Charitable organizations play a crucial role in Alberta’s social safety net by providing important services to at-risk populations. Non-profits and charities mobilize local donations of labour and money to provide services efficiently, but it is not guaranteed that charitable social services are distributed equitably. In 2017, non-public charities in Alberta received approximately $42 billion in revenue from the provincial government to deliver health, education, and social services, but not all Albertans are able to access the plethora of services. Spatial accessibility studies with a more coordinated approach to social service planning can play a role in ensuring that these services are distributed equitably to all Albertans. Spatial accessibility analysis can determine if communities across Alberta have access to crucial social services. This analysis uses a combination of Canada Revenue Agency, Census, and HelpSeeker.org data to determine which communities and populations in Alberta have access to one crucial social service: domestic violence women’s shelters. Reasonable travel distances, or “service areas,” for the 40 women’s shelters in Alberta were created using Geographic Information System (GIS) software. This then allows for the identification and analysis of communities outside of reasonable travel distances of women’s shelters, which this study refers to as a “service desert”. Women’s shelters operate as a vital space for survivors of domestic violence, and the findings of this study have identified that over 245 000 Albertans live in areas outside the service areas of women’s shelters. Albertans outside the service areas of primary or emergency women’s shelters tend to have lower incomes, a larger proportion of houses living under the low-income measure, and higher Indigenous populations. These population attributes have been linked to higher rates of domestic violence, which suggest that many communities without access to women’s shelters may be in the highest need of women’s shelters. The service desert for secondary, or long-term, women’s shelters serves even fewer Albertans and includes Alberta’s third and fourth largest cities. The spatial accessibility analysis of women’s shelters identifies gaps in the social safety net where government action can provide safety, security, and support to survivors of domestic violence. Addressing these gaps in the social safety net is more complicated than just building new women’s shelters. Social service users, like survivors of domestic violence, often require a multitude of social services. Charitable services require more than just provincial government backing, but also individual donations of time and money, and coordination between several organizations and governments. To properly address gaps in the delivery of charitable social services, system integration of services and regional social service mapping will allow for both more efficient and equitable distribution of charitable services.
Walton, M. (2019). Charitable Services and Holes in the Social Safety Net: Spatial Accessibility of Women’s Shelters (Unpublished master's project). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.