Male-victim support services not funded by government

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Battered men’s shelters: Part II of a series

EDITOR’S NOTE: The male victim experience of family violence is a topic that warrants closer examination to better understand this under-reported and stigmatized issue. The Expositor will be exploring various facets of this problem in this series, continued here with an examination of the barriers to creating a pilot shelter of this nature.

TORONTO – The Canadian Centre for Men and Families (CCMF) is continuing with plans to create the only emergency shelter for battered men and their families east of Winnipeg after years of fundraising and securing partnerships with benefactors, making this Toronto pilot facility ever closer to reality. 

“People, individuals, foundations and corporations all came through at the right time. It’s just nice to see people from all walks of life get behind this unique project whose time has come. There’s still quite a bit of work to do but this is a big milestone and we’re glad to have reached it,” said Justin Trottier, executive director of CCMF. 

The previous edition of this series outlined the statistics that show male victimization in family situations is as pervasive as with female victims, although females tend to be overrepresented on the severity of physical abuse. For this installment, The Expositor contacted Mr. Trottier to outline his organization’s plans for the proposed facility.

A fundraising campaign for this initiative has been ongoing for more than two years after having begun in the fall of 2017. The campaign finally edged past its bare-minimum $500,000 goal at the end of 2019 but Mr. Trottier said the funding is still far less than what would be ideal to create and run the shelter.

This fundraising level will enable the creation of a facility that meets Mr. Trottier’s minimum standards to serve as a pilot project: support for as many as eight families (which includes single men and fathers with children) at any one time. 

The facility will also offer in-house social services for people in crisis, such as trauma counselling, legal support, referrals to community partners like victim services agencies and a variety of other programs. Having all of that in-house support for as many as eight families is unprecedented in Canada.

“This is a fairly modest space, but that’s partly because it’s a proof of concept. We want to show to the community—because people are still unconvinced that this is necessary­—that this will be used by families in crisis and make a positive difference in the lives of people,” said Mr. Trottier.

This is a major upgrade from the services CCMF is currently able to offer in its small regional facilities in Toronto, Ottawa, St. Thomas, Edmonton and Calgary.

“They’re not shelters but rather social service hubs where we provide some of the same services,” said Mr. Trottier. 

These shelters can provide emergency residence assistance but this tends to involve subsidizing a motel room, for instance, rather than being able to offer a centralized facility to stay and receive care.

Progress is well advanced on siting and securing financing for this groundbreaking Toronto facility. Mr. Trottier said his organization has found several suitable locations that would fit the group’s needs within its budget. This was greatly aided by the more than a dozen industry professionals who have joined CCMF’s advisory board.

“(The board members) are senior staff at various victim service agencies and other shelters, government officials, policing representatives and other agencies that do work with abused people,” he said. “They’ve stepped up to provide advice and counsel as our project moves toward getting our shelter open.”

Mr. Trottier said it was a testament to the need of the facility that other victim-focused officials were willing to lend their expertise to the advisory board.

One of the people who has been following the progress of CCMF’s push to create this shelter is a senior staff member within Grindstone Capital, a digital technology holding company. That business sought to build a relationship with a worthwhile cause that has not received considerable public attention. The staffer suggested the company support CCMF and the two groups recently announced an $80,000 donation to support the creation of this shelter.

“We think they’re a really strong partner and we’re grateful for their support. We definitely want to stay connected with them going forward,” said Mr. Trottier.

That corporate philanthropy was crucial to CCMF reaching its goal because, unlike existing shelters that serve chiefly women and their children, this is an entirely non-governmental project.

“I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, to build a sustainable shelter without government funding. They typically have tens of millions of dollars per year in their budgets and I’ve not seen any examples where the government isn’t an actor, let alone the biggest contributor to funding,” said Mr. Trottier.

The lack of government support for male-focused shelters has greatly limited their proliferation in the country. There is only one other battered men’s shelter in the country, as far as CCMF has been able to identify—The Manitoba Men’s Resource Centre.

Although Mr. Trottier commended their work, he said the Winnipeg facility was limited because it only had one or two emergency family spaces on-site. Once those fill up, most men and families have to use subsidized motel rooms, similar to the services at existing CCMF centres.

“That’s certainly better than nothing but it’s not the gold standard. We want to create a space where they can get residence but also get looked after with trauma and legal support and crisis counselling. All of that is best done in a common space—this might be the first of its kind in Canada, and certainly in Ontario,” he said.

The lack of government funding is likely a result of these issues being away from public discussions and, therefore, away from the priorities of government. 

“Until there is general acceptance that this is a legitimate social ill, the government is probably not going to risk putting money behind it, generally speaking. They’ve been good behind the scenes with good will, passive support and making connections on our behalf with social service agencies, but to actually put money down on this, it’s not going to happen at this stage,” he said.

That makes the likelihood of an abused men’s shelter coming to a place like Manitoulin Island nearly impossible. Mr. Trottier said his agency would have to both make a positive change in the lives of victimized families as well as substantially change the public conversation around these issues before government funding would become a reality.

“If we can do that using pilot projects like this, then in time we will get more of a general public support for what we’re doing and the government might come on board,” he said.

Public opinions are beginning to change, however. The United Kingdom announced last year that it would direct one million pounds to victim services for men and boys.

“Here in Canada, there are now some women’s shelters that have begun opening their doors to men. That’s an acknowledgement within the sector itself that men are reaching out and asking for support,” said Mr. Trottier.

On Manitoulin Island, one significant example of an inclusive facility is Nookomisnaang Shelter in Wiikwemkoong, which opened in June of 2019. That facility, principally designed for Wiikwemkoong band members, takes in male and female victims of family violence, whether by themselves or with children.

Although discussions have begun to shift to be more aware and understanding of the non-female experience of family violence victimization, considerable work lies ahead. 

Mr. Trottier said a specific plan for his Toronto pilot facility cannot be finalized as of yet because the services available may change if more funding can be raised during this year. However, his plan is to have this pilot project well underway by the end of 2020.

More information about the mission of CCMF can be found at its website, MenAndFamilies.org.