“Why can’t they just leave?”
That’s the default response to a story about a victim enduring domestic violence. Packing up bags and walking out the door towards a fresh new chapter of their lives is a pleasant image to evoke, but void of the harsh realities that victims actually face. Many financial barriers unfortunately stand in their way and one of the largest and most daunting expenses can be housing. Victims may find themselves going from a dual-income household to supporting small children on a single-income. Alternatively, they might not have had meaningful employment in their previous household arrangement, always dependent on their abuser for finances, which makes their search for stable, suitable housing immediately challenging. Without adequate funds for a security deposit, first and last month’s rent, or without any proof of income documents to show, how can victims swiftly leave their situation and thrive independently?
National Housing Day, held on November 22 this year, commemorates housing and homelessness in Canada. It’s also a sobering reminder that Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. Without a cohesive housing plan, affordable housing across Canada, especially for victims that people encourage to leave their abusive circumstances and start a new, independent life, remains unfeasible.
It’s important to remember that just because someone has a job does not mean they can afford a home. People who are underemployed, which means they do not work full-time or as many weekly hours as they would like to, and people who make minimum wage struggle the most to afford housing on top of their other monthly expenses. Additionally, since the cost of living varies drastically across Canada, securing housing can be a challenge even if someone makes more than minimum wage. Our work at Make It Our Business is inextricable from the fight for affordable housing, because workplace support for victims of intimate partner violence ensures that survivors and victims can keep their jobs and grow their financial independence. When they are ready to leave an abusive relationship, they are more prepared to do so and more able to sustain their independent journey forward.
Given how valuable employment can be for an abuse survivor to establish independence and begin recovery, it’s critical that employers be empathetic of employees’ circumstances. A decline in an employee’s performance or productivity due to abuse or their need to cope with sudden life changes is an opportunity to support performance improvement and general well-being, rather than an excuse to fire them or penalize them by reducing their hours. Without a reliable source of income, a victim may stay with their abuser for financial security and to avoid homelessness, or even return to their abuser after leaving.
Here are three simple steps that your workplace can take to aid employees enduring intimate partner violence:
- Allow for flexible hour working schedules. Rather than working “9 to 5”, maybe “8 to 4” or “10 to 6” would ease their personal circumstances.
- Educate employees on your province’s and workplace’s paid leave policies, and encourage employees to use paid leave to recover and take action to get to safety (such as getting counselling, seeing a lawyer, going to court, or moving out)
- Educate employees on how to talk about domestic violence. This ideally eliminates any inappropriate comments or speculation about an employee asking for flexible hours.
This National Housing Day, we hope you will rethink the financial implications for a victim of domestic violence who is advised to simply ‘leave’ their abuse, as well as employers’ crucial role in enabling Canadians to find long-term housing. We have work to do when it comes to affordable housing, and part of that endeavour starts with workplaces.