Community Voices: Women and children do not matter in this province

Submitted by Gayle Collicutt

Women and children do not matter in this province.

Our province provides no safety net for low income women and children who are fleeing abusive living situations. The hand up they offer is a treacherous path riddled with bureaucracy, hunger, anxiety, and depression.

This needs to change.

Imagine you’re a mother of two children.

You’re abused daily, in front of your children, reliant on the very person who harms you daily in order to eat and have a roof over your head and your children's. With each assault you endure, your children become conditioned into believing this is normal behaviour.

Now imagine finally getting the courage to leave. You can only take so much. There is not much room at the shelters for all of your possessions because with shared rooms space is limited.  

You arrive with your children, one bag each in hand. As you register your family’s information with the staff member, you’re informed of Income Assistance (IA). You need to apply because it's the fastest route to “safe and adequate” housing.

As you await your appointment with IA, you adjust to sharing a room with not just your children but another resident of the shelter, who is there for reasons far different than your own.

Your children must attend a different school, form new friendships. Leaving home due to domestic violence means leaving friends, school, intermediate family members, and even family pets behind.  

The day of your appointment has finally arrived. You have all your required identification and bank statements, and after what feels like an MRI of your soul, you’re approved. A little spark of joy ignites and then you’re informed of what you’re entitled to a month.

$895 a month is what you have each month for shelter, food, utilities and personal care items. When you begin to vocalize your worries and fears, your caseworker quickly shuts you down by pointing out the Child Tax Credit Benefit and that IA does issue school supply allowances, along with providing dental and pharmacare for you and your children.

You leave feeling defeated and helpless, along with feeling sentenced to daily abuse from your children’s father or a life of poverty simply for being a single mother in Nova Scotia. You left everything you knew to provide a stable and happy home for you and your children, and now it feels like you ripped your children’s lives apart for nothing.

At the shelter, the counselor assigned to you suggests applying for public housing. IA has a rent subsidy programs, and supportive housing could be an option, but the wait times are long.

The more you find out, the more depressed and anxious you become. You begin to miss what little independence you had, having your own space, and loved ones close by. Obtaining safe, affordable and adequate housing while reliant on the Department of Community Services (DCS) seems to be a bigger nightmare than the abuse you endured at home. Your children would be well fed, cared for financially, and with their friends.

Even obtaining employment seems to be a hopeless task with no aid in childcare while you job search. Transitioning from IA to full-time employment won’t lift you out of poverty sufficiently with high childcare and transportation costs, along with loss of dental and pharmacare.  

With a heavy heart, you choose to return to the man who has terrorized you for years.  You feel forced to endure trauma, physical and emotional pain daily due to a province that prioritizes big business and developers over their most vulnerable citizens.  

We can change this, we have the means to provide enhanced services for women and their children subject to abuse.  

DCS needs to lift the rental subsidy cap. With out of control rents and NS Housing struggling to tackle the $100,000,000 in deferred maintenance orders, lifting the cap would provide more housing options that are safe and adequate.

Most of all IA must remove the red tape for mothers who are able to work. That starts with providing childcare allowances during the job search and interview process. The majority of employers will not contact applicants who show up with a resume in one hand and a child holding the other.

Contact Kelly Regan and demand enhanced services for women and children fleeing abuse. Their lives depend on it.  

Gayle Collicutt is an anti-poverty advocate living in Nova Scotia. If you have a perspective you'd like to share on our blog, please get in touch: