Canadian residential facilities for victims of abuse, 2022/2023

by Loanna Heidinger

Release date: April 10, 2024 Correction date: July 2, 2024

Correction notice

A correction has been made to the total number of 2022/2023 admissions to long and short term shelters for Ontario and Canada. This correction applies to Tables 1 through 10, Charts 1 through 5, and associated text related to admissions.

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Highlights

  • In 2022/2023, there were 560 residential facilities operating in Canada whose primary mandate was to serve victims of abuse.
  • In total, there were 60,965 admissions; women and children accompanying an adult made up the majority of admissions.
  • Admissions in 2022/2023 were 30% higher compared with admissions in 2020/2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Admissions in 2022/2023 were 10% lower than the number of admissions reported in 2017/2018 and suggests that the number of admissions to shelters have still not bounced back to pre-Covid admission numbers.
  • On the survey snapshot date, there were 7,581 individuals staying in residential facilities for victims of abuse; over nine in ten were women and accompanying children.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse was most commonly experienced by women residents in shelters (82%).
  • About two-thirds (64%) of women in facilities were between the ages of 25 and 44 on the snapshot date.
  • Indigenous women and children, and non-permanent resident women and children were overrepresented in shelters, compared with the Canadian population.
  • About one in five (21%) women residing in facilities on the snapshot date received services as a resident in the previous year.
  • One-third (33%) of shelters reported turning away women from their facility on the snapshot date; the majority of women (82%) were turned away because the shelter was full.
  • A large proportion of facilities (85%) indicated that the lack of affordable long-term housing was one of the top challenges facing residents of facilities for victims of abuse.
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Experiences of violence and victimization are associated with immediate and long-term consequences and are linked to adverse social, economical, and psychological outcomes. Residential facilities for victims of abuse, often called shelters, provide a safe and secure escape from abusive situations. Shelters provide support and basic living needs to victims fleeing abuse, including sexual assault, physical assault, and emotional and financial abuse. Many services are offered in shelters ranging from in-house services to outreach services that cater to the diversity of clients (Women’s Shelters Canada, 2020).

Victims of abuse may be reluctant to seek help or flee their abuser or abusive situations. For people experiencing abuse, fleeing the abuse or violence may increase exposure to other risks, such as homelessness or financial instability (Tabibi and Baker 2017). For women, in particular, intimate partner violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness (Maki, 2019; Meyer, 2016; Sullivan et al. 2019; Yakubovich and Maki 2021). While experiences of violent victimization are often linked to negative outcomes, previous research indicates that violent victimization is underreported to authorities (Cotter, 2021). Police-reported data, while important, may not provide a comprehensive picture of experiences of violence. Other supplementary sources, such as data on self-reported experiences of violence, provide additional information on experiences that may not have been reported to authorities.

This Juristat article uses data from the 2022/2023 Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse (SRFVA) to present results about residential facilities in Canada that are primarily mandated to serve victims of abuse. Results presented in this article refer to two distinct time periods. The first focuses on a 12-month period within 2022/2023 and provides an overview of facility characteristics, touching on shelter admissions, availability of accommodations, and general services provided. The second focuses on information for a predetermined snapshot date of April 13, 2023Note  , and presents a profile of residents using residential facilities on this date.

The 2022/2023 SRFVA is the third cycle of the survey and where possible, results are compared with the two previous cycles of the survey (2020/2021 and 2017/2018) to highlight overall trends. It is important to note that the 2020/2021 cycle of the SRFVA was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic and as such, overall numbers may reflect measures and protocols put in place to reduce the spread of the virus during this time period. Contrasting the 2017/2018 cycle of the SRFVA to 2022/2023 allows for comparisons to pre-pandemic numbers.

The 2022/2023 cycle of the SRFVA was conducted with some financial support from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

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Defining residential facilities for victims of abuse

The term “residential facility” refers to any building, location or service that provides housing to individuals, regardless of the length of stay (days, months or years). The primary mandate of such a facility refers to the main activity or service provided. For example, many facilities will offer services or support to individuals who may have experienced abuse, however, they may not explicitly include this in their mandate. The Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse (SRFVA) is a census of facilities whose primary mandate is to provide residential services to victims of abuse, as opposed to facilities primarily mandated to provide housing services to persons regardless of whether they have experienced abuse (e.g., homeless shelters). For facilities that primarily support victims of abuse, they may support other people in addition to their primary mandate.

For the SRFVA, respondents were asked to report the type of facility they operated based on the expected length of stay provided in their mandate, regardless of practice. They were grouped into twoNote  categories:

Short-term residential facilities include those with a general policy of providing accommodation for less than three months, and typically provide individual beds to residents, as opposed to separate apartments or units. Short-term facilities include, for example, transition homes, domestic violence shelters or private homes that are part of safe home networks.

Long-term residential facilities include those with a general policy of providing accommodation for three months or more, and typically provide residential units (e.g., apartments or houses) to residents. Long-term facilities include, for example, second- and third-stage housing, which are typically more permanent supportive types of housing that follow short-term housing.

In terms of usual operations, short-term facilities act as front-line centres for initial intakes and may refer residents to long-term facilities. As such, short-term facilities and long-term facilities often provide different services given the nature of their operations.

In this article, the terms “residential facilities for victims of abuse” and “shelters” are used interchangeably.

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Characteristics of facilities for victims of abuse 2022/2023

Nearly 61,000 admissions to residential facilities for victims of abuse in 2022/2023

According to the Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse (SRFVA), there were 560 residential facilities operating in Canada in 2022/2023 whose primary mandate was to serve victims of abuse (see Text box 1).

In the 12 months that preceded the survey, facilities reported a total number of 60,965 admissions (Table 1).Note Women (36,827, 60%) made up more than half of the admissions, followed by children accompanying an adult (23,779, 39%). Of these children admitted with an accompanying adult, 52% were girls and 48% were boys. During this time, 179 men and 180 adults of another gender were also admitted to facilities.Note 

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Text box 2
Residential facilities for men who are victims of abuse

Previous research suggests that men are likely underrepresented as residents in facilities for victims of abuse but may be overrepresented among those accessing residential services through the homelessness services sector. For example, according to the National Shelter Study conducted in 2014, 72.4% of emergency shelter users aged 15 and older were male (Segaert, 2017). Similarly, in the National Youth Homelessness Survey, conducted in 2016, 57.6% of the sample identified as male, and of those, 53.6% experienced one or more forms of abuse as children (Gaetz et al. 2016). Overall, more than one-third of the sample reported abuse by a parent as a contributing factor to their homelessness; however, this sector was out of scope for the Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse.

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Number of women admitted to residential facilities still lower than pre-Covid admission numbers

Admissions to residential facilities in 2022/2023 were 30% higher compared with admissions in 2020/2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, they were still lower (-10%) than the number of admissions reported in 2017/2018 (Chart 1).

The recorded dip in admissions during the 2020/2021 cycle likely points to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on shelters for victims of abuse (Ibrahim 2022). During the 2020/2021 collection period, many shelters implemented protocols that reduced their maximum capacity in order to maintain safety and reduce the spread of infection. At that time, almost half (47%) of facilities reported that they were impacted in their ability to operate at full capacity due to physical distancing measures (see Ibrahim 2022).

The difference in admissions in 2022/2023 and 2017/2018 suggests that the number of admissions to shelters have still not yet bounced back to pre-Covid admission numbers. Looking at the overall admissions of adults by gender, the number of women admitted to residential facilities in 2022/2023 was lower (-10%) than the number of women admissions in 2017/2018; however, the number of men admitted more than doubled from 86 men in 2017/2018 to 179 men in 2022/2023.

Gender differences were also noted in the number of admissions in 2022/2023 compared with 2020/2021. The overall increase in adult admissions in 2022/2023 was driven by an increase in admissions of women (+29%). There was also an increase in admissions of children (+33%) over this time period. In contrast, the number of admissions of men (-20%) and adults of another gender (-7.7%) both decreased in 2022/2023 compared with admissions during the pandemic.

Most provinces reported lower admissions in 2022/2023 than what was reported in 2017/2018. Compared with 2017/2018, Prince Edward Island (-32%), British Columbia (-29%), and Saskatchewan (-27%) reported the largest declines in admissions. In comparison, Newfoundland and Labrador (+3%), Quebec (+2%) and Alberta (+2%) all reported slightly higher admissions in 2022/2023 than what was reported in 2017/2018.

Except for Nova Scotia, overall, there was an increase in admissions to residential facilities across the provinces and territories in 2022/2023 compared with 2020/2021 during the pandemic. The largest increase in admissions was in Alberta, where a 72% increase in admissions was reported, compared with the previous cycle. Notably, Alberta had reported one of the largest declines in the number of admissions in 2020/2021 during the pandemic. Facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba also reported large increases in admissions in 2022/2023 (+65% and +45%, respectively) compared with admissions in 2020/2021.

Among the territories, facilities in Nunavut reported the largest increase (+56%) in the number of admissions compared with the last cycle in 2020/2021. Notably, Nunavut recorded a 114% increase in admissions in 2022/2023 compared with 2017/2018 from 525 admissions to 1,126 admissions. The Northwest Territories reported a slight (+6%) increase in admissions in 2022/2023 compared with 2020/2021, however the admissions to facilities in this territory were 52% lower in 2022/2023 than what was reported in 2017/2018.

Chart 1 start

Chart 1 Admissions to residential facilities for victims of abuse, by type of facility, Canada, 2017/2018, 2020/2021 and 2022/2023

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Type of facility (appearing as row headers), 2017/2018, 2020/2021 and 2022/2023, calculated using number of admissions units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of facility 2017/2018 2020/2021 2022/2023
number of admissions
Short-term
Adults 38,460 27,271 35,115
Accompanying children 25,047 16,195 21,995
Total 63,507 43,466 57,110
Long-term
Adults 2,704 1,739 2,071
Accompanying children 1,895 1,622 1,784
Total 4,599 3,361 3,855
Total
Adults 41,164 29,010 37,186
Accompanying children 26,942 17,817 23,779
Total 68,106 46,827 60,965

Chart 1 end

Majority of facilities provide short-term housing

Facilities were primarily characterized by the length of accommodations provided, operating as either short- or long-term housing (see Text box 1). Short-term facilities provide accommodations for up to three months and typically include domestic violence shelters or transition homes. Long-term facilities provide housing for longer than three months and typically include residential units and second- and third-stage housing. In 2022/2023, there were 452 short-term facilities, accounting for the majority (81%) of facilities for victims of abuse, and 108 long-term facilities, accounting for a smaller proportion of facilities (19%) (Table 2).

While there are a smaller number of facilities that offer long-term housing, the value of long-term facilities cannot be underestimated. Long-term facilities typically provide transitional housing following short-term stays. This second- or third-stage housing is important for victims to gain stability and independence, and to transition to safe and permanent housing that is free of abuse. For women experiencing violence, the risk of violence—including homicide—is heightened when they leave their abuser or the abusive situation (Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, 2021). Long-term facilities provide safe and secure housing for women fleeing violence. Access to more permanent and stable housing, as well as a supportive environment, may further help break the cycle of abuse and prevent a victim from returning to an abuser or abusive situation.

In 2022/2023, there were a total of 57,110 admissions to short-term facilities and 3,855 admissions to long-term facilities, accounting for 94% and 6.3% of all admissions, respectively. Admissions to short-term facilities increased by 31% and admissions to long-term facilities increased by 15% in 2022/2023 compared with 2020/2021 during the pandemic. Notably, admissions to long-term facilities in 2022/2023 were 16% lower compared with 2017/2018, while admissions to short-term facilities were 10% lower.

Across facilities in Canada, there were a total of 7,365 funded beds in short-term facilities and 1,128 funded units in long-term facilities.Note  Overall, this represents an average of 16 beds per short-term facility and an average of 10 units per long-term facility.   

More residential facilities located in urban areas than rural areas

Similar to previous cycles, in 2022/2023, a larger proportion of residential facilities for victims of abuse were located in urbanNote  areas (65%) across Canada. In comparison, over one-third (35%) of facilities were in rural areas. Overall, most facilities in both urban (78% of all urban facilities) and rural (86% of all rural facilities) areas provided short-term accommodations. Long-term facilities in urban areas accounted for a larger proportion (22%) of all facilities in urban areas compared with the proportion of facilities in rural areas that operated as long-term housing (14%). Approximately 35% of all long-term admissions in 2022/2023 were in rural areas and 29% of all short-term admissions were in rural areas.

Many facilities mandated to serve women and their children

Typically, a general mandate or policy governs overall facility operations, including certain segments of the population they are directed to serve. About two-thirds (64%) of facilities indicated they were mandated to serve women and their children only and just over one in ten (12%) reported they were mandated to serve women only.

While the vast majority of facilities were not mandated to exclusively serve men or people of another gender,Note  there were facilities that included men or people of another gender among the population groups they were mandated to serve. In addition to serving other population groups, a small proportion (3.6%) of facilities were mandated to also serve men, and almost one-quarter (23%) of facilities reported being mandated to also serve adults of another gender.

Despite mandates to serve specific population groups, about one in five (19%) facilities admitted persons other than those they were primarily mandated to serve. For example, about one in 14 (7.1%) facilities mandated to only provide services to adults, also admitted accompanying children into their facility in 2022/2023.

Facility mandates may further indicate specific types of violence or abuse primarily addressed. In Canada, the vast majority of facilities (94%) indicated that they were mandated to serve persons who experienced various types of abuse, such as spousal, familial or abuse experienced in other relationships.Note  Almost all facilities (99%) stated that they were mandated to serve persons experiencing spousal abuse. A high proportion of facilities had a mandate that included serving persons experiencing other intimate relationship abuse (87%), other family relationship abuse (77%) and elder abuse (63%). A smaller proportion of facilities included serving persons experiencing abuse by an acquaintance or friend (53%) in their mandates.

Just under one in five (18%) facilities were mandated to only serve persons experiencing intimate partner violence and less than one in ten (8.1%) were mandated to only serve persons experiencing family abuse.

Over four in five facilities provide individual counselling for adults and counselling for children

Victims of abuse are often diverse with differing needs and may come from a variety of social and economic backgrounds requiring supports and services suitable to their needs. In addition to providing safe accommodations, the majority of residential facilities also offer various counselling services including general services, professional services and services for adults, children or vulnerable populations. The type and availability of programs offered by facilities also vary and are often shaped by community and regional needs. Many services offered are further governed by the policies and practices of shelters and reflect the size, location, and length of accommodation provided.

While safe accommodations are crucial for persons experiencing or fleeing abuse, the general services offered by many residential facilities across Canada also provide the tools necessary to leave abusive situations and can help build a future free of violence for victims. Available services may further impact the decision to leave an abuser or abusive situation and help minimize the risk of returning to an abuser (Women’s Shelters Canada, 2020).

Overall, a large proportion of facilities offered safety or protection planning (95%), advocacy on behalf of individuals (93%), housing referrals (90%), counselling for children (86%), and individual counselling for adults (83%) (Table 3).

While there were generally no major differences in the mandates of short- and long-term facilities, including differences in population groups served or types of abuse experienced by residents, there were differences in the types of services offered by these facilities. For example, almost all short-term facilities offered a crisis phone line (96%) and the majority offered transportation services (80%) to victims of abuse. In comparison, smaller proportions of long-term facilities offered these services (49% and 55%, respectively).

Overall, just under one in three (28%) facilities for victims of abuse offered pet accommodations in 2022/2023. This proportion was similar to 2020/2021 (29%) and was almost a 50% increase from 2017/2018 (19%). The accommodation of pets has been identified as crucial for those escaping violence. The abuse or threat of abuse towards a pet often co-occurs with domestic violence (Barrett et al., 2017; Shelter Voices, 2018). Abusers may use the safety of a pet to prevent a victim from leaving abuse or from seeking shelter due to fear that their pet may be in danger.

Profile of residents of facilities for victims of abuse on April 13, 2023

Over half of residents in facilities for victims of abuse on snapshot date are women

On the survey snapshot date of April 13, 2023 (herein referred to as snapshot date), there were 7,581 individuals staying in residential facilities for victims of abuse (Table 4). The vast majority (98%) of residents staying in these shelters on the snapshot date were women and accompanying children. Just over half (4,018, 53%) of the residents were women and 3,449 (45%) were accompanying children, including 1,768 girls, 1,664 boys, and 17 children of another gender. A small number of residents were men (103) and adults of another gender (11).

This pattern was consistent in both short- and long-term shelters and in shelters in urban and rural areas, whereby women and accompanying children made up the vast majority of residents in facilities for victims of abuse.

The majority of residents (91%) staying in facilities for victims of abuse were there for reasons of abuse. Although facilities included in the SRFVA were primarily mandated to serve victims of abuse, not all residents using the shelter on the snapshot date were there for reasons of abuse. A small proportion of residents (9.3%) were residing in facilities for other reasons, such as homelessness or for emergency shelter. Often, victims of abuse are also experiencing other hardships, such as social or economic problems, and it is important to recognize the potential for other issues that can co-occur with abuse, including the increased potential for homelessness (Maki, 2020).

About three-quarters of funded beds in short-term facilities occupied on snapshot date

Turning to short-term facilities, just over three-quarters (76%) of the 7,365 funded beds in short-term facilities across Canada were occupied on the snapshot date (Table 5). One-third (33%) of short-term facilities were considered full, that is, at or over capacity. Occupancy rates, including the percentage of facilities that are full, measure the availability of space within residential facilities (see Text box 3).

