All posts by Franziska Emslie

Monthly Donors

“Imagine if one of your loved ones or family members was homeless. Would you help that individual?”

These were among the thoughts that ran through Jeff Smith’s mind as he experienced the Cardboard House while it was on display at the Pen Centre. Rather than
ignore this problem, he chose to take it personally and imagine that the homeless person was his brother or sister.

Monthly Donor Jeff Smith

Immediately, Jeff decided to become a monthly donor and to make the impact of his gift even greater. Monthly gifts provide a consistent and reliable source of funding that allow us to plan ahead, and allows the YW to strengthen the programs and services offered to homeless women and their families across Niagara.

At the beginning of this new year, please consider joining Jeff and becoming a monthly donor. Every little bit helps.

Thank you!

Question Of The Month – Coping

For quite some time now, adult colouring books have been promoted as the ultimate way to find peace within yourself and to leave your thoughts and worries behind. What do you do to clear your mind?


What I do to clear my mind and find inner balance varies based on how flustered my mind is. My go-to activity to clear my mind is to write in my journal – it has an almost 100% success rate. Writing about how I’m feeling, how I felt in a certain situation, how I made someone else feel, and ways I can work towards feeling better always helps. I’ve even taken a page out of Oprah’s book – I keep a Gratitude Journal. Every now and then, I’ll open this journal and write 3-5 things that I’m grateful for that day. Family, friends, good food, a warm bed – whatever makes my heart full and reminds me about how lucky I am, even when things seem to be at their worst.


I actually have yet to try the adult colour book. I have always hated “colouring” for some reason. I have always been in to drawing, but not filling in the lines with colours. I used to make comic books and ask my sister to colour them in for me when we were younger. Needless to say, I don’t think I will be buying an adult colouring book to relax anytime soon!

I like to think I have a pretty healthy way of dealing with stresses, and I think I cope quite well with things. Some things better than others, of course. The biggest thing I have learned so far is the importance of breathing during stressful times. It’s the simplest, yet can be the hardest. I remember when I was younger, anytime I would get upset and cry I would start to hyperventilate because I couldn’t control my breathing and I would just lose it. Everyone would tell me, “Just breathe, just breathe!” and I would think: “I’M TRYING!!” Now that I’m older, I’ve learned to control and focus on my breaths when I am going through something unpleasant. I am someone who gets worked up very easy, and am quite sensitive, so this is a coping technique I use regularly.

I think I really started to understand the importance of breathing from taking a few hot yoga classes. I took the VERY hot classes, Bikram yoga, and I had never done any yoga before in my life. I’m not very athletic, flexible, or anything, so it was a big challenge for me to do something like this. I ended up loving it! Yoga teaches you how to focus on your body, and control your breathing and mind to be in a calm state. I always left the classes feeling like the weight had been lifted off my shoulders (and I was also very, very sweaty). I can remember being in some very stressful and tense situations, and hearing that voice in my head go “inhale, and exhale… slowlyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.” Do you ever have those moments when something has really upset you, and you are trying not to cry? And then someone comes up and asks you if you are alright and it’s like a trigger to start crying? But you don’t want to cry in a public place? When that happens to me, I always deeply inhale and exhale and count my breaths to help diffuse the situation and keep my composure.

I also use the app “Calm” on my phone, which helps take you through different types of meditation. I only have the free version, so there aren’t as many options, but I love using it to tap out for 5 minutes and focus on breathing and my body. I would highly suggest trying this app out; it’s very convenient to turn off the lights in your office for 5 minutes and meditate. My coworker told me about it and it’s been spreading like wildfire. I also really enjoy laying down somewhere comfy, and putting on a few of my favourite relaxing songs. I consider it another form of meditating and losing yourself to the music. It’s easy to listen to the lyrics and the melodies and forget about your troubles.

Sometimes though, those things aren’t enough. I still let myself cry when I need to cry. I believe crying is a coping mechanism, and although it may not be the prettiest thing, it always feels so much better to let out all that anxiety and negativity through your tears. Sometimes you just need to let it all out and cry when you are going through something hard. I would rather cry than keep all my feelings inside and let it weigh me down. After a good cry, I always feel sleepy – so usually I go to bed and have a great sleep because I’ve let it all go. I wake up feeling better. A good cry can sometimes be the best cure.

Fighting Human Trafficking

Janet and Karen were 17 years old and lived in Thunder Bay when an older girl befriended them. She was fun, beautiful, self-confident and the two high school girls felt special for getting to spend time with her. Until that one day when everything changed. They had plans to meet in the park as they had so many times before. This time was different. He was there. They had never seen him before but there was something about him, something in his eyes, that gave Janet a shiver. What happened next, happened fast. The thought of it is almost too hard to bear and yet, it is all too common and we need to, have to, talk about it.
Janet and Karen were shoved into a trunk and brought to Niagara. They found themselves in a hotel room and were soon caught in a web of forced sex work, drug addiction, emotional and physical abuse and no way out.

