Bed shortage forces shelter to turn women away

Anova at 101 Wellington Road in London. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

A London-based women’s shelter was forced to turn women away at an alarming rate last year due to a lack of beds.

Anova, an agency that provides shelter, support, counselling, and resources for abused women and their children, released figures Tuesday showing that on 2,553 occasions in 2018 it turned women away because there were no shelter beds available.

“When a woman is ready to leave a dangerous situation, we want to make sure that we are able to respond in a way that keeps her and her children as safe as possible,” said Anova Executive Director Jessie Rodger. “When we are unable to say ‘yes, we have a bed, we can send you a cab and bring you in’ and have to do alternative safety planning with her and do other risk assessments and help her find a second option there is always a risk for that woman.”

The agency has just 67 beds within its two emergency shelters. The average length of stay in those shelter is 49 days.

Demand for Anova’s service has steadily grown since the Me Too movement began in the fall of 2017, according to Rodger. The agency’s crisis and support line received 11,195 calls last year, up from 10,000 in 2017. One family court support worker served 383 families, while two counsellors delivered 903 hours of sexual assault counselling in 2018. Another 75 women were waitlisted for sexual assault services.

“We have a community in crisis. We have more and more women and women-identified folks and their children who are needing safe space,” said Rodger. “If we are going to tell survivors that it is ok and safe to speak up and speak out then we need to respond with resources.

Rodger is calling on all levels of government to do their part to help address this “urgent and life-threatening crisis.”

“I think there is work for our federal partners when we talk about housing and when we talk about safety and employment. There is a big piece for our provincial government to think about how they can help and support and make sure that sexual assault centres are funded adequately and at a local level there is some work municipal politicians can do,” said Rodger.

Anova has created a letter template for community members who would like to voice their concerns to elected officials over the lack of funds and support for local women’s shelters. The template can be found on Anova’s socials or by contacting the agency directly.