Overall, occupancy rates in 2022/2023 were higher than those reported in 2020/2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic and instead more closely resembled the occupancy rates of 2017/2018. In 2020/2021, just over half (53%) of the funded beds in short-term facilities in Canada were occupied (Ibrahim, 2022). In comparison, over three-quarters (78%) of funded beds across short-term facilities were occupied in 2017/2018 (Moreau, 2019). A similar pattern was true for the proportion of short-term facilities considered full in the past two cycles of the SRFVA. In 2020/2021, 15% of the funded beds in short-term facilities were considered full, less than half the proportion reported in 2017/2018 where over one-third (36%) were considered full.

Results from 2020/2021, including the overall decrease in occupancy rates and the proportion of facilities considered full, likely reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and does not necessarily indicate a decreased need for shelter services during this time. More specifically, measures and protocols that were implemented at various times across the provinces and territories to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including a reduction in maximum occupancy rates to limit the number of people gathering indoors, likely impacted facilities for victims of abuse.

Across Canada, the impact of the pandemic and varying safety protocols may have put victims in situations where they were isolated with their abuser, contributing to an increased risk of violence and victimization. The public health measures, including periods of lockdown, imposed to combat the pandemic were most impactful for shelters, specifically during the first wave of the pandemic (Ibrahim, 2022).

Quebec and Ontario reported highest occupancy rates among the provinces on snapshot date

Short-term facilities in Quebec (91%) and Ontario (81%) reported the highest occupancy rates among the provinces on the snapshot date (Chart 2). These two provinces collectively represent over half of all short-term facilities (52%) and total beds (56%), and accounted for 50% of all short-term admissions in 2022/2023. Saskatchewan reported the lowest occupancy rate, with about four in ten (41%) beds in short-term facilities occupied on the snapshot date.

In terms of facility capacity, Quebec and Ontario reported the largest proportion of short-term facilities that were full on the snapshot date (41%, respectively). In the territories, short-term facilities in the Northwest Territories (144%) reported the highest occupancy rate, indicating there were more occupants on the snapshot date than there were funded beds. Nunavut (87%) also reported an occupancy rate higher than the national average.

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Chart 2 Occupancy rate for short-term residential facilities for victims of abuse, by province or territory, April 13, 2023

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Province or territory (appearing as row headers), Facility occupancy rate, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province or territory Facility occupancy rate
percent
Newfoundland and Labrador 71
Prince Edward Island Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act
Nova Scotia 65
New Brunswick 46
Quebec 91
Ontario 81
Manitoba 48
Saskatchewan 41
Alberta 71
British Columbia 69
Yukon 70
Northwest Territories 144
Nunavut 87
Canada 76

Chart 2 end

Higher occupancy rates in short-term facilities in urban areas than rural areas

On the snapshot date, short-term facilities in urban areas reported a higher occupancy rate (81%) and a larger proportion reported being full (35%) compared with short-term facilities in rural areas (62% and 29%, respectively). Among the provinces, short-term facilities in urban areas in Quebec reported the highest occupancy rates, with all (100%) short-term beds in the province occupied on the snapshot date. In Nova Scotia, the occupancy rate of short-term facilities in urban areas (88%) also surpassed the national average for these facilities.

Among short-term facilities in rural areas in the provinces, Ontario (81%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (73%) both reported higher occupancy rates than the national rates of short-term facilities in rural areas. Overall, the occupancy rates of short-term facilities in rural areas in the territories were some of the highest in the country, with a collective average of 85% of beds occupied (Northwest Territories 100%, Nunavut 87% and Yukon 74%).

More than eight in 10 (83%) unitsNote  in long-term facilities across Canada were occupied on the snapshot date and about three in ten (31%) long-term facilities reported they were full. A larger proportion of long-term facilities in urban areas (84%) than in rural areas (78%) were occupied on the survey snapshot date. In contrast to short-term facilities, more long-term facilities in rural areas were full (44%) on the snapshot date than in urban areas (37%).

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Text box 3
Occupancy rate and capacity

An occupancy rate for residential facilities provides an indicator of the total space being used at a given point in time.

  • The short-term occupancy rate is calculated by dividing the total number of residents on the snapshot date by the total number of funded beds, multiplied by 100.
  • The long-term occupancy rate is calculated by dividing the total number of funded units that were occupied on the snapshot date by the total number of funded units, multiplied by 100.

In the Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse (SRFVA), short-term facilities are identified as being full if their occupancy rate is 90% or more. An occupancy rate of 90% was selected to account for some misinterpretation of the question regarding number of funded beds, as well as for the fact that some facilities may operate with fewer resources than required to fill every available bed.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced the maximum occupancy for shelters, this occupancy standard was maintained during the 2020/2021 cycle since some shelters still remained at full capacity. This allows for comparisons between the 2020/2021 cycle and other cycles of the SRFVA.

Long-term facilities were considered full if their occupancy rate was 100% as a unit is typically an apartment or house.

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Majority of women residents experience emotional, psychological abuse

The majority (82%) of women residents in shelters on the snapshot date experienced emotional or psychological abuse (Table 7). Experiences of physical abuse (71%) and financial abuse (49%) were also commonly experienced by women residents in shelters. About one-third of women residents reported sexual abuse (33%) and harassment (31%). Some women in shelters for victims of abuse also experienced cultural abuse (6.9%), spiritual abuse (5.5%) and forced marriage (1.6%). A small proportion of women residents experienced human trafficking in the form of sex work (4.1%) and forced labour or other forms of trafficking (1.3%).

A small proportion of women (9.1%) were staying in facilities for reasons other than abuse. In contrast, almost nine in ten (88%) men were staying in facilities for reasons other than abuse. Other than abuse, the SRFVA did not collect the reason why residents were staying in facilities.