Service providers in Niagara see victims of human trafficking come to their doors on a regular basis but often lack the knowledge and tools to address their specific needs sufficiently. “That is what brought on the idea to get together to develop an Anti-Human Trafficking Protocol,” explains Krystal Snider, the YW’s Skills Development Coordinator. In partnership with the Niagara Sexual Assault Centre and Victim Services, she brought forward a proposal to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “The main goal is to enable community members to easily and clearly identify victims of human trafficking and to then be confident in their ability to offer supports and information about intervention to them.”
We are fortunate that the Canadian Women’s Foundation acknowledges the importance of Snider’s idea and proudly announce that the YW is the recipient of a $25,000 violence prevention grant.

“We see it regularly in our own shelters at the YW: women are sent in to recruit other women and girls to come work for them.”

“This project is so necessary because Niagara is home to two border cities – Niagara Falls and Fort Erie,” says Krystal. “There has been an identified need for quite some time. We see it regularly in our own shelters at the YW: women are sent in to recruit other women and girls to come work for them.” For Janet and Karen, the YW was their way out. They managed to escape the hotel room that had become their prison and are back safely with their families in Winnipeg today.

A shared Anti-Human Trafficking protocol in the region will help more women like Janet and Karen to get the support they need to escape human trafficking.

Question of the Month – Leadership

With the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women (NLSW) coming up on October 22nd, we are writing about leadership this October  – the challenges, the beauty of it and what feminism has to do with it all.

We asked our bloggers and the NLSW Planning Committee what their definition of leadership is:

Niagara Leadership Summit for Women 2016 from Jennie Marlatt Visuals on Vimeo.


For me, leadership has always been an elusive trait to define. GOOD leadership though, that one’s easy. The ability to motivate and facilitate people and situations to achieve your shared goal. The best leaders I know have the gift of utilizing their team’s actual strengths rather than trying to fit them into a preconceived idea of perfection.


What do you think? What is your definition of leadership? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Question Of The Month – Let’s Talk Addiction

The Bell Let’s Talk campaign brings a lot of attention to the stigma around mental illness, year after year. While a hashtag campaign alone won’t change the way an entire society has looked at mental illness for decades – centuries even – it at the very least is a conversation starter. A conversation that we have to have.

What we see at the YW every single day, especially in our Skills Development program Women’s Addiction Recovery Mediation, is that mental illness is often closely tied to addiction and vice versa – a topic that we are going to further explore on the blog this month.

To get us started, we asked our bloggers:

How do we as a society deal with people who struggle with addiction and mental health issues?


“She’s losing it” just about sums up how my friend first talked about her mother Pearl, who is in a home. She is almost 80 years old, dementia… it happens, right? Except that that is not the entire truth – not in  Pearl’s case, as I recently learned during a late night conversation with my friend.

Pearl is an alcoholic. She has been drinking pretty much for as long as my girlfriend can remember. As kids, it was a game for her and her two younger brothers to “find the bottle” – find where mommy hid her booze this time. What sounds horrible when she says it out loud today, decades later, was just part of her everyday life as a kid. Her mom wasn’t angry or violent, she still prepared dinners, made sure they got to school on time. It’s just that once dinner was served, she retreated with a drink and some pills while the kids and their dad ate dinner together. It was just how it was.stigma

It was when their dad passed away that Pearl stopped functioning – quite possibly because her husband had covered for her or filled in where she was lacking much more than anyone was realizing. My friend and her siblings had their own families by then, jobs, houses, busy lives. Pearl’s state quickly deteriorated and when my girlfriend had to call the ambulance one too many times, after yet another drunk phone call after a fall, she had to make the decision to find a home for her mother.

Pearl has been in the home for almost ten years now, has stopped drinking and is so demented, likely due to the brain damage the drinking has caused, that she has long stopped craving a drink or if she does, she cannot acknowledge or communicate the want or need anymore. She does not remember much but she is happy, content.

None of this is strange to me. People are alcoholics, some of them manage to turn the corner, others don’t. What is weird though is that my girlfriend is more comfortable telling the world that her mother “has lost her marbles” than to admit: my mother is an alcoholic. To me, this is indicative of the mindset we are faced with in society: old people become forgetful, odd, that knowledge is as old as the hills, mind you it has never been as well understood in its causes as it is today. But someone being an alcoholic! God forbid! Addicted to alcohol? Why, no! How shameful. That only happens to uneducated people who had bad childhoods and grew up in sketchy neighbourhoods.

Is that not how so many of us still think?

It is that very mindset that makes it so darn difficult for not only the people who struggle with addiction themselves but also for each and every one around them, the people who love them, to speak about it.

I look forward to this month’s blog posts and hope that they, too, will be a conversation starter – because we need to talk – mental health AND addiction.

The Downward Spiral Of Poverty

This August, our blog has been all about Poverty and Health. A group that faces the close connection between health and the downward spiral that is poverty every day is Bridges Community Health Centre. We invited Rhonda Barron, Health Promoter at Bridges, to share her experience with our readers in a guest blog.


