— Marlene Goley
The reality for many women escaping abuse is poverty. They have been isolated, forbidden to work outside of their homes or develop marketable skills, often are left with big debts, and are trying live on income which is below the subsistence levels of government Income Assistance. There is little hope of seeing any child or spousal support from their abusive ex-partners. Living in poverty means cycling through financial crises, housing instability, insufficient money for food and such basic necessities such as bus fare or laundry. Returning to their abusive partners often seems like the only way for them and their children to survive. This is the reality for the women who move into The Cridge Supportive Transitional Housing.
Our program supports have always focused on the safety planning and healing that are crucial for women leaving abusive relationships. Because we realized that we also must support women to become financially stable in order for them to create and maintain their own safety and security and that of their children we tried to incorporate some budgeting and money management. But it seemed that that was just too huge a place for women to go with us, with themselves, or with anyone. Women needed more than making a budget.
In 2010, we secured funding to launch The Cridge Asset Building Program. Asset building programs are much more than making a budget. Participants are supported to actually implement the “financial literacy” that they have learned. They are individually coached to set some realistic financial goals for the future, to make a plan to get control over their money (even with little income), and to start saving modestly for their future plans. The key to making this work? The matched savings component of the program. Each participant’s monthly savings is matched 3:1 for 18 months.
Here is how it worked for Joanna:
She left her abusive husband and was trying to support herself and her daughter on less than $900 a month. She was in a terrible financial bind and terrified to open her threatening overdue bills. But the promise of the 3:1 match was the powerful incentive. She said it was the only thing that gave her hope and the courage to try. She made a spending plan that included a monthly payment on the credit card debt and put $10 a month into her savings account. Over 18 months she paid down her debt, saved $180 and with the $540 match she had $720. That, plus a moderate student loan, would get her through the 10-month Registered Care Aid course. What she could hardly dare dream about 18 months previously, had become a reality.
The matched savings component is the important difference between teaching budgeting or financial literacy and providing a real incentive to change behaviour – to engage with the learning. It is also the most challenging to fund. Since 2010, 43 women have been able to complete The Cridge Asset Building Program. We are hopeful to start another 10 women. Women can save up to a maximum of $50 per month, so for a 3:1 match for 18 months we need about $2700 for each match. We have received a grant from The Lobstick Foundation that will cover two women. But we are still searching for the funding for the other 8 women to give them all the opportunity to build their confidence, reduce their vulnerability, give them hope, and to be amazing role-models for their children. With your help, we can continue to give women the skills and hope to manage their finances well. Please consider making a donation and designating it to “Asset Building Program”.