Three-quarters of women experienced abuse by a current or former intimate partner

The primary abuser for three-quarters (75%) of women residing in shelters on the snapshot date was a current or former intimate partner. Six in ten (60%) women residing in facilities had experienced abuse by a current intimate partner and just over one in seven (15%) had experienced abuse by a former intimate partner. More specifically, a current (34%) or former (8.1%) common-law partner, or a current (20%) or former (4.7%) spouse were commonly identified as the perpetrator of the abuse.

Chart 3 start

Chart 3 Relationship of abuser to women in residential facilities primarily for reasons of abuse, Canada, April 13, 2023

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Relationship of abuser to women residents (appearing as row headers), percent (appearing as column headers).
Relationship of abuser to women residents percent
Common-law partner 34
Spouse 20
Former common-law partner 8
Former spouse 5
Dating relationship 6
Former dating relationship 3
Other intimate relationship 1
Relative 7
OtherData table for Chart 3 Note 1 3
Unknown 12

Chart 3 end

About three in ten women residents reported the abuse that led them to seek shelter to police

Overall, close to three in ten (27%) women residing in residential facilities on the snapshot date reported the abuse that led them to seek shelter to police. In Saskatchewan, a larger proportion of women in residential facilities reported the abuse they experienced to police (46%), followed by women in the Atlantic region (38%). In contrast, residential facilities in Alberta indicated that 21% of women in their shelters reported their abuse to police.

Chart 4 start

Chart 4 Women in residential facilities for reasons of abuse who reported to the police the abuse that led them to seek shelter, by region, April 13, 2023

Data table for Chart 4 
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Region (appearing as row headers), percent (appearing as column headers).
Region percent
AtlanticData table for Chart 4 Note 1 38
Quebec 26
Ontario 28
Manitoba 28
Saskatchewan 46
Alberta 21
British Columbia 26
TerritoriesData table for Chart 4 Note 2 27
Canada 27

Chart 4 end

About seven in ten women in facilities had parental responsibilities, just under half were protecting children from physical abuse

Overall, approximately seven in ten (72%) women residing in facilities for victims of abuse on the snapshot date had parental responsibilities.Note  Of these women with parental responsibilities, three-quarters (75%) were admitted with one or more of their children, and one-quarter (25%) were admitted without any of their children.

About three-quarters of women residents with parental responsibilities (77%) were protecting their children from exposure to violence. About two-thirds (65%) were protecting their children from emotional or psychological abuse and under half (45%) were protecting their children from physical abuse. Smaller proportions of women residents were protecting their children from neglect (22%), harassment (10%), and sexual abuse (7.8%).

About two-thirds of women in shelters between the ages of 25 and 44

Research has consistently found that some socio-demographic characteristics may be associated with a higher risk of victimization, including having a disability or a history of homelessness (Cotter, 2018; Cotter, 2021). Age is an important contributor to the risk of victimization, with prior research indicating that there is an overall decline in victimization with age.

About two-thirds (64%) of women residing in facilities for reasons of abuse on the snapshot date were between the ages of 25 and 44. More specifically, 17% were aged 25 to 29, 23% were aged 30 to 34, and 26% were aged 35 to 44.Note  A small proportion of women (2.5%) were 65 years old or older.

Among the accompanying children, more than three-quarters (78%) were below age 12. More specifically, just over one-third (36%) were younger than 5 and slightly over four in ten (42%) were aged 5 to 11. These proportions were similar for both girls and boys in residential facilities. About one in ten (11%) children were aged 12 to 14 and a small proportion (6.7%) were children aged 15 and older.

Indigenous women overrepresented as shelter residents

First Nations, Métis and Inuit (Indigenous) peoples in Canada are diverse populations with unique historical experiences and differing languages and cultural practices. Overall, Indigenous peoples are overrepresented as victims of violence, with the disproportionately high rates of violence and victimization often linked to ongoing socioeconomic inequalities and systemic barriers rooted in the traumatic history of colonialization in the country (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). Indigenous women are overrepresented in experiences of violent victimization, for example, previous research has found that over six in ten (63%) Indigenous women experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime compared with 45% of non-Indigenous women (Heidinger, 2022).  

Although Indigenous women comprise 4.7% of the total population of women in Canada, about three in ten (29%) women residing in shelters for reasons of abuse on the snapshot date were of Indigenous identity.Note  Indigenous children were also overrepresented as residents of shelters for victims of abuse. Despite accounting for 8.2% of children in the Canadian population, Indigenous children comprised almost one-quarter (24%) of all accompanying children in facilities. These findings are similar to what was reported during the previous two cycles of the SRFVA (see Ibrahim 2022; Moreau 2019).

In 2022/2023, 59 residential facilities for victims of abuse (11%) indicated that their facility was an Indigenous organization, or an organization guided by First Nations, Métis or Inuit teachings. The large majority of these facilities (92%) operated short-term accommodations and over half (54%) were located in rural areas. Overall, 52 facilities (9.3%) indicated they were located in a First Nations, Métis or Inuit community, 31 facilities (5.5%) indicated they were located on a reserve, and 31 facilities (5.5%) indicated they were owned or operated by a First Nations government (band council) on the snapshot date.

Indigenous women and accompanying children were overrepresented across facilities, regardless of whether the shelter had Indigenous ties. Overall, more than one in five (22%) women in facilities with no ties to Indigenous communities or organizations were Indigenous (First Nations, Métis or Inuit). Indigenous children accounted for 20% of all children in these facilities.

Although most facilities had no ties to Indigenous communities or organizations, just over six in ten (62%) facilities indicated that they offered culturally sensitive services for Indigenous peoples. This was the case for 56% of long-term facilities and 63% of short-term facilities. Provincially, a large proportion of facilities in Saskatchewan (93%), the Atlantic provinces (87%), Manitoba (87%) and Alberta (84%) provided these services. About one-quarter (24%) of facilities in Quebec provided these services, a much lower proportion than the national average.

