Promising Practices for Housing Women who are Older and Fleeing Violence or Abuse


The CCEL was retained by Atira Women’s Resources Society as writer and developer on their national project on promising practices in housing women who are older and fleeing violence or abuse.

This project involved working with a national advisory committee of women with expertise in violence against older women to develop a collaboratively created document outlining promising practices and strategies. CCEL staff and collaborator April Struthers interviewed committee members and other stakeholders from across the country about their experiences working with women who are older and fleeing abuse, and then wrote a document that reflected their knowledge.

English version Promising Practices for Housing Women who are Older

French version Promising Practices for Housing Women who are Older – French

Promising Practices

  1. Nurture an environment that values women who are older
  2. Develop outreach strategies tailored to women who are older
  3. Provide individualized, woman-centred support for women who are older
  4. Focus on relationships and relationship-building for women who are older
  5. Focus on safety for women who are older
  6. Facilitate access to health care for women who are older
  7. Develop strategic partnerships to help women who are older get the services they want and need
  8. Provide women who are older with more time to transition
  9. Support women who are older after they leave the transition house
  10. Integrate evaluation into practice, including documentation of use of services by women who are older
  11. Work towards system change for women who are older

Project Methodology

The methodology of this project strived to be innovative, and challenges conventional ways of collecting, analyzing and presenting data. Atira and CCEL applied a diverse approach to engage, learn and hear from as many transitional housing providers and shelters across Canada as possible. Steps included:

  1. A participatory evaluation of two shelters in Canada. Atira solicited input from staff, volunteers and women who had stayed in the shelters. The year one evaluation privileged the perspective of women who are older. Promising approaches they identified will be included in the final promising practices document.
  2. An environmental scan that identified more than 400 first, second or third stage transition houses and shelters. A survey was developed and sent to all 450 contacts with a response rate of 20%.
  3. A secondary interview via phone was conducted with the initial list of 450 service providers to get more specific information on experience serving women who are older.
  4. A National Advisory Committee of women who have worked with women who are older and who have experienced violence or abuse was formed to provide guidance to researchers, including connecting researchers with individuals to interview and providing significant input on content. It was crucial to have representation from urban, rural, large and small cities, francophone organizations, immigrant serving organizations, and on-reserve and off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit housing organizations. The committee met twice in person in person and otherwise over the telephone.
  5. A literature review of material on violence and abuse of older women, including best practices and promising approaches resources coming from both violence against women and social-gerontological perspectives.
  6. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with committee members. Snowball sampling was used to obtain 47 interviews with: front line service providers, police, healthcare workers, executive directors and transition house management, adult protection workers, auxiliary crisis services and key community partners. Much of the research reflected in the document is gathered from practitioners with lived experience working with women who are older.
  7. A community consultation was conducted in Vancouver, BC to explore the concept of promising practices in housing older woman experiencing violence and discuss related themes. More than 60 transitional housing providers and support service workers attended the consultation.
  8. Collaborative creation was identified as a goal at the outset of the project. That meant taking direction from the committee regarding elements to explore and informants to interview, identifying opportunities for committee wisdom to inform content, making sure this document would be useful to committee members, and incorporating revisions requested by committee members. The promising practices were generated through interviews with older women, transition house staff, and community partners.
  9. Women who are older and their stories were created by committee members to reflect the experiences of some of the older women they have supported over the years: some are true stories with names changes; some are composite fictional stories representing many women. These stories are threaded throughout the document to give readers a portrait of abuse of women who are older.

More information on this project is available on the Atira website.


Atira Women’s Resource Society has been providing housing, advocacy and support to women and children fleeing violence for more than 30 years and now operates 18 residential programs across the Greater Vancouver Area based on identifying and responding to the varied and unique needs of women. Since the opening of Atira’s first transition house in 1987, Atira has provided short-term/crisis housing for older women fleeing violence. Atira began to hear from older women however, that their needs were different than those of many of the younger women accessing the transition house and that they desired housing and supports that would meet their unique and individual needs. In 2002, Atira began to develop a transition house program specifically for older women fleeing abuse. Atira opened Ama House in South Surrey, BC in 2004, making it Canada’s first specialized transition house for older women. In 2011 and in anticipation of Ama turning ten, Atira began looking at conducting a program review that included a scan of promising practices and discovered Ama was still the only specialized transition house for older women in Canada and probably North America. It was that surprising discovery that prompted the idea for this project.

This is not to say that an impressive amount of work hasn’t been done, and is underway, in the areas of identifying, intervening in and preventing elder abuse, including raising public awareness and training front-line service providers to identify and support older people experiencing abuse. This area crucially needs more attention, however, as research also indicates that providing safe housing for older women experiencing abuse was not often adequately addressed in either the gender-neutral elder abuse field or by women’s transition houses, which are generally designed for younger women and children. It has been well documented that gender plays an important role in the issue of elder abuse and that women are more vulnerable to abuses of power and control and that they will have fewer resources later in life to escape violence and abuse. Older women especially may not have worked outside of the home or started work late in life or earned significantly less money than their male peers and are therefore more vulnerable to abuse as they age.

Research also suggests the network of women’s shelters holds great potential for adapting to meet the needs of older women fleeing violence. Without specific attention to their needs however, transition houses may not be appropriate for older women. Studies show that shelters can be too noisy, have too many children, have no quiet spaces free from activities of children, be too stressful, or be inaccessible for older women with mobility issues. As well, because older women have been experiencing abuse over an extended period, or the abuse may come from their child, they may need more support or different support, as well as additional time, to gain the appropriate information and to reflect on their situation before they feel able to make changes in their lives and transition to living without their abuser.

It was important to Atira to build on previous progress and to connect with other safe/transitional housing programs that have services for older women across Canada in order to share successes, learn from each other, move forward together and to support safe/transitional housing to emerge in other communities. It was also crucial to actively and respectfully involve older women in the process by facilitating them to have a voice in determining their own successes, as well as to tell us what has worked for them and why, and how we can improve practices to better meet their needs.

This project and resulting promising practices documents will benefit all organizations that have already taken the important step, or will in the future, to develop safe, supported housing specifically for older women fleeing abuse or violence. It will also greatly benefit older women who so crucially need housing, by giving voice to their stories and honouring their experiences, both positive and negative, and views on what is working for them and why.

Project Funding

This project is funded by the Government of Canada through the New Horizons for Seniors Program.

Government of Canada

Related Files

Below you will find additional, relevant and specific documentation, backgrounders, research, resources, media releases and summaries that have been, or will be incorporated into our final publications and study papers.

If you have questions about these or other specific documents, please reach out to BCLI using our contact page or at the bottom of each page of our website.