Janet turned 56 yesterday, although she’s definitely feeling much older these days. In the past year she lost her husband of 25 years in a fatal car accident and her mother to a stroke.

smoke-1001667_1280She is consoling herself with cigarettes – a habit she picked up again after ten years smoke free – occasional drinking and confining herself to the sofa most nights curled up with a book, or lately, binge watching the third season of Orange is the New Black.

Every morning she makes her way to the local pharmacy just down the street from her red brick three-storey apartment to a part-time cashier job she’s had since 2006. It’s a reasonable walk, but Janet usually drives playing the same script over in her head as she makes her way to her car: “I’ll walk to work tomorrow.”

Trained as a Dental Hygienist, Janet worked for a busy dental practice in downtown Niagara Falls for a number of years until an accident left her unable to perform her duties. Now her only option is low-skilled minimum wage employment, part-time at that.  

In the past six months she’s been using the little savings she and her husband were able to tuck away to pay her rent and put food in her fridge.

As a construction sub-contractor, her husband had no benefits and no pension. He earned decent money when there was work, but the construction industry in Niagara ebbs and flows making the availability of work anything but consistent. Now with Jake gone, Janet’s on her own.

She’s estimated her savings will carry her 12 months at best.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral. Her vision is blurry, she grows tired easily and lately she’s been experiencing tingling in her hands and feet. After some coaxing from her sister, Janet made an appointment to see her nurse practitioner at the Community Health Centre she belongs to.

The Diagnosis

After a few tests and a couple of repeat visits, she is diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Instead of burying her head and ignoring the symptoms, she decides to consult with the diabetes education team and enroll in some of their workshops.

A few months pass and her health care providers are noticing significant improvements in her health. Her blood sugar is under control and she’s down ten pounds, an accomplishment she can directly attribute to eating healthier and regular exercise. She even quit smoking.

Six months later Janet is down another ten pounds and feeling much better about her health, but her stress levels are creeping up and the temptation to smoke is harder to ignore.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Janet is doing all the right things. She’s made significant behavioural changes, everything from healthy eating, exercise and quitting smoking. She should be proud of herself. And she is, but there’s no program, workshop or lifestyle change that will help her with what she needs most to live a healthy, prosperous life: a secure income.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Facing Poverty

Last night she broke down and had a cigarette, the seriousness and weight of her situation too much to bear.

With not enough money to buy groceries, Janet visits the food bank for the first time in her life. The volunteers she encountered were kind, but the experience no less humiliating.

Now into the throes of poverty, Janet is on an affordable housing wait list, but expects it will be at least three years before she gets a call. This may be the first time she has experienced poverty, but the consequences are no less dire.

Even though she participated in programs and made lifestyle changes that have improved her health, until she has affordable housing and enough money to eat healthy and meet her basic needs, these lifestyle changes will not put her on even ground with others who are income secure.

Now that Janet is living in poverty she is at greater risk of developing other chronic diseases. She is also at greater risk of dying from related complications.

Income Determining Health

Income is the most profound determinant of health. For every rung you move up the income ladder, the better your health. Many health care providers understand it and more politicians are starting to realise it.

The average life expectancy for a woman living in Canada is 81 years, but not everyone benefits equally.

Extreme levels of inequity play out in catastrophic ways, including life expectancy.

According to the Code Red series that ran in the Hamilton Spectator a few years ago the difference in life expectancy was 21 years between the best and worst neighbourhoods.

Not only does poverty strip years from your life, it denies you of your potential.

Poverty casts a dark ominous cloud on people’s lives.

No one chooses to live in poverty, and escaping poverty is not about making better choices.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong. That firmly held neoliberal belief that if you just got your act together, found some discipline or made better choices you could be on the road to success.

People easily forget or perhaps have never realised their success is more than the sum of their decisions. Often it’s the family we are born into, the person we married, our skin colour, the language we speak, or simply, we were not the one to get the job.

It’s not uncommon to hear people remark on how someone living in poverty can afford to smoke or drink. But when you have little to look forward to in your life, sometimes a cigarette or a drink, as unhealthy as they are, offers a temporary escape, even if it’s just in your head.

It’s harder to give up an addiction when you are living in poverty. The daily doses of toxic stress that poverty readily delivers wreaks havoc with a person’s brain. In fact, living in poverty actually depletes a person’s will power.

Poverty restricts choices. It’s repeatedly having to say no or being unable to access things other people take for granted. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that once a person’s willpower reserve is depleted a cigarette becomes an irresistible temptation that brings a rush of dopamine and an accompanying sense of satisfaction and relief, albeit temporary.

The Cure

The good news is that there is a social vaccine that will prevent poverty and combat income security. It’s called a basic income guarantee.

Ontario is launching a pilot next spring. It’s a step in the right direction. But we need to work together to make sure the pilot becomes a national program that benefits all people living in poverty. And we need to make sure that it is done in a way that ensures people are better off.

Some people say we cannot afford it. The truth is, we cannot afford not to.

Others think it’s a recipe for laziness. Existing evidence says otherwise.

A basic income will prevent poverty and combat income insecurity. It will put people on solid ground that leads to improved health.

Incomes security sets a stable foundation that allows people to be creative, innovative and engage in entrepreneurship. These success will increase money flows into local economies. These things in turn will reduce social spending in other high ticket areas like health care and the justice system.

Yes a basic income will come with additional costs, but the social return on investment will transform lives and communities. In the end we will save money, and more importantly, we will save lives.

Meet The Bloggers – Poverty and Health

Canada takes  a lot of pride in its publicly funded health care – as we should! To remind ourselves how good we have it in Canada when it comes to health care, all we need to do is take a look at the other side of the border. However, we are also well aware that the system is not perfect, especially for those of us, who don’t fall under a certain social status and income bracket. We asked our bloggers about their experiences with health care and the affordability of it:


Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

Labour Day weekend marks the 4th anniversary of my partner’s lymphoma diagnosis. It took me awhile to connect that the fear and sadness I feel at the steamy end of summer is a remnant of that personal trauma. My partner is alive and thriving today, but there is emotional scar tissue. A life-threatening illness gives rise to many distressful thoughts, and one of them is the very real fear of financial ruin. My work for the past eight years has been a chaotic and precarious jumble of freelance and contract gigs, with times of frenetic gain and times of anxious sand scratching. Luckily (and it is very much luck, no matter the skill, intelligence, or effort of the employed), my partner has a good job—a union protected job—that has, thankfully, a disability package. He was off sick for two years. Two years. Like everyone faced with crisis, we cut our spending and lived in stasis. I work from a home office, so this allowed me to simultaneously act as his caregiver. His benefits allowed him to recover fully before returning to work. And, I should mention this, upon diagnosis, when things seemed so dark and dire and he didn’t have the strength to walk stairs or perform most of the functions of daily life, his colleagues at work collected cash from their own pockets and gave it to us. His union matched the funds. I cannot tell you how much that helped pay for all the out of pocket incidentals of illness: the groceries, the liquid food replacements he needed to survive, gasoline, and parking…endless expensive hospital parking. He also has a good drug benefit plan, but despite this, one of his drugs cost a whopping $1,600—far beyond what his benefits covered. Luckily (there’s that word again), a caring hospital pharmacist found a charity that paid for what wasn’t covered. I know my partner is alive today because of modern science and our health care system. I also know that without socialized health care, and the good benefits of a good job, we would be homeless—likely living with family. doctor-840127_1920There is no way most people can save for two years of illness or emerge financially unscathed thereafter. So, I am very grateful that my worst fears (one of them being the death of my partner) were not realized. I am also aware that many—too many—Canadians are not so lucky. I know many people who work, exhausted and in pain, while receiving treatment (or, work as long as they can before their bodies just can’t do it anymore). I know those who return to work before they have fully recovered. And I know those who, already living marginally, have their spirits and meagre finances further crushed by the illnesses of poverty. My mother-in-law’s gravestone (if she had one) might well say: “She died of poverty”. Again, this is even with our much vaunted medicare. My sister, who lives in Australia, emerged $10,000 in debt after surgery for ovarian cancer in that country. And that is with healthy private insurance! I know what happened in the past in our country to people who had no means to pay for treatment. I am the daughter of parents who each lost a parent early to sickness and disease and I know how this materially changed their lives. We have a solid enough health system, but our methods of materially caring for the sick and dying and their dependents, fall short.

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

Dental care is definitely one of those things you don’t pay for if you don’t have the money. Early in my career, I worked for several companies that did not offer benefits packages. The pay was also shamefully low, so things like regular dental care and eyeglass replacements were out of the question (also…paying for OHIP premiums in the “old days” was very difficult on a low salary and I often took my chances not paying). One of my early goals was to get a job with benefits. It seems so trivial to some, but it meant so much to me. I cracked a tooth (molar) once and waited until I had  secured a job with dental benefits to get it looked at. My dentist sent me to a specialist who told me I would have to pay $500 upfront for the required work. I went home on the verge of tears thinking I couldn’t afford that tooth; I couldn’t afford teeth! I managed to find another dentist who would do the work to my defined benefits schedule and would allow me to pay in installments. The thing is, even with benefits, you often have to pay for services up front. If you can’t afford $130, or can’t fit it on your already maxed-out credit (as is the reality for many who live hand-to-mouth), you will do without, which just adds to your physical (and mental) health debt.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I think we have come a long way in the past 50 years. We have universal health care which we all pay for; we have quality basic health care. I’ve had surgery (and at the old, dismal, filthy St. Catharines General, with its Crimean war hospital theatre-like atmosphere) and the surgical skill (and some, if not all of the aftercare) was excellent. And I didn’t get a bill! I’ve spent a lot of time at Ontario hospitals in the last six years, and I’ve accessed (for loved ones) and witnessed excellent home health care provided through local Community Care Access Centres. I can’t say enough about the skill and caring of these service providers. We are also fortunate to have excellent community health centres in Niagara such as Quest, Bridges, etc. (a big shout out) that provide good primary care and a whole lot more, as well as advocacy on health equity issues and programs. I think that is where a lot of the change and innovation in health care originates — from direct service providers who believe in improving health by changing the system, tearing down barriers, or mitigating social inequality. They, along with poverty action groups, have the “broader view” that includes pressing for a living wage, since good health has everything to do with good, or even adequate income. Of course, within the existing systems, services such as health navigators at hospitals and clinics, can make a huge difference in terms of accessing the required and appropriate care. Knowing where to go for services (particularly no or low cost ones) and how to advocate for your health (mental and physical) or the health of someone else, can change outcomes.


Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

I had major surgery almost 10 years ago that almost killed me. There were severe complications that have a direct link to the health problems that continue to this day. I had to learn to accept my limitations and work within them in order to stay healthy. I haven’t been able to work full-time since I had that surgery. My whole world as I knew it came crashing down and I was forced to re-evaluate my priorities.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

It chips away at your self-confidence. Chronic pain & illness can lead to isolation which can develop into clinical depression. It messes with your self-image. It’s very scary to be financially dependent on someone else. Society is very judgmental and places a value on people based on their income or ability to work.Marilyn

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

I feel very fortunate to have additional medical insurance through my husband’s employee benefits. There are many treatments and medications that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. This would have a negative effect on the quality of life I would have.

With prevention top of mind, what preventative health tip would you like to share?

Stay active. Engage in low-impact activities like gardening, walking and aquatic exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Regular exercise improves sleep, controls weight, has a positive affect on mood and stimulates creativity.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I honestly don’t know the solution to this very serious problem but I do know that it needs to be addressed by the government. If people don’t have access to proper healthcare now the government ends up paying anyway through things like hospitalization, Long Term Care facilities, disability, welfare, etc. There needs to be a more pro-active approach to caring for people to prevent the rapid decline of health and quality of life before it happens.


Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

My father went on sick leave from work numerous times due to arthritis that left him unable to perform not only his work duties, but also other basic tasks around the home. In 2012 he suffered a stroke that extended his leave to over two years, and by the time he returned to work he experienced a culture shock from not only having to keep up with new developments, but from being treated differently by his peers. His sick leaves from work impacted his finances greatly since the money he received from work while on leave was not sufficient to cover the bills, and so he resorted to using a line of credit to support us. When he went on another sick leave, his inability to leave the house left him unable to get a doctor’s note his work required in order for him to remain employed. He was then fired by his employer of over 20 years. The last conversation I had with him was terrifying, as he had essentially lost all hope to get better, and would avoid answering my questions about whether or not this meant he was going to go on ODSP or OW. When he passed away two weeks after that, we learned that he was in severe overdraft and debt. Seeing what can happen to someone when they experience chronic health problems is something I will never forget, and exposed me to the many problems that exist both socially and systemically. There is simply not enough support for people experiencing chronic illness and other health problems.

Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

I have heard many wonderful things about Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines. Their questpriority populations include people experiencing homelessness, mental health and addiction issues, and many others who are in need of a supportive, nonjudgmental environment.


Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

In the last five years I have lost  my own family doctor of 25 yrs. I have been in extremely good health all of my life. I saw my doctor for physical check ups only. Through having to find a clinic to replace my family doctor, I found Quest Community Health Centre 145 Queenston St., Suite 100, St. Catharines, ON  L2R 2Z9.

This is a centre that provided health care professionals and programs that were inclusive to everyone. There have been no barriers. I was treated as an individual. Poverty was not a barrier to receive health care. The staff treat every person with compassion and empathy, no matter what their circumstances in life are or have been.

The Dental Program provides dental care for clients who cannot afford to see see a dentist because of cost. This program provides dental care and cleaning on a regular basis by professionals who donate their time. Their programs such as Road 2 Empowerment, a program to better and more efficiently advocate was immensely beneficial.

Living in Poverty means consistently advocating for our rights.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

LIrene2iving in Poverty creates health issues that I have never had  due to poor nutrition and the constant worry of not having food creates a fear that you may go hungry.  There is also the underlying fear that being homeless can happen to you again. Every ordinary situation becomes a crisis. This leads to stress and anxiety.

Even though I had the assurance that I had access to food despite that it had no nutritional value most of the time I was faced with the reality that if I did not have the means to get there, I would go hungry.

This fear is constant. It impacts decisions you make, relationships you have and too many times we isolate because the reality of poverty hits us so hard, we become immobile.

The mental strain on every aspect of our lives becomes exhausting. Although I am in a better situation, Poverty has taken a toll on my mental well being. There are still days, sometimes weeks that my entire system shuts down, mentally and physically. Poverty has left a scar that will remain with me.


Question of the month – Barriers To Health Care

We all know it – it has been HOT here in Niagara. For the women and families who come to our shelter doors, the heat is not a question of whether or not you like the summer – a hot day without air conditioning, with limited access to a shower, a place to cool down can be catastrophic for them and their children.

It made our bloggers think about health and poverty – is our health care as universal as we claim it is? Blogger Slavica starts us off on this August’s theme by answering the question of the month: What are barriers to health care?

Our Barriers are NOT Real, They are Simply of Society’s Making

Today, my dad told me that there are no honest people out there. That all they care about is themselves and having money in their pockets. In my almost 20 years of life, I am still hopeful. I still think that there are good people out there but it’s just they are few and far in between.


However, the sad reality is, even if there are good people in this world, we live in world with systemic barriers that privilege the few and disadvantage many.  In simple terms, unless you have giant pockets for your boat load of money, you’re screwed.

Even the universal health care system in Canada, which is supposed to be helping us is lacking, especially regarding dental and mental health care. Unless you have good insurance, you have to pay out of pocket.

Students now are more anxious than mental asylum patients in the 1950’s.

Which is ridiculous because students now are more anxious than mental asylum patients in the 1950’s. Teenagers and young adults like myself are falling short of the society’s expectations of us. We can’t keep up with these demands to the point many of us are harming ourselves and doing dangerous things just to keep sane. To relax.

The hidden poor

When we look at the poor population in our society, we have this stereotype that they are all homeless bums that are living on the streets and that they deserved what happened to them. As if somehow it’s their fault but the large majority of the homeless population aren’t living on the streets. They are the hidden poor. Their all around us. They are people we most likely know who could be on the brink of an eviction or simply choose to pay for rent rather than food because they need a roof over their heads more.

These hidden poor are usually people with low income jobs. Jobs that many people in society think are being taken away, but the jobs that these people are working have no benefits, long hours, are manual labour. The jobs that nobody wants. These jobs are usually given to immigrants, people of colour, low educated individuals, really, society’s throwaways.

Stereotypes and health

Based on health care professionals,  pre-conceived notions and stereotypes, be it consciously or not, based on a patient’s sex, gender, race, class, ability etc, can determine the health of their patients and the care that they get simply by the way they are treated.

This tends to be with less care, respect, and understanding of their health care needs. They usually aren’t even told of the resources available to them and even if they are, they’re less likely to use them due to issues of systemic racism, sexism, etc.

As Canadians we have always been compared to the States as being nicer but the truth is we are not better. The States are just louder about their systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, and any other “isms” out there.

The solution is simple. We are all human beings, who deserve equal care. No one person is more important than another.

Getting To Know You Questions – #RealityCheque

Get to know your bloggers! This month, learn what their experience has been with poverty and homelessness. We asked them to pick some of the following questions to answer:

  1. What is one misconception you had on poverty, that you now feel differently about?
  2. The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?
  3. One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others, have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.
  4. For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?
  5. As part of our hashtag campaign #RealityCheque – Can you share, how many missed pay cheques until I am homeless?
  6. Sometimes it isn’t missed pay cheques, have you or someone you know had a life changing experience that has impacted their housing?  Please share.
  7. If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.
  8. How will you be participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event this year?



What is one misconception you had on poverty that you now feel differently about?

I thought that nothing I could do would help anyway, so why bother. I’ve seen how far a little money can go. The YW can stretch a dollar like you wouldn’t believe, and help people looking for the Crystal Carswellmost basic human needs that we take for granted.

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

Sadness. I’ve met some incredibly interesting women through the YW, and heard stories from women from all walks of life. It’s heartbreaking when they find themselves at that door.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.

I am very lucky in that I have friends I can live with in desperation, or an ex who would no doubt move us up to Brampton in extreme circumstances. Not everyone is lucky enough to have this kind of support system.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year?

Team Cap (my son and myself) will be toughing it out in our little sedan over night! Can’t wait to see you all there!



The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

When I hear the word “homeless” it makes me feel fearful and vulnerable. Being homeless is one of my worst nightmares.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others. Have you ever found Marilynyourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.

I left home when I was 16 because of an abusive male in the household and signed myself into a youth home in Welland. From there I moved to Toronto where I lived in boardinghouses and shelters. I am grateful for the security and provisions I was given while I was there. I will never forget the life skills and guidance I was given in order to be able to take care of myself and survive.

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?

Nothing lasts forever! — This doesn’t have to define you or who you are. Take advantage of the guidance and assistance offered at the shelter. Immerse yourself in the many  different skill-based courses provided by staff who truly care about others.

How will you be participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event this year?

I will be spending the night in my car to raise money and awareness to the plight of poverty and how ultimately, it affects us all. Ignoring a problem never makes it disappear.