Non-permanent residents overrepresented in facilities

Approximately three in ten (29%) women in facilities for victims of abuse on the snapshot date belonged to a racialized population group. This was consistent with the overall proportion of women belonging to a racialized population group in the general Canadian population. Among children in shelters, just over three in ten (31%) belonged to a racialized population.

When looking at non-permanent residents in facilities, overall, there was an overrepresentation of non-permanent residents in facilities for victims of abuse. Among women where the residency status was known, 16% identified as non-permanent residents. This proportion was more than four times higher than that of the overall population of non-permanent resident women in Canada (3.6%). Just over one in ten (11%) children in shelters were non-permanent residents.

Non-permanent residents may experience an elevated risk of violence and may have limited access to public services, including access to financial assistance that can aid those leaving an abuser (Baker and Tabibi 2017). For non-permanent residents, financial instability, limited informal supports and lack of affordable housing may contribute to a reliance on shelters for support. Previous research has found that non-status migrant women had longer stays in shelters and more unstable pre-shelter housing compared with Canadian born and immigrant women (Paradis et al., 2008).

Some non-permanent residents may not know their rights or the laws in place to protect them from violence, including violence perpetrated by an intimate partner or family member (Baker and Tabibi, 2017). Given their precarious status, non-permanent residents may fear deportation if they seek assistance or report the abuse and may further be reliant on their abuser as a sponsor.

Over half (54%) of facilities reported offering specialized services for immigrants or refugees. Understanding the cultural context of abuse and domestic violence within the immigrant and non-permanent resident population is important in order to provide culturally appropriate care and ensure the safety of victims.

Just under one in ten (8.6%) women residing in facilities for victims of abuse on the snapshot date did not speak at least one official language, English or French. Linguistic barriers may hinder victims of abuse from seeking help. About six in ten (61%) residential facilities for victims of abuse offered services in non-official languages.

One in ten women in shelters have a disability

Previous research has found that people with a disability have an increased risk of victimization, including intimate partner violence (Cotter, 2018; Cotter, 2021). Experiences of isolation or reliance on an abuser for care may contribute to the increased vulnerability for people with disabilities. According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, women, regardless of age, were more likely to have a disability compared with men (Morris et al., 2018). In terms of intimate partner violence, over half (55%) of women with disabilities reported experiencing this type of violence during their lifetime compared with 37% of women without disabilities (Savage, 2021).

On the snapshot date, more than one in ten (12%) women residing in facilities for victims of abuse had a disability. While some facilities did offer services for those with disabilities, many did not. Compared with long-term facilities, a larger proportion of short-term facilities offered services for persons with mobility disabilities (20% compared with 15% of long-term facilities), visual disabilities (23% compared with 12%), hearing disabilities (28% compared with 16%), and developmental or intellectual disabilities (31% compared with 25%).

Furthermore, three-quarters (75%) of facilities reported they were either partially or fully wheelchair accessible—based on whether or not at least one building entrance, bedroom or bathroom was wheelchair accessible. This was the case for 78% of facilities in rural areas and 73% of facilities in urban areas. Among short-term facilities, about four in five (81%) reported they were wheelchair accessible compared with just over half (53%) of long-term facilities.

Almost one-third of women residing in shelters have a history of homelessness

Violence against women, in particular intimate partner violence, is one of the leading causes of homelessness among women (Meyer, 2016; Sullivan et al., 2019; Yakubovich and Maki, 2021). Homelessness is associated with an elevated risk for violence and exploitation, and for women experiencing violence, housing instability and the risk of homelessness may be a barrier for leaving an abuser (Women’s Shelters Canada, 2020). While some women may have somewhere to stay, the difficulty in maintaining residence for many women fleeing abuse, and the difficulty in finding stable or permanent housing through informal support networks, may contribute to the invisibility of homelessness among women (Women’s Shelters Canada, 2020).

Overall, almost one-third (32%) of women residing in shelters for victims of abuse on the snapshot date had been homeless at some point prior to residing in the facility.Note  Homelessness includes living in locations not intended for human habitation or in a makeshift shelter or an abandoned building. It also includes living in temporary accommodations for people without housing or as a temporary house guest staying with family, friends or strangers.

About three in ten women in rural facilities are repeat clients

Overall, facilities indicated that one in five (20%) women residing in facilities on the snapshot date received services as a resident in the previous year, and just under one in ten (9.1%) received services on an outreach basis only in the previous year.Note  Less than half (44%) of women residing in facilities were first-time clients and not served in the previous year. While the SRFVA collects information on repeat residents for facilities, it was unknown whether 26% of residents residing in shelters on the snapshot date used services previously, including as a resident, or at other facilities prior to their arrival at the current facility.

Three in ten (30%) women in rural facilities on the snapshot date previously received services as a resident in the last year; this was a larger proportion compared with the almost two in ten (18%) women residents who were prior residents in urban facilities. Overall, just under half (47%) of women residing in shelters in urban areas were not served by facilities in the prior year. This was the case for about one-third (31%) of women in rural area shelters.

Shelter capacity primary reason women turned away from facilities

On the snapshot date, facilities across Canada indicated that 918 individuals were turned away from a shelter for victims of abuse, about three-quarters (76%, or 696 individuals) of whom were women. More specifically, one-third (33%) of shelters reported turning away women on the snapshot date.Note  Facilities that turned away women indicated that the majority of women (82%) were turned away because the shelter was full. A much larger proportion of facilities in urban areas (85%) turned away women because the shelter was full compared with facilities in rural areas (52%). Overall, a small proportion of women (6.5%) were turned away because their victim profile was outside the mandate of the facility.

Location of two-thirds of women departing from facilities is unknown

On the snapshot date, facilities reported that a small proportion of residents departed to live somewhere else. Overall, 206 women and 83 accompanying children residents departed facilities on the snapshot date, with over four in five (87%) departing from a short-term facility. Small proportions of women departing facilities returned to a home where their abuser lived (6.2%), went to live with friends or relatives (6.2%), went to another residential facility for victims of abuse (4.5%), or went to a new accommodation without their abuser (3.9%). Facilities reported that they did not know where two-thirds (66%) of women departing their shelters were going upon their departure.

