Sunday, April 09, 2006

Homeless Women in Ottawa Filling City Shelters

Shelters across the city are seeing a growing number of homeless women, a crisis that's leaving their resources stretched.

At the downtown Shepherds of Good Hope, an outreach program originally mandated to help men and women with chronic mental illness, now has a new population of women who suffer addictions or are sex trade workers.


There are no drug addiction services for these women and the staff isn't properly trained to deal with the complexity of their problems, said Joanne Hansen, senior manager of shelters at the Shepherds of Good Hope.

"All we're providing is a bed, a roof over their heads and meals. We need more," she said.

The Shepherds' Hope Outreach program has 40 beds and 30 of them are used by women.

Often, up to three women a night are turned away because there's no room and the resources aren't sufficient.

It's the same situation facing Cornerstone Women's Shelter.

Each night, Cornerstone's beds are full and staff is forced to turn away women.

Director Sue Garvey said another reason they are turned away is because the chronically mentally ill who suffer addictions present behavioural problems that Cornerstone can't handle.

"We have the support for men, but with women, we are very much behind," Garvey said.

Last year, 1,267 women stayed in local shelters, up from 2004 when 1,221 women used shelters.

Contributing to this increase is the surge in drug use among homeless women.

More women on the streets are turning to crack, and crystal meth use is also on the rise.

"For homeless women, addiction is so critically dangerous in the city right now and we really need to find a solution to this," Garvey said. "The more vulnerable they are, the more vulnerable they are to getting caught up in this issue."

Mayor Bob Chiarelli is developing an integrated drug strategy that will see community groups across the city come together.

Garvey wants Cornerstone to be part of that action group.

The Shepherd's Hope Outreach program has asked the city's housing program for about $300,000 to expand its program.


The money will help change its physical structure by segregating the women from the chronically mentally ill.

Funds would also go toward providing addiction services to these women, as well as training staff to properly deal with those with behavioural problems.

"We really want to improve the system so we can get them out of the system," said Garvey.


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