In April, the province of Ontario will be expanding a pilot program to make it easier for survivors of domestic violence to find housing.

The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) was one of 22 communities that participated in the pilot program, which took place over the past two years.

“We immediately joined the pilot program because we knew there was a need in our region,” says Anne Comtois Lalonde, director of social services for the UCPR.

The UCPR was given $240,000 over two years to implement the program and Comtois Lalonde says that money has gone to help more than 30 domestic violence survivors find housing.

The program works as a portable housing benefit, which is a subsidy given directly to low-income earners rather than to the property owner and/or landlord. This gives survivors more freedom to choose where to live, allowing them to stay close to family and friends for support, but also helps them find housing quicker rather than wait on a social housing unit to become available.  

For example, a young woman is a victim of domestic violence. Once she gets out of the situation and she can find an apartment in her community where the UCPR would pay the difference in rent cost if she is unable to afford it. Again, that money is given directly to the survivor and not the landlord. That helps prevent identifying her as a survivor of domestic violence.

Last year’s provincial budget announced $30 million over the next three years and hopes to help 3,000 survivors. In 2020, funding would be bumped up to $15 million a year.

Under the expanded program, Comtois Lalonde says the province will be responsible for allocating the subsidy rather than the local social service providers, but survivors will still need to apply to the program through service providers.

Many more survivors

While the expanded program is good news to help survivors, the numbers certainly don’t tell the full story of the domestic violence in the area.

Last year alone, Prescott-Russell Victim Services responded to 201 incidents of domestic violence—the second most-common incident the organization faces.

“Tragic circumstances” is at the top of the list for most calls, but that category includes fires, accidents, suicide and sudden deaths. Statistics are tracked monthly and Linda Smith, the organization’s executive director, says there have been recent months where domestic violence cases have surpassed tragic circumstances.

“In the eight years I’ve been with Victim Services, it’s the first time that happens,” says Smith. “That got to me.”

Those 201 incidents included 166 women, 39 men and 13 children, for a total of 218 survivors—substantially more than the 30 or so people who received help under the portable housing benefit program.

Familiar faces

Smith says she sees recurring faces when it comes to domestic violence incidents.

“There are many reasons (victims) may go back,” she says.

For one, if children are involved, survivors may not want to leave them with the aggressor. Survivors may not have any support, especially if they refuse counseling, which is part of the process when survivors are taken out of a violent situation.

“They feel alone and go back to the only thing they know,” says Smith. “The unknown is scarier than what we know, even if what we know is bad.”

Aggressors may also be in control of the households finances.

“If there is no housing for (victims) to stay because they’re alone and can’t afford an apartment, they may just end up going back rather than be homeless,” says Smith.

The above program is a step towards addressing the financial issue. However, it’s still addressing the problem of domestic violence.

“We need to educate our potential victims to be aware of the signs of (domestic violence) and to get out of these relationship,” says Smith.

“We also have to work with the aggressor,” she adds. “How can we show them it’s not right? It’s education… educate them on healthy relationships and you’re responsibility as a human being.”