March 8, 2021
OTTAWA-Throughout this pandemic, domestic violence has doubled or even tripled. With the added high stress, job losses, and loss of community supports, those who work in the Violence Against Women (VAW) sector weren’t surprised. We rang alarm bells as loud as possible.
Journalists began to investigate and publicize the issue. Statistics were paraded about, and word was spread that services were moving online. Here we are, a full year into the pandemic and journalists continue to call and ask me, “What can we do to end domestic violence?”
I think they are hoping for a grand insight, or perhaps expecting something like, “here’s how to contact assistance to make a safety plan,” or maybe “what signs to look for when interacting with friends and family”. Some ask about changes to policing, increased substance use programs, or longer jail sentences for abusers, as if perhaps these would solve a problem found world over and since the beginning of time.
My answer is unglamourous and to the point; a basic income, a right to housing, and universal child care. Without these things, people will continue to become trapped in cycles of violence and abuse that has deadly consequences.
To interrupt this cycle takes bravery, intelligence, planning… and money.
The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Ottawa is now $1,714 a month. Putting a preschooler in daycare will cost you approximately $950 a month. A bus pass is $122.50 a month, and food for a parent and a child will run about $500 a month. This is already a total of $3,286.50 a month, without including internet, phone, medications, diapers, formula, insurance, clothing, hygiene or savings. If a person with a child under five years old is lucky enough to be accepted into Ontario Works, they would receive a pitiful $1,555.25 a month including their federal child tax benefit. Less than the cost of the average apartment.
If a person was willing to escape to a lifestyle of grinding poverty, and be willing to subject their children to it as well, they would still need a place to live. The vacancy rate in the nation’s capital now sits at 3.9%, whereas a city with a healthy housing market holds an average between 5-8%. This was sadly evident when just a few months ago the city campaigned an effort that tried to house 100 homeless families. This effort only managed to find four homes over a several months long search.
The current waiting list for subsidized housing is seven years long. That’s a long time to wait. It’s a death sentence for too many.
The problem with many domestic violence interventions is that they only happen after the abuse has occurred. Prevention is often difficult and VAW organizations are specialists at creating safety plans for those who find themselves trapped. But maybe we can change that.
If women could walk away, secure that they will have a home, enough to eat, and money for diapers, think of how many would. How many would turn away from abuse and be able to control their own lives? How many children would be able to go to school without fear of returning to a parent turned black and blue?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we came together to ensure that families could pay the mortgage, pay for food, and keep the all-so-sacred economy going. We saw the power of collective action as we stayed home and celebrated CERB saving us all from an uncertain future. Large scale solutions to wide-spread problems are possible. It is time for all of us to be brave, intelligent and make the plan.
Ray Eskritt is the Executive Director of Harmony House, Ottawa’s only second stage women’s shelter.