The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?
It brings out sadness. A home is so much more than a shelter that protects you from the elements; it’s everything. It’s your safe place, a place that provides food, shelter, love and nourishment for you and others. It gives you a sense of pride and safety, and without a home a lot of those things can be taken away. Your safety, your comfort, your confidence, and your ease of mind. It brings out worry, anxiety, and fear. I know that my home has always been a constant in my life, a safe place to go that is full of love. I know when I walk through my front door everything gets a bit better. For someone not to have that reassuring feeling is sad, and scary, and no one deserves to have that taken away from them.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others. Have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.
I am lucky enough to have never experienced homelessness – then again I am only 27 years old and there’s a lot more life to live. I have a fantastic family who has supported me my entire life, and even during my most “irresponsible spending” years and a brief time where I was unemployed, they supported me and I never had to worry. I also have a wonderful boyfriend who has supported me through my time of unemployment and was able to pay for our rent and living expenses. I was very scared during that time, even though I had no immediate threat of homelessness, so I can only imagine how scary it must be when you are in that situation.dana

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?
I would want them to know that aside from the physical roof over their head and food in their bellies, there is a support system there that can help them through the roughest times. There is a support system, a team of caring, loving, and helpful people working and volunteering at the shelter who are there solely to help people who need it. They are there to help you get through this rough time, and build a better life. They are there for you.

As part of our hashtag campaign #RealityCheque – Can you share, how many missed pay cheques until you are homeless?
I am lucky enough to be sharing my expenses with a partner, and because of that, I could last a bit longer without my pay cheques. If my partner and I both missed more than two, then we wouldn’t be able to stay in our house.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.
I am very blessed to have two families who would let me stay with them if I became homeless. I am also very fortunate to have a number of close friends who live nearby who would also let me stay with them without question. If I were in a situation where I did not have such a fantastic support system, then yes, I would access an emergency shelter.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year?
I plan on volunteering!



The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

Heart stopping fear.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others, have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.Irene2

Tragedy has no boundaries . It comes knocking on your door without warning , or discernment. It can strike anyone from all walks of life, male or female and at any age. Everything that was once  your home where your children and grandchildren laughed and had family dinners is gone in a storage unit, unrecognizable .

Your entire life becomes disjointed like a puzzle someone threw on the floor in anger. You are not able to find the pieces to put it all together again.

Imagine a 4′ by 4′ square. The space within not even enough room for your body to lie full length. Within that space you hold your precious belongings. No room to move , no room to sit, standing all alone and afraid to leave that one spot for fear of losing that as well. You become frozen with fear. Even breathing is hard . Standing perfectly still is the only way you will keep from losing that small ground completely . You  almost become invisible to the world.

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?

To reach out to someone they trust.  To never lose Hope.  Get up every day and do one thing that brings joy to your heart.



Sometimes it isn’t missed pay cheques, have you or someone you know had a life changing experience that has impacted their housing?  Please share. 

I have had two relatives lose the place they called home due to very similar circumstances – the death of a parent. As a result, they both experienced hidden homelessness, and were living out of their cars, motels, and with other relatives. These are situations that were difficult for me to emphasize with at first, because I knew very well that these people had the financial resources to secure a place to live. After getting involved in volunteering with the YW I came to recognize other factors that were involved in them becoming homeless, and that while it may seem to others that they actively chose that path for themselves, there are many factors in our society that have contributed to their situations, such as mental health issues, a lack of available support services, and stigma.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more. 

I’m very fortunate during this current period of my life in that I have a strong enough support network that I would feel confident in finding someone to stay with temporarily. Prior to this year however, I felt that I would have to uproot my entire life to live with distant relatives in a different city if this were to happen to me. Since then, many things have changed. I started volunteering for the YW, which has given me awareness of the resources I could use, but more importantly, I became employed. Although I make minimum wage, being employed has opened up many doors for me both financially and socially. I have coworkers that I know I could turn to for help should I need it, and for that I am immensely grateful. Also, I have enough money saved so that I could rent another place should I need to. Right now I have a lot of agency in my life that I did not feel that I had up until this year, and I am so thankful that I would not have to leave what I have to access a shelter, as many people must do in order to survive.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year? 

This will be my second year helping out with the event, and I have been looking forward to it for months! This year, I have been involved in the Volunteer Recruitment Subcommittee in which I have been assisting with getting people involved in helping both with the Cardboard House display as well as No Fixed Address, often by promoting them at community events throughout the summer. On the day of the event, I will be there to help ensure that we have volunteers where we need them to be, and if my work schedule will allow it, I hope to be participating by staying overnight in my friend’s car. Regardless of what my involvement looks like, No Fixed Address holds a special place in my heart and I consider being involved with it a great privilege!


