A housing support organization in Halifax now has a worker who helps survivors of domestic violence find housing and other services.
Kay Spurr is the intimate partner case manager at Welcome Housing and Support Services and started the role in June. Spurr’s role is funded by Reaching Home, a community-based program from Infrastructure Canada aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness across Canada. Spurr previously worked with Barry House, Alice House, and the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.
Spurr said Leigh MacLean and Laura MacKay from Welcome Housing recognized that intimate partner violence is often reported as a contributing factor of homelessness for many of the clients who go to Welcome Housing for support.
Spurr said a large part of her job is helping clients with safety planning–that is, creating a plan on how to keep them safe from their abuser. She might also connect clients with food banks in their area, education programs, employment supports, budgeting or trusteeship, and parenting programs.
Spurr said when those clients also face racism, ageism, and poverty, it can be more difficult for them to know where to go for help. Spurr said there are a lot of decisions a survivor has to make when they leave a situation of violence, and if friends and family aren’t supportive, often survivors are doing that work on their own.
“Saying it is hard to navigate does not do justice to the incredible depth of programs there is to know about, eligibility for each, and prioritization for resources to make sure they receive adequate support in all the important ways,” Spurr said. “Sometimes I know not only the processes but people who work at other organizations and that makes connections so much easier.”
Spurr has a caseload of clients who have high needs, including around mental health and addictions, but she said there’s always an overlap with domestic violence. She adds issues around housing and domestic violence often intersect.
“There always has been that intersection,” Spurr said. “It has an impact on women and children. That system is designed around a specific path, which is women leave male partners, go to a shelter, go to a transition house from there, and then second-stage or affordable housing. The idea of this position is to fill the gaps within the violence-against-women, transition house system.”
Her clients are often people who prefer not to go to the traditional shelter system. They may have pets, have male-led families or have adult sons/family members who can’t go to a transition house.
“A lot of it is just being there for them and to listen,” Spurr said.
Spurr said there have been serious gaps are in the LGBTQ+ community and intimate partner violence services. Sometimes clients may not feel safe staying at a shelter, so they sleep on friends’ sofas or outdoors. And shelters sometimes have mandates or services that aren’t a fit for everyone.
“Not everyone wants group programming, for example,” Spurr said. “Or some people have counsellors they’re working with as well. So, when there are ideas that fit around those systems, they are looking for another option. That’s why my position was created. Housing services need to include more than just the emergency shelters and they have to respect the choice of survivors.”
“People do fear child protective services. They do fear stigma. They fear supports that they don’t trust, or even changing over staff on different shifts. When they know there is one dedicated person who will follow up with them, it makes is easy.”
Spurr said if the point-in-time count — the surveys that look at who is living on the streets — was in a box and you were unpacking it, the packing peanuts around that would be the people affected by domestic violence who we don’t always see.
“And there’s no room for that to come out right now,” Spurr said. “It puts people more at risk. There are people with brain injuries who aren’t accessing hospitals. There are people who should be having treatment for cancer who aren’t accessing hospitals or medical care during the pandemic.”
People are only able to stay in a transition house for six weeks, although shelters can be flexible at times, and Spurr said it’s almost impossible to find housing within that timeframe. The expectation from Housing Nova Scotia is that an application for rent supplement will take eight to 12 weeks to be approved. Sometimes that process takes longer if there are challenges collecting proof of income or other documents.
Spurr said she’d like to grow the team and hire more case managers. One of her goals in her job has already been met. She worked with Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage MLA Barb Adams to to link people experiencing domestic violence in Eastern Passage to housing services offered by Welcome Housing. So clients in that community can access now more immediate supports.
“It’s only been three months, but it’s been a really good three months of learning in this position,” Spurr said. “We have not moved slowly. We’ve gone fast in every direction we could.”
And she said having more case managers would allow her to do more education on domestic violence.
“One thing I have been saying when I’ve spoken out is that the public is listening to conversations around encampments. I’ve said there’s no People’s Park for intimate partner violence apart from a cemetery,” Spurr said. “I feel like it’s so deep within our culture that we’re not able to see the full picture of that or to see that it’s getting worse.”