It’s been eight years since women’s shelters in Alberta have seen an increase in operational funding from the province and nine years since staff wages increased.
Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters’ 2021-22 Domestic Violence Shelter Workforce Survey calls on the provincial government to enact an immediate inflationary funding adjustment for both operations and wages.
Executive director Danica Hoffart, at the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter in Red Deer, said the public doesn’t know just how dire the situation is for shelters.
“We have spent 100 per cent of our food budget for the year and we still have six weeks to go,” said Hoffart about the shelter’s 2022-2023 budget.
“It’s actually not possible for us to operate strictly on the funding we receive from the Government of Alberta, so we rely quite heavily on donated funds from private citizens and from businesses.”
But due to inflation, the council reported fundraising to shelters has dropped to its lowest ever at 11 per cent overall.
Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter has an operating budget of $2.4 million, receives $2.1 million from the province, and $300,000 from fundraising.
“We’ve been really fortunate to have access to funding from the federal government to help us get through COVID and the aftermath of COVID. We have been very generously supported by the federal government and are incredibly grateful for those funds that have allowed us to survive, for one, and even to make some improvements to the shelter that we haven’t been able to do with our provincial funding grants.”
Hoffart said low wages have also caused staffing to be in a state of perpetual flux.
“The reality is that (staff) can’t make ends meet themselves. For some, that means that they’re looking elsewhere and moving on to organizations like Alberta Health Services or the RCMP where they can have more assurances of a better income.”
She said that means the shelter loses their expertise, experience and passion for the work.
Council executive director Jan Reimer, who has been with the council for almost 20 years, said the province decides how much shelters can pay their staff, then offers staff more pay to work elsewhere. The turnover rate in 2021-22 was the worst yet at 45 per cent.
“It’s unprecedented. We need to be concerned,” Reimer said.
Smaller communities are hit the hardest.
“The smaller the community, the smaller the hiring pool, and the more challenging it is to recruit.”
The demand for domestic violence shelter services increased by 36 per cent in 2021-22 and shelters had to turn away 19,000 women and 10,000 children due to a lack of capacity. Meanwhile, staff still worked with those families to provide other resources and supports.
“We’re full all the time. As soon as we get a room cleaned, it’s filled right away,” Hoffart said.
Reimer said the government knew demand at shelters would increase coming out of the pandemic. Shelter budgets are stretched because of inflation with an economic slowdown on the horizon.
“We’re asking government to step in immediately for inflationary catch up, but also to work with us to develop a realistic funding model that looks at where we need to go in the future, not based on something that was designed in the last century.”
“We’re calling on Albertans to really raise their voices in support of shelters.”