The Ministry of Community and Social Services Violence Against Women Emergency Shelter Standards are intended to promote consistent, high quality emergency shelter services for women and their dependents fleeing violence. The standards are intended to outline the minimum requirements for all ministry-funded violence against women (VAW) emergency shelters. The ministry recognizes that some shelters provide a level of service that exceeds these minimum standards, and the ministry encourages agencies to continue to do so.

In June 2015, the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) invited all ministry-funded VAW emergency shelters to participate in consultations on the proposed shelter standards. Four consultations were held, including English and Aboriginal sessions in Toronto, and one Francophone session in Ottawa. 81 of the 96 shelters participated in the face-to-face consultations, and eight shelters provided written feedback on the standards directly to the ministry.

The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the feedback received on a number of key areas in the standards that received significant attention at the consultations and in the written submissions. In reviewing the feedback, the ministry will balance the needs of VAW emergency shelters, the priorities of the ministry, and the needs of the women and dependents accessing shelter services.

Consultation Findings

Participants provided feedback to the ministry on the content and appropriateness of the standards, including how the standards should be written to best reflect the work of VAW emergency shelters across the province. At all consultations, the ministry heard that there are varying service delivery realities based on the geographic location of shelters, particularly for shelters located in rural and remote communities. Many of the participants acknowledged the importance of providing access to shelter services for women who use substances or who have mental health needs. Feedback from the participants also noted that the unique needs of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit women need to be better-reflected throughout the standards, and the ministry needs to be aware of the issues impacting service delivery in shelters, including the availability of affordable housing and the varying availability of mental health supports and services in the community for women and children.

Guiding Principles for VAW Emergency Shelter Standards

The guiding principles have been revised to reflect the feedback received through written submission and during the consultations:

  • All women with or without their dependents, who experience violence and/or abuse are provided access to emergency shelter services, regardless of their ability, race, sexual orientation, political or religious beliefs, ethno-cultural background, First Nation, Métis, or Inuit identity, or whether they identify as two-spirited, cisgender or transgender women.
  • All women and their dependents are provided access to emergency shelter services, including but not limited to women with mental health needs and women who use substances.
  • Shelters are committed to reducing barriers that may impact women and dependents accessing shelter services.
  • Shelter services are respectful to the diversity of women and dependents, and are provided in an inclusive environment, free of discrimination and harassment.
  • Women's lived experiences are valued and taken into consideration in the delivery of shelter services.
  • Shelter services are sensitive and responsive to the cultural, spiritual, and religious needs of women and their dependents.
  • The shelter will provide services that recognize the unique needs of children, which could include providing referrals to community services.
  • Training and shelter policies and procedures encourage, improve, and maintain the well-being and safety of all individuals residing, contributing, and working in the shelter.

Admission Criteria

During the consultations, the ministry heard that there are differences in how shelters are responding to women who have male dependents over the age of 16. Some participants voiced concerns in their ability to provide access to shelter services to male dependents that are over the ages of 14 or 16. At the sessions, a number of participants acknowledged that the standards should move away from the focus on male dependents, and encourage that all shelters, at a minimum, provide services for women who have dependents 18 years of age or younger. Participants emphasized that this would be a shift for some shelters, and that some shelters will require time to train staff and implement the appropriate procedures.

Non-Admitted Clients

The majority of participants acknowledged that shelters support women through safety planning and providing referrals to other shelters and community services when the shelter is at capacity. For some shelters, the geographic location of the shelter has an impact on the availability of alternative shelters or community services when women are referred elsewhere. Participants suggested that the standards acknowledge that women may choose not to access alternative shelters or services when the shelter has made a referral.

Intake and Assessment

A number of participants noted that the intake process should include the collection of basic information from women and dependents within 24 hours of their arrival at the shelter. Basic information should include name, date of birth, and any information about safety and security concerns. Across shelters, there are differences in the full intake and assessment procedure, particularly around the steps that are included in the process and the length of time that should be taken to complete intake and assessment. The majority of participants noted that the standards should be sensitive to women's different stages of readiness to participate in the assessment process, or to women’s readiness to share information about their experiences of violence.

Discharge

The majority of participants requested that the discharge standard not include references to shelters having to support women until they have found alternative accommodation, as this could place shelters in the position of supporting women and dependents for up to a year, depending on the availability of housing. Some participants suggested that the standards move away from language such as "discharge" and move towards language such as "transitioning from the shelter."” Participants noted that there are a variety of reasons for women transitioning from the shelter and that many shelters continue to provide supports for women and dependents after they have left the shelter.

Length of Stay

Participants requested the ministry clarify that there is no ministry requirement for the length of time that women and dependents should stay in shelters. A number of participants acknowledged that the length of stay should be determined by each shelter, taking into consideration the needs of women and dependents, the availability of housing in each local community, and the demand for shelter services. A number of participants recommended that the standard include a statement that shelters should not be transferring women to other VAW shelters solely because their length of stay has expired.

Shelter-to-Shelter Transfer

The majority of participants agreed that shelters should have transfer agreements and/or protocols to outline how shelters will work together when women and dependents need to be transferred. A number of participants noted that the best interests and safety of women and dependents is the priority, and that as much as possible, women should provide consent, prior to being transferred to another shelter. Some participants noted that language should be taken into consideration for Francophone women and dependents when they have been transferred to another shelter that does not offer services in French. A number of participants questioned whether the standards need to include the sample shelter-to-shelter form, as shelters have developed their own forms and protocols based on regional needs.

Use of Substances

The majority of participants acknowledged that it is important for shelters to serve all women, including women who use substances. Shelters currently have a variety of policies and procedures for how they respond to women who use substances both on and off shelter premises. Some participants acknowledged that there are shelters that have zero tolerance policies and may not provide access to shelter services for women who use substances. Shelters may use a variety of harm reduction strategies to support women who use substances. If harm reduction is recommended within the standards, it should be well-explained and well-defined. In order for all shelters to provide access to services for women who use substances, shelters need time to identify training needs, develop appropriate policies and procedures, and resolve and manage any potential risks at the Board of Director level.

Safety Assessment and Risk Management

The majority of participants noted that the standards need to recognize that safety planning is an ongoing, dynamic, and fluid process, depending on women and dependents' circumstances and safety concerns. A number of participants noted that it is important for shelters to share information and resources about the various risk assessment tools that are available. Participants noted that the standard should indicate that shelters should have elevated risk procedures to support women and dependents whose safety and security concerns have been assessed as high risk.

Implications for Implementation of the VAW Emergency Shelter Standards

Participants noted that once the standards are released, shelters will need time and resources to revise internal policies to reflect the standards, develop the associated procedures, and review the standards at the Board of Director level. Participants requested that the ministry consider the impact of the standards on First Nation shelters, and how there are different considerations for the timing and full implementation of the standards. For VAW shelters that are located on First Nation territory, the standards and revised shelter policies and procedures will need to be reviewed by the Chief and Council. Participants recommended that the ministry review the standards one year after implementation to provide shelters with an opportunity to provide feedback on service delivery issues.

Next Steps

Based on the feedback received at the consultations and through written submission, the ministry has made a number of revisions to the MCSS VAW Emergency Shelter Standards. If you would like to provide further feedback to the ministry, please contact [ministry representative name and email] by Tuesday, July 28, 2015. In August 2015, the ministry will be releasing a final version of the standards to all ministry-funded VAW shelters, along with information about the next steps for the implementation of the standards.

[Note: The consultation period is now closed]