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Momentum savings program helps women escaping domestic abuse

An underreported reality for many women struggling through domestic abuse is that they feel forced to remain in an abusive relationship because of finances.

Discovery House, a transitional shelter for women and their children escaping violence, paints a harrowing picture of that abuse: affording housing, putting food on the table, making car payments, buying clothing for their children, and other everyday activities become fears that tie women to their abusers.

“It’s a real stress point that we hear from clients. And in fact, over 50 per cent of our clients when they come to us and we talk about the types of abuses that they experiencing, at least half of the client here experience financial abuses during some point in their relationship,” said Anita Hofer, Director of Strategy and Communications for Discovery House.

She said that while providing emotional and mental health supports are essential to providing healing, the other part to ending the cycle of abuse is giving women a hand-up financially.

“Without money, how do you ever have a damage deposit to get an apartment? How can you have a laptop to go back to school without money? How can you save or make sure that you can put food on the table?”

Local non-profit agency Momentum has been offering a matched savings program for the clients of Discovery House, matching the savings that the clients make at a 3 to 1 ratio while also providing financial literacy education.

“Our matched savings programs at Momentum, they function really as a way for people to learn about things, and to then earn a match to their own savings with a goal of people being able to build their assets and move towards financial stability,” said Jeff Loomis, Executive Director for Momentum.

“You can think about it as a power boost to someone’s own savings, as they’re learning about money.”

Hofner said financial abuse doesn’t leave the visible bruises and marks that physical violence does.

“It makes it really difficult for mothers to leave an abusive partner and it makes it so that clients need extra support. That we’ve got this other organization that’s able to offer this expertise to our clients, we’re really grateful to them for the partnership.”

Empowering change

Jessica, a domestic abuse survivor that LWC has chosen to use a pseudonym for to protect her identity, was one of the graduates from the Momentum savings program on July 25.

“It’s empowering because you know your finances inside and out, and before I was just kind of always in the dark, never really knowing or understanding what was going on,” she said.

“Being completely in control of my own finances makes a huge impact on stepping out.”

She said that the savings match portion of the program was a motivator, but for her, knowing how to save in the future was the real long term benefit.

“Just learning to live with that extra little bit of money, and knowing that I could do it, that in itself is really empowering.”

“I just don’t really miss that little bit of money, knowing that I’m slowly building something. Having that nest become a little bit bigger every month feels really good.”

Hofer said that Discovery House’s analysis showed that 90 per cent of clients who took part in a financial literacy program had high levels of satisfaction with it.

She said that many of those same clients go on to affordable housing. Although, said Hofer, the current challenge of a lack of affordable housing in the nation makes that a larger issue.

“We are seeing that that continues to just be something that people are strapped out financially about, so any kind of financial boost that they can get is helpful.”

For Jessica, she wanted people to know that there are resources available for women needing help and that they shouldn’t be suffering alone.

“We’re all in the same boat, although our stories may be different. You don’t need to be alone. It really takes a village to help a person grow, and there’s so many of us that are going through this, but when you’re going through it if you’re alone, you’re really not. So make the call and reach out to somebody for support.”

Long term successes seen

That empowerment, said Hofer, also extends to the children of mothers who are escaping domestic abuse.

“Sure, it’s empowering for the mom. But then when the child sees that mom can be empowered by having financial knowledge, and real life skills, like how to handle your money, how to invest your money, how to save your money, and why having an RRSP is important, it really lifts the whole family.”

She said that a lot of the work that Discovery House does is to try and mitigate the intergenerational trauma that comes from abuse and poverty.

“The trauma of living in poverty is one that adds up for kids over time, and for sure, it creates all kinds of intergenerational challenges down down the line.”

“And you know, people will say, ‘well, what do you do with men and boys?’ We work with boys here, who are future men, and we’re trying to get them to be more competent with understanding their emotions, know how to have healthy relationships, respect the women in their lives, respect the other men in their lives so that they go on to having a more healthy future.”

Loomis said that the matched savings program for Discovery House clients, like those of all of Momentum’s matched savings programs, have had real-life long-term positive impacts on people’s wellbeing.

The effects of savings, he said, can be profound.

“It can start to be able to help people think about the future—it can turn hope into a verb. By setting aside money for your future, you start to get the thinking from just focusing on the current need, the huge challenges like someone from leaving a domestic violence situation, that immediacy of that crisis situation, and can start having people think about their future possibilities and be able to dream for the future.”

He said that from a survey done by Momentum of graduates, 92 per cent continue to save after the end of the matched savings program.

“It’s just so difficult for people to save that are living on low incomes. So that’s why if they can save just a little bit, to say they can save that $30 or $40 a month, then with a three to one boost while they’re in the program, it just makes it a lot easier for them to start saving.”

“Then as they stabilize and start thinking about the future as they’re pursuing their hopes and dreams, that savings becomes part of just their regular habits”

For more information on Discovery House, see discoveryhouse.ca.