes that the people who are turned away are not actually abandoned.  The department provides hotel accommodation for any woman who is a victim of domestic violence.  Ms. Richards told newspapers that only women with children are put up in hotels, but Mr. Scott denies that that is the policy, saying: "We would put up a single woman who is a victim of abuse in a hotel, too.  If she is only transient, then we don't."

  Arlene Chapman, executive director of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters, which represents 27 of the facilities, told the Edmonton Journal: "Women only come to a shelter when they really need to.  It's not a hotel and it's not somewhere you'd want to be if you had another choice ... they have very limited options as to where they can get the kind of support [they need]."  Ms. Chapman was unavailable for comment to Alberta Report on the 19% of shelter occupants who were not fleeing violent situations.

—Lauri Friesen


Contrary to what Arlene Chapman asserts, women do go to shelters when they don't really need to, and at least in Edmonton, amongst women in low-rental housing and women in the streets, the shelters are called "The Hotel."

    I know of a number of instances where women used the shelters in their divorce strategies to gain advantages in the courts, for the purpose of depriving their husbands and ex-husbands-to-be of all they ever called their own or at least to obtain a more than equitable portion of the family assets, and to deprive fathers of access to their children.  After all, shelter staff and other shelter occupants help them with filling out the required affidavits, even to the extent, as one former shelter worker testified at Erin Pizzey's appearance during her September 1998 visit in Edmonton, to manufacture evidence of abuse by skillful use of make up and taking colour pictures of the resulting evidence of "injuries."

    The best recommendation that can be given to any man who is subjected to such perjuries and abuses of the judicial system is to insist on evidence provided by a reputable and impartial medical doctor and not to be shy in insisting that charges for perjury be laid against the creators of false evidence of abuse.

    See also Arlene Chapman's comments pertaining to Erin Pizzey's visit in Edmonton, Sept. 1998.  Arlene Chapman is hardly an objective individual, yet, she and her associates are entrusted wtih $9 million/year of Alberta taxpayers' money.  Such is the power of the propaganda against men.  Nevertheless, I agree with Arlene Chapman that the shelters are not nice places to be.  One man whose ex-wife used one of the Edmonton shelters in her divorce strategy told me of his daughter being exposed to drug abuse while she was at the shelter with his ex.  Another man who had been doing some repair work at one of the shelters, told of the terrible conditions that exist there.  He told that the shelter, although only about two years old, had been virtually trashed by its residents.  As an aside, it is interesting that although policemen aren't allowed to enter the shelters — ostensibly to give the residents there a feeling of security — men are permitted to enter when they must perform repairs to the plumbing system.  It appears that in spite of decades of equal job opportunities for women, female plumbers are still in short supply and that there is nothing like a man when it comes to coping with shit — even in a "battered women's" shelter.

    In all of the hype against men, never forget that family violence is a human issue and not a failing by men alone.  Women are slightly more likely than men to commit violence against their partners and nine times more likely to commit violence against their biological children than fathers are.  Most importantly, the tragedy of family violence affects only an extremely small fraction of the population.  Almost 100% of our population is not violent at all.

Refer to Family Violence — Index for more information. —WHS

See also:

2001 02 02 (format changes)
2013 03 08 (removed reference to dvstats.org -- website no longer functions)