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Safe Streets Start with Safe Homes: Let’s Prioritize Ending Family Violence as Much as Social Disorder

September 5th,  2023

Safe Streets Start with Safe Homes: Let’s Prioritize Ending Family Violence as Much as Social Disorder

By Jan Reimer, Executive Director at ACWS

This piece first appeared in the Edmonton Journal: Opinion: Let’s prioritize ending family violence as much as social disorder

Edmonton, Alberta

As children prepare to return to school across Alberta, conversations swirl about the safety of our streets. Many of our urban and rural communities have experienced increases in social disorder and this is alarming. Everyone should feel safe in their communities.

But what if I were to tell you that the average child in Alberta is more likely to face violence at home than on the street? The stats of just one representative community bears this out. Since the new year, family violence calls to Edmonton Police Services (EPS) were roughly double that of Break and Enter, eight times more than sexual violence and sixteen times more than drug violations.

One in thirteen calls to EPS are family violence related and its frequency is beat only by calls related to Theft Under $5,000 and Traffic Collisions. There were over 2,000 more family violence calls than those for general disorder. This is just one community in Alberta, but we know from our member shelters across the province that it is not an outlier. In fact, municipalities across Canada are declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic.

Family violence is a crisis that hugely impacts our kids and the current spike in social disorder on our streets has not changed the fact that it is still more dangerous for some to be at home than on the street.

The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters supports the call for safe streets because no one should experience or fear violence. But let’s not forget: Safe homes lead to safe streets.

We worry in the fervour that is the current focus on social disorder, governments’ and local police resources will be re-routed away from supports for survivors of family violence when in fact we know that violence in the home is a major pathway to substance use and houselessness.

We can’t afford that because here’s the thing—our members’ shelters are already struggling to keep up. Last year, collectively across Alberta, they had to turn away over 19,000 women and seniors plus over 9,500 of their kids due to lack of space.

There is a sliver of hope for new money towards this work in the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. We look forward to working with the provincial government to design an effective roll out strategy that will help stabilize our sector; enhance our capacity to both support survivors and their children; and prevent further domestic violence and its multiple impacts upon families and community. Because shelters are a critical partner in fostering safer homes.

When survivors find help at a shelter they don’t just get a bed, they find support for their future and their children. During our 40 years of service, ACWS members have provided safe shelter to more than 100,000 children exposed to domestic violence and abuse.

At shelters for domestic violence survivors, children get help at a critical time. Research shows these children are at an increased risk of experiencing physical, emotional, social, behavioural, and academic difficulties, and that some children may experience a greater risk of using abusive tactics in their own relationships as they grow up. Supporting children who have been exposed to domestic violence and abuse is key to creating safe homes and stopping the cycle of abuse.

As many of these children return to school along our community streets next week, we think of the weight they carry, the fear, guilt, anxiety and anger they hold. They—and their families— deserve safe homes as much as safe streets. Let’s not forget them.


Jan Reimer is Executive Director of The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS), a provincial network organization of domestic violence shelters in Alberta. If you or a loved one are experiencing family violence, call 1-866-331-3933 or visit acws.ca/shelters to find shelters and support across Alberta.