Second-stage housing for domestic violence victims may finally be coming to Langley

Langley has long been the only large Fraser Valley community without second-stage housing for women fleeing domestic violence. That may change soon.

By Grace Giesbrecht | November 16, 2022 |5:00 am

A plan is taking shape to bring second-stage housing for Langley women fleeing domestic violence.

The community is currently the only one of its size without long-term supportive, independent homes designated for women (and sometimes, their children) leaving abusive partners. The survivors’ needs are complicated by trauma and, increasingly, the rising cost of housing.

Ishtar Women’s Resource Society, a Langley non-profit that operates two short-term transition homes for women, has been highlighting Langley’s need for second-stage housing for years.

Now, the society has its eyes on space in a new Langley apartment building that should be ready in two years. Construction on the building is expected to begin next spring, and the society hopes to lease 36 units with the help of BC Housing.

The plan is currently in the crown corporation’s hands as it finishes its appraisal.

“We’re extremely hopeful,” Ishtar’s executive director Maureen Berlin said.

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The first and second stages

Ishtar currently operates two transition homes in Langley. The “first-stage” houses welcome women and their children in the days and weeks after leaving domestic abuse. Each home has four or five bedrooms and families live in a co-op setting.

The short-term homes seek a balance between autonomy and trauma-informed support.

“The women that we work with have been told what to do, controlled, for so many years that we really want them to feel in control of their environment as much as we can,” Berlin said.

The houses are staffed 24/7 so support is available whenever it is most needed and not bound by the confines of office hours.

“For people that have gone through trauma, sometimes the evening or the dark is a difficult time,” Berlin said. “Sometimes, when the kiddies go to sleep, and they have that bit of quiet time they want to talk things through.”

Although transitional housing is a safe space with plenty of support, it isn’t completely conducive to long-term growth or healing.

“Because their whole focus, when they’re in the transition houses, is where they’re going to go next, the opportunity that we have to really work with them through the trauma is not there. The whole focus is where they’re going to go,” Berlin said. The first stage was designed for month-long visits, but stays are rarely that short without a clear next move.

The ideal next step is second-stage housing.

In contrast to transition housing, the second stage consists of subsidized individual apartments. The emphasis is on independence, and stays can be one to two years. Support (for finding counseling, setting up banking, or getting work or further training) is still available in the building’s office.

Such facilities exist in other Fraser Valley communities, including the Christine Lamb Residence in Abbotsford, Xolhemet Second Stage in Chilliwack, and Santa Rosa Place in Mission. But Langley lacks any such facilities.

Complications from the housing crisis

Without second-stage housing, the question of “where next” has several different answers—none of them perfect and all of them impacted by the housing crisis.

“We were begging other communities that have a second stage to take our women,” Berlin said. “That’s not always ideal.” Proximity to a woman’s work, family, and sometimes kids can make moving to second-stage housing in a different community a poor option. If homes elsewhere won’t work, Ishtar looks for rare affordable rentals and helps women through the process of securing them. That can mean preparing a woman to talk to a landlord and, in previous years, helping with cost barriers like damage deposits and first and last month’s rent.

Often, though, the make-shift solution to a missing next step is a longer stay in transition housing.

“The housing crisis has changed that whole time frame,” Berlin said. “So we have women staying in the transition houses for months and months and months.”

Innovating for faster solutions

The housing crisis also complicated Ishtar’s current efforts to create second-stage housing in Langley.

Berlin joined Ishtar a year and a half ago. At that point, the dream was a purpose-built facility that would be modelled after those in other communities—with transition housing, second-stage housing, and the society’s offices all in one.

“We could not find any property,” Berlin said. “And because…every day that we don’t have housing, it means a woman and child are on the street, we looked at innovative ways to meet the need sooner than later.”

The 36 apartments are the result of the pursuit of innovative solutions. BC Housing has been largely supportive of Ishtar’s efforts and this upcoming plan, and just needs to give a final sign-off on the project.

But despite high hopes for the plan pending provincial approval, the compromise may not meet all future needs.

“I would like 136 [apartments]” Berlin said. “But it’s a start. And we hope, now that awareness is coming more to the forefront of the need for second-stage housing and the need for women and children to be safe, that it will be easier to get.”

It belongs to everyone: awareness and improvements

As understanding of domestic violence and the hurdles faced by women experiencing domestic violence increases Berlin wants the stereotypes surrounding it to fade—making options better and better known.

Berlin emphasized that domestic abuse can happen to anyone—regardless of income or education. It is the community’s responsibility to assist survivors who leave violent relationships heal and regain their footing in the world.

“Domestic violence belongs to everyone,” Berlin said. Ishtar works with women from all walks of life, including professionals like lawyers, accountants, and educators. “You don’t have to come from a financially disadvantaged background or an educationally disadvantaged background… It’s all of our jobs to do a better job taking care of the mom and kids first.”

The stigma, she said, is at least a small part of the reason second-stage housing has been lacking in Langley for as long as it has.

“It relates back to the awareness of what domestic violence looks like and how prevalent it is, because it’s typically something that’s hidden—and how much the need to solve it is with everyone in the community.”

If you are experiencing domestic abuse and looking for assistance in Langley, you can contact one of Ishtar’s transition houses 24/7 at 604-530-9442 (Ishtar House) and 604-857-5797 (Libra House). For assistance elsewhere in the province call the BC Emergency Health Services crisis line at 1-800-784-2433.

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Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a reporter with the Fraser Valley Current

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