About four in ten women in shelters self-referred to facility

Among women residing in facilities for victims of abuse on the snapshot date, the most common referral source was a self-referral, which was the case for just over four in ten women (42%).Note About one in seven women (14%) were referred by another residential facility for victims of abuse. About one in ten (9.4%) were referred by a phone help line, and similar proportions were referred by a health care practitioner or hospital social worker (7.0%), or a family member or friend (6.6%).

Average length of stay was the longest in short-term facilities in Ontario

Overall, about seven in ten (71%) short-term residential facilities for victims of abuse in Canada reported an average length of stay of less than three months (Chart 5). More specifically, just over half (51%) of short-term facilities reported an average length of stay of one to less than three months and one in five (20%) reported an average length of less than one month. Notably, almost three in ten (29%) short-term residential facilities reported an average length of stay of three months or more, which exceeded the mandated maximum.

Chart 5 start

Chart 5 Average length of stay in short-term residential facilities for victims of abuse, by region, 2022/2023

Data table for Chart 5 
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Region (appearing as row headers), Less than one month, One to less than three months and Three months or more, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Region Less than one month One to less than three months Three months or more
percent
AtlanticData table for Chart 5 Note 1 12 67 21
Quebec 18 68 15
Ontario 5 42 53
Manitoba 47 37 16
Saskatchewan 53 47 0
Alberta 59 34 7
British Columbia 21 46 33
TerritoriesData table for Chart 5 Note 2 Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act 69 Note x: suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act
Canada 20 51 29

Chart 5 end

The average length of stay varied across the provinces and territories. Ontario reported the highest percentage of short-term facilities with an average length of stay of three months or longer (53%), followed by British Columbia (33%). Over half of short-term facilities in Saskatchewan (53%) and almost six in ten short-term facilities in Alberta (59%) reported average lengths of stay of less than one month, much higher than the one in five (20%) reported nationally.

Lack of affordable long-term housing most common issue facing residents

The majority (85%) of residential facilities for victims of abuse reported that one of the top challenges facing residents of facilities for victims of abuse is the lack of affordable long-term housing (Table 8). Canada continues to experience population growth at a higher rate than previously recorded in the past two decades (Statistics Canada, 2018). The growing demand for housing and services, coupled with increasing housing and rental prices may contribute to the difficulties victims of abuse encounter when trying to permanently leave an abusive situation.

The lack of safe and affordable housing, combined with the small number of long-term shelters, may make it difficult for victims that leave an abusive situation to find shelter following accommodation in emergency or more short-term facilities. Without access to safe and secure accommodations, there is a higher risk for women to experience homelessness, or to return to an abuser or an abusive situation which may result in revictimization.

As previously noted, almost three in ten (29%) short-term facilities reported that they accommodated residents in 2022/2023 beyond the three-month mandated maximum. This proportion has increased from both 2020/2021 and 2017/2018, where approximately one in five (19% and 18%, respectively) facilities were accommodating residents past three-months.

Other common challenges identified by facilities for victims of abuse as impacting residents were mental health issues (38%), and underemployment and low incomes (37%). One-quarter (25%) of facilities identified substance use issues as a top challenge facing residents.

Provincially, facilities in the Atlantic region (92%), Quebec (92%) and Ontario (87%) most commonly identified the lack of affordable long-term housing as a main challenge faced by residents. About half of facilities in Manitoba (53%) and Saskatchewan (50%) reported substance use issues as a major challenge facing residents. Safety was identified as a top challenge by over one-third (35%) of facilities in Manitoba and a lack of assistance and regulations related to income was identified as a top challenge for over two-thirds (67%) of facilities in Saskatchewan. In the territories, substance use issues, safety and mental health issues (43%, respectively) were identified by facilities as some of the most common challenges facing residents.

Staff turnover most common issue facing facilities

Over four in ten (43%) facilities identified staff turnover as the most common challenge that they faced in 2022/2023 (Table 9). A lack of permanent housing (37%), low employee compensation (31%), and a lack of funding (30%) were also identified as top challenges facing facilities for victims of abuse.

Provincially, over half of facilities in Manitoba (53%) and six in ten (60%) facilities in British Columbia reported that a lack of permanent housing was a top challenge for facilities. Staff turnover was a top challenge for almost seven in ten (69%) facilities in Quebec. In Ontario, a lack of funding was identified as a common challenge for more than half of facilities (53%). Capacity was a concern for one-third (33%) of facilities in Saskatchewan and about three in ten (29%) facilities in British Columbia.

Revenues and expenditures

Largest proportion of funding from provincial and territorial governments

In 2022/2023, residential facilities for victims of abuse in Canada reported approximately $651.7 million in funding. Short-term facilities reported the majority of this funding (90%). Provincial and territorial government funding comprised the largest proportion of funding sources, accounting for 70% of funding for all facilities. More specifically, provincial and territorial government funding accounted for 72% of short-term facility funding and about half (51%) of long-term facility funding.

Federal funding comprised similar proportions of total funding for both short-term (8.6%) and long-term (9.7%) facilities. Regional or municipal governments accounted for 10% of funding for long-term facilities and 2.9% of funding for short-term facilities.

Two-thirds of facilities reported making physical repairs or improvements

Of the facilities that provided information on physical repairs or improvements, two-thirds (66%) reported that physical repairs or improvements were made to their facility in 2022/2023.Note  The majority of facilities that made physical repairs or improvements reported that the repairs were minor (82%), while 45% of facilities reported that the repairs done were major and repairs fulfilled a legal requirement for safety reasons and for meeting municipal building codes. 

Slightly more than half (54%) of facilities used provincial or territorial government funding to make the physical repairs or improvements. Two in five (40%) facilities used fundraising and donations, and one-quarter (25%) of facilities used federal government funding for the repairs.

