Tag Archives: housing

Trina’s Journey – Part 2

Our client Trina found West Niagara Affordable Housing in 2016 and had the courage to initially share her story at our Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) event, back in 2017. She was kind enough to return to the event this year to share how her journey has continued.
Telling her story is her way of thanking the team at West Niagara Affordable Housing, but it is also her way of thanking all of you, who supported CNOY, whether it was as a walker, volunteer, donor or sponsor.

I would like to continue to share my story of hope. Hope that helped fuel purpose when I learned about West Niagara Affordable Housing (WNAH). Hope that has assisted in pushing me forward. I remember how sometimes that light gets dim and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. As I shared last year, I was at my most dim when I first approached WNAH.

I had some very unrealistic goals set for myself initially, not realizing just how many changes would occur, how little resources I had locally (no family) and how challenging it would be to break through the metal blocks I had been forced to create to survive. To help myself refocus, I then I began looking at nature, at the four seasons and how each season has a purpose. How without the full season the ground suffers, and it can affect everything that is grown. Or the farmer who is just starting off has high hopes his first year of having a bountiful crop. But in his or her excitement missed tilling the soil, or adding the right nutrients to help boost the soil to provide the bounty at the end of the season. Bounty to nourish families, give back to communities and enable them to be self sufficient. They can either choose to give up or learn and press through for the next year.

Both resonate with me as we all need time, and if we are breaking down and repairing the walls that had kept us “safe”. We also need to replenish, rebuild and renew ourselves to be able to move forward and take those next steps to being whole again. I choose to move forward, dig deeper and hold on. Which has enabled me to be one step closer to my goals of being an Holistic Nutritionist and being able to give back and continue to serve others.

We also need to replenish, rebuild and renew ourselves to be able to move forward and take those next steps to being whole again.

This program has enabled me to start again, while providing a stable and secure environment for my children. It has been a blessing and an answer to my prayer.

I would like to thank Cheryl and Keisha from the WNAH program for providing a service that has helped me and my children start again. I would like to thank the Grimsby Benevolent Fund for their kindness and support in times when unexpected things happen. For anyone looking for an organization to help, I strongly suggest you looking at WNAH. Their services change lives, I am just one of many. Getting back on your feet literally is one step at a time. Once again from the bottom of my heart – Thank You!!!

We are still accepting donations for our Coldest Night of the Year event until the end of March. Your money stays here in West Niagara and supports community members such as Trina here in Beamsville, Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln.

Please consider making a donation at https://cnoy.org/location/west-niagara.

Trina’s Journey – Part 1

Our client Trina had the courage to share her story at our Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) event, back in 2017. Telling her story is her way of thanking the team at West Niagara Affordable Housing, but it is also her way of thanking all of you, who supported CNOY, whether it was as a walker, volunteer, donor or sponsor.

I would like to speak about hope today. Hope that I found when I learned about West Niagara Affordable Housing (WNAH), formerly GAHP.

When you are struggling in a bad situation, the one thing you hold onto is hope. However, sometimes that light gets dim.

I was at my most dim when I trusted a friend with what I was going through. She was very kind and took the time to listen. She suggested I contact Cheryl at WNAH for help to see if they could assist me.

I was not aware of this program and I was so unsure, but finally reached out. It was through talking with Cheryl at WNAH that I stopped being afraid and that I dared to take a chance. I am a firm believer in prayer, and God is someone I lean on daily. However, sometimes prayer requires action. After contacting WNAH, I could begin acting. Cheryl helped me find housing, connected me with the Grimsby Benevolent Fund, provided legal suggestions, counselling suggestions, financial support suggestions. WNