In spring of 1977, two conferences on ‘family violence’ took place simultaneously in Vancouver and Toronto. Women’s shelter advocates at these meetings resolved to develop provincial organizations to share information and support each other. The Ontario women met again in Toronto that spring and then again in the fall of 1977, where they resolved to form a Committee of Interval & Transition Houses. At the first meeting of the new group in early 1978, a Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Community and Social Services suggested the group create a formal Association. Without delay the group formed it’s first constitution and officially launched the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH). At that time there were 10 women’s shelters (or groups working on establishing a shelter) in the membership. It was not until late 1981 that the Association was able to secure funding from the Status of Women Canada to hire its first full-time Coordinator.
The period over the 1980’s saw rapid growth in the number of women’s emergency shelters in Ontario and the emergence of second stage housing programs for women needing longer stay in safe spaces. OAITH was instrumental in supporting and mentoring new shelters during this period and was able to hire a second staff person, the Membership Coordinator, to provide program and membership support to our member organizations. By the early 1990’s, there were over 95 women’s emergency shelters established in Ontario. As the network grew, OAITH took on numerous areas for advocacy identified by women using shelters and by frontline shelter staff across Ontario. Some of the more significant issues affected by the voice of OAITH include:
- Stable funding for women’s shelters as they expanded across Ontario. The first shelters were started by survivors and feminist activists with little or no funding or community support. Shelters first worked to attain ‘per diem’ funding for individual women in local municipalities and then for provincial funding support for ongoing programs
- The creation of programs within shelters to address women specific needs, from 24-hour crisis lines to housing and legal advocacy. Government funded only ‘approved’ programs negotiated with OAITH shelters that help to expand the funding for shelters in the mid-1980’s, but the approved programs didn’t meet the needs and some shelters had to run their additional program solely by fundraising.
- The creation of advocacy and support for children within shelters. The first programs specifically for children exposed to violence against their mothers were created within women’s shelters.
- Province-wide public education on ‘wife assault’ and its impacts on children funded by government project funding and provincial education campaigns.
- The creation of a special priority policy for social housing for women and children experiencing abuse.
- The creation of a 2-hour free legal certificate by Legal Aid Ontario for women using women’s shelters in Ontario so that women could access free legal advice.
- Linkages with local Boards of Education to provide information within school to teachers and students on violence in relationships.
- Education on violence against women for professionals in all systems affecting the lives of women and their children, from medical to legal to community-based services and more.
- Consultation, advice and critical analysis to both provincial and federal government departments on numerous policy, legislative and systemic change issues affecting the concerns of women experiencing violence.
- And much more…
Many changes have taken place within OAITH over the years. The Lobby Committee became the Social Justice and Action Committee and eventually merged with the Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression Committee to integrate our social justice and equity work. A new Member Education and Training Committee was formed to work on training issues including anti-racist/anti-oppression training and skill development for VAW advocates. This brief history cannot highlight our long and fluid evolution, however we continue to foster our community of learning so that we can be responsive to the changing needs of women and their children experiencing violence.