Chart 6 start

Chart 6 Funding sources for physical repairs to residential facilities for victims of abuse, Canada, 2022/2023

Data table for Chart 6 
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6. The information is grouped by Funding source (appearing as row headers), percent (appearing as column headers).
Funding source percent
Provincial or territorial government 54
Fundraising and donations 40
Federal government 25
Regional or municipal government 7
Joint federal, provincial
or territorial agreement
3
OtherData table for Chart 6 Note 1 12

Chart 6 end

Summary

In 2022/2023, there were 560 residential facilities operating in Canada whose primary mandate was to serve victims of abuse according to the Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse (SRFVA). In total, there were 60,965 admissions, with women and children accompanying an adult making up the majority of admissions.

Admissions in 2022/2023 were 10% lower than the number of admissions reported in 2017/2018, but were 30% higher than admissions in 2020/2021. This dip in admissions during 2020/2021 likely points to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on shelters for victims of abuse. However, the decrease in admissions in 2022/2023 compared with those of 2017/2018 suggests that the number of admissions to shelters have still not bounced back to pre-Covid admission numbers.

On the survey snapshot date of April 13, 2023, there were 7,581 individuals staying in residential facilities for victims of abuse; over nine in ten were women and accompanying children. Emotional or psychological abuse was most commonly experienced by women residents in shelters and many women in facilities were between the ages of 25 and 44 on the snapshot date. Compared with the Canadian population, Indigenous women and children, and non-permanent resident women and children were overrepresented in shelters.

On the snapshot date, one in five women residing in facilities had received services as a resident in the previous year and more than three in ten facilities reported turning away women. The lack of affordable long-term housing was identified by a large proportion of facilities as one of the top challenges facing residents of facilities for victims of abuse.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Admissions to residential facilities for victims of abuse, by province or territory, 2022/2023

Table 2 Beds, units and admissions, by type of residential facility for victims of abuse, province or territory, 2022/2023

Table 3 Percent of residential facilities for victims of abuse offering selected services, by type of service, type of facility and region, 2022/2023

Table 4 Residents in facilities for victims of abuse, by province or territory, April 13, 2023

Table 5 Occupancy for short-term facilities, by rural or urban designation and province or territory, April 13, 2023

Table 6 Percent of women and children residing in residential facilities for victims of abuse compared with individuals living in Canada, by selected characteristics and province or territory, April 13, 2023

Table 7 Types of abuse experienced by women residents of facilities for victims of abuse, by province or territory, April 13, 2023

Table 8 Top challenges facing residents of facilities for victims of abuse, by type of facility and region, 2022/2023

Table 9 Top challenges facing residential facilities for victims of abuse, by type of facility and region, Canada, 2022/2023

Table 10 Funding sources and expenditures for residential facilities for victims of abuse, Canada, 2022/2023

Survey description

Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse

The Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse (SRFVA) is a census of Canadian residential facilities primarily mandated to provide residential services to victims of abuse (defined as ongoing victimization). The SRFVA was conducted for the third time in 2022/2023, following a major redesign of its predecessor: the Transition Home Survey. The first cycle of the SRFVA was conducted in 2017/2018.

The objective of the SRFVA is to produce aggregate statistics on the services offered by these facilities during the previous 12-month reference period, as well as to provide a one-day snapshot of the clientele being served on a specific date (mid-April of the survey year). The intent of the survey is to provide information that is useful for various levels of government, sheltering and other non-profit organizations, service providers and researchers to assist in developing research, policy and programs, as well as identifying funding needs for residential facilities for victims of abuse.

Data collection

Active data collection for the SRFVA took place between April and August of 2023. Data collection was conducted through a self-administered electronic questionnaire. Follow-ups by Statistics Canada interviewers for non-respondents and cases of incomplete questionnaires were facilitated through the use of computer-assisted telephone interviews.

The information presented in this article refers to two distinct time periods: first, data pertaining to the number of annual admissions, average length of stay and financial information are based on a 12-month reference period (2022/2023). Respondents were asked to select a 12-month reference period that most closely resembled the period their facility refers to in its annual reports. Categories included a standard fiscal year (April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023), a calendar year (January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022) or a 12-month period of their choosing. Second, the characteristics of facilities and the types of services offered, as well as the profile of those using residential facilities are based on the snapshot date of April 13, 2023. The snapshot date is a predetermined business day meant to represent a typical day of operations for facilities across Canada. The mid-April date was selected based on consultations with service providers. It reflected a period of relative stability in terms of admissions and respondents could maximize the resources available to respond to the survey. The snapshot date does not reflect seasonal differences in facility use nor long-term trends throughout the year.

Target population and response rates

Facilities surveyed were identified by Statistics Canada through its consultations with provincial and territorial governments, transition home associations, other associations and a review of entities on the Statistics Canada Business Register. Facilities potentially in-scope were then contacted prior to the collection of the survey to determine their primary mandate. These may include short-term, long-term and mixed-use facilities; transition homes; second stage housing; safe home networks; satellites; women's emergency centres; emergency shelters; Interim Housing (Manitoba only); Rural Family Violence Prevention Centres (Alberta only); family resource centres and; any other residential facilities offering services to victims of abuse with or without children.

Of the 560 residential facilities who identified their primary mandate as providing services to victims of abuse in 2022/2023, 457 returned their questionnaire for a response rate of 82%. Imputation was used to complete the missing data for key questions for those respondents who did not provide their information through the questionnaire and for those respondents who provided incomplete questionnaires. Imputation methods included the use of trend-adjusted historical data when available and donor imputation, where values are taken from a similar record in terms of facility location, type and size. The key questions for which imputation was carried out are: number of beds, number of units, number of residents for reasons of abuse, whether or not facility serves repeat clients, relationship to primary abuser, number of people turned away from facility, number of departures from facility, average length of stay, number of admissions, revenues and expenses.

For more information and copies of the questionnaire, refer to the Statistics Canada survey information page: Survey of Residential Facilities for Victims of Abuse.

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