Housing and Legal
Ernestine’s Housing, Legal, and Settlement Program provides essential resources for women leaving an abusive relationship. Women that arrive at the shelter have a need to find safe, permanent, and affordable housing. This is an important step to establish and maintain their independence, as well as rebuild their lives. We help our clients understand the various social systems that are available to them and how to navigate an often confusing bureaucratic system.
The legal system often acts as a barrier to many women in the shelter as most are unaware of their legal rights or obligations. This often results in women not receiving proper child support, custody or protection from their abuser. The Legal Support program offers women access to sources of support and helps clients navigate through the legal systems. The program provides assistance to:
- determine legal needs
- provide legal information
- referrals to lawyers and community based agencies
- advocate with various social systems
- provide accompaniments to legal appointments and court appearances
- assist clients with forms such as legal aid applications, immigration applications, Humanitarian and Compassionate applications, and Child and Spousal support applications.
Further, locating affordable housing for women is an important step in establishing and maintaining their independence through:
- client assessment
- application process
- writing a client’s narrative
- supports with telephone interview
- assists with filling applications and housing searches
This Ernestine’s program introduces women to the Landlord and Tenant Act and outlines their rights and responsibilities as tenants. Advocacy with Special Priority Housing Organizations is a large component.
As we increasingly welcome more newcomers to Canada, we at Ernestine’s see the need to care for families who require specialized support systems to help them find safety. Violence against women is a huge problem in Canada, and across the world, and sadly, women and children who experience compounded forms of oppression, like racism, ageism, and classism, are even more vulnerable to violence. That’s how women and children who have precarious citizenship can often experience violence, because their abusers are often their immigration sponsors, and they take advantage of this dependency. The abuser’s threat to cut that sponsorship is used to control and isolate women, and when you’re a newcomer who may not speak English or have ties to family or community who can help, your safety and health are in incredible danger. At Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter, we offer safe shelter for these families, and they often stay with us for periods of more than a year, because the complexity of issues faced by these families is staggering. That’s why we introduced the Settlement Program last year, as part of our Housing and Legal Program.
Our specialized Settlement Counsellor specifically focuses on assisting women and their children with precarious status, refugees, and newcomers, with navigating the daunting legal system, as these families are presented with a unique set of challenges. The institutional barriers faced by these families are overwhelming, and finding affordable housing for them has become a very difficult task. The Settlement Counsellor refers and advocates for women with additional social service agencies, identifies gaps, and accompanies her through the process. The women’s needs are complex, especially to make sure that the processing of their needs does not fall through the system, which requires an incredible amount of support from the Settlement Counsellor.
The Settlement Program has supported everything from accessing English classes, opening bank accounts, learning how to travel on the TTC, referring to cultural services, completing government required applications, employment matters, and everything in-between. These things do not sound too difficult, right? But sadly, for those who have precarious status in this country, these tasks become virtually impossible without specialized, expert support.
This past year, Ernestine’s Settlement Counsellor provided 358 advocacy engagements. What does this look like? It looks like accompanying clients to appointments, attending meetings, writing letters, making phone calls, working with translators, and delivering faxes and emails specifically focused on assisting women and their children with housing, education, legal, medical, emotional, and employment support.