If Only Our Earnings Matched Our High Rental Market…

“Hot enough for ya?” That’s the greeting of the day (week…month) as I write this in mid-July. It’s as common a salutation as “how ya doing?” or “how’s it going?” during southern Ontario heatwaves. As the weather roasts us, I count myself lucky. My home is at least partially air conditioned. And I can afford the hydro bill that will come at the end of the month. Not so for many other people who live in this region and this province. I think about that as, sweat rolling off the end of my nose, I take my daily walk through my mixed-income residential neighbourhood. I think about how, 20-some years ago I accepted a job, moved to St. Catharines, and attempted to find an apartment I could afford on my income. It was a hard search. Back then, the vacancy rate was hovering around one percent. It was slim pickings for any apartment, let alone an affordable one. I found decent digs in an older converted building. It was oddly early to mid-century in set up and accoutrements. The refrigerator was vintage, much like the rounded corner International Harvester one that was a fixture of my parents’ kitchen when I was a child. There was no shower (just a tub). The bathroom was clearly an afterthought. But it was clean, with no bugs. It was also safe, warm enough in the winter, and not quite roasting in the summer. The landlord was decent as well and didn’t treat his tenants like necessary coal mining cogs in his Freedom 55 retirement plan. It was the first of five St. Catharines apartments (some better than others) I lived in before my partner and I were lucky enough to buy a house.

When we left our last, beloved apartment (converted servant’s quarters), rent had inched its way into “it’s better to own” territory and some dignified houses could be found well below the $100,000 mark. This was less than 15 years ago. Now, houses on my street are becoming out of reach for first-time buyers. I know, I know…I should think of that as a good thing. I mean, my “investment” is growing, right? Or so the rhetoric goes. But I can’t think of a home, a place to live, as just a financial investment.

Housing as a Right

I’m a naturally happy person, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t look at things with a critical eye. Housing is one of those things we should all look at critically. I happen to think housing is a right. Decent, affordable housing should be much like water—it shouldn’t be owned by only a few, and it shouldn’t be controlled by the free market alone. That’s why I’m skeptical about all the hype surrounding the 416’s (and outlying 905) interest in Niagara real estate. It’s great for property values and real estate agents, property management companies, and people who want to sell their houses and get out of Dodge or shift to the nursing home. But what about everyone else? Who else benefits? Having invested my life in Niagara for a quarter century, I don’t want to see it turned into a bedroom community for commuters with good jobs in the Big Smoke and retirees from Oakville eager to sell their family homes and spend their golden years on much more affordable golf links. Because that will mean we have given up on having a truly thriving community and we’ve given over to strict market interest. We already rely on the lower paid service industry for too many of our jobs. In the post-manufacturing economy, too many people here juggle two and three part-time jobs just to put a roof over their heads. You need a master’s degree to get a toe-hold on a $15 an hour, no benefits temporary contract position. I joke, but I don’t, key

How About an Employment Boom?

I would prefer if the real estate boom was an employment and living wage jobs boom, so that the people already living here in substandard housing—you know, those languishing on subsidized housing wait lists, could have a chance at good jobs that allowed them to afford good market rental housing, or even perhaps owning their own homes someday. The problem with a high rent to income ratio community (which is much of St. Catharines/Niagara and has been for many years) experiencing a housing boom is that the people on the margins— to be blunt, the folks living in overpriced holes—never benefit. That’s right…never benefit. Yes, there is shelter and transitional housing (clearly, the YWCA is a leader here), and the Region and the city of St. Catharines are putting our money and their mouths into supporting social housing and affordable housing. It’s about time. I can’t swing a cat without hitting a new “student housing” venture. Fantastic! Make some money on Brock’s strategic foreign student education futures plan! And the market is blossoming with downtown area condos. Good. We need more mixed housing to enliven the heart. But still, a pleasant one-bedroom apartment in a building that does not need major repairs for $750-800 is considered a deal in St. Catharines. A deal. Really? Do you know how long it takes a minimum-wage earner to make $750?

Yay! We’re on a Top Ten List?

Just last week, Niagara This Week carried a story on St. Catharines claiming 10th spot on the most expensive rental markets in Canada list (compiled by PadMapper, a national apartment search platform). We finally made a top ten list and it’s for high rents! Not for stable, well-paying jobs. Not for pretty trees and gardens (although that’s one of our official selling points). Not for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence (to quote The Simpsons). But for the 10th most expensive rental market. Apparently, the median rent for a one bedroom in St. Catharines is $910, and $1,130 for a two bedroom. I imagine that doesn’t come as a shock to renters. I also imagine some landlords (I said some, not all) might look at that and think “hmm…looks like I’ve got room to move up.”


So, What’s Changed?

The thing is, a high rental market in St. Catharines really isn’t news. It’s more like a confirmation of a fact (anecdotal at the time) that I learned many, many years ago. This place, this beautiful place with lovely people and stunning geography, is hard to earn a living in, but expensive to live in. And, I hate to sound like a Debbie Downer here, but the much lusted after Go Service to Niagara is not likely to change that situation. It may ease the congestion on the QEW, make things all nicey nicey for Burlington and Brampton peeps who want to buy pretty homes in lovely ‘ole still-small-town-like Grimsby. (I’m practically wiping the snot on my sleeve as I write that.) It may even raise my property value in St. Catharines. But it is not likely to up my income. And therein lies part of the rub. One of these things is not like the others. Riddle me this: why oh why is St. Catharines squashing high rental market shoulders with Toronto, Victoria, Calgary, and Ottawa? And how can we fix this?