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The Homelessness Crisis: Access to Shelters Amid a Pandemic  

By Haley Ramphal  

 Homelessness targets the most vulnerable individuals within society and exposes them to its unforgiving conditions. In recent months, with the Covid-19 pandemic and capacity restrictions, shelters are filling up fast, leaving many uncertain of where to go when places are full. 

Although homelessness affects both men and womenresearch explains that Saskatchewan is an outlier amongst provinces in that it has the highest rates of gender-based violence, therefore negatively impacting more women than men. Domestic and sexual violence are the leading causes of homelessness among women, and this gender-based violence often results in women fleeing from a volatile and threatening environment

These alarming statistics create pressure for communities to support and provide shelter for those in need, becoming an even greater task due to the pandemic. As reported from staff at a local women’s shelter in Regina, the average length of stay is one month. However, due to the limited space and the restrictions imposed to ensure social distancing, the shelter has had to turn away as many women as they accept.  

The National Centre for Children in Poverty reported that 80% of mothers with children experiencing homelessness previously suffered some type of abuse or assault. The majority of those accessing shelters are women escaping violence, however, if shelters continue turning people away due to restrictions, with the risk of homelessness loomingsome of these women may decide to continue living in a dangerous situationputting their wellbeing at risk for the sake of keeping a roof over their heads.

The Crisis Shelter & Residence at YWCA Saskatoon offers short-term emergency shelter for all women and children who need a safe place to stay for up to 30 days. Staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The shelter welcomes clients experiencing everything from domestic abuse, homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues. The services and supports provided at the Crisis Shelter Residence help women and children facing a wide-range of circumstances feel safe, providing them a place to turn to and help overcome barriers. 

Services include basic food and personal items, crisis counselling, assistance with conflict resolution, connections to legal resources and education, referrals to medical professionals if required, and advocacy on behalf of the women and/or childAlthough beds fill up quickly, the staff provides callers with a list of other agencies and places they can turn to for that given day or night. It is difficult having to turn people away, granted, precautions must continue to be taken during these times of uncertainty. The Crisis Shelter & Residence does their part by ensuring those who cannot stay in the shelter are aware of alternate accommodations within the city.  

Homelessness affects men, women, and youth; however, women and youth are at higher risk of assault and other violent crimes being perpetuated against them when they are unable to find a safe dwelling for the night. They are often preyed upon as they make for easy targets due to their exposure and the lack of protection most of us take for granted when safe inside our homes. It is crucial that accessible housing establishments, shelters and support services be prioritized to help care for society’s most vulnerable citizens. 

 To read the full articles referenced within this document, please visit the following links and check out the YWCA’s homepage for more information on the Crisis Shelter & Residence: 

https://www.schoolofpublicpolicy.sk.ca/research/publications/policy-brief/Gender-Based-Violence-and-Homelessness.php 

https://nursing.usc.edu/blog/how-to-help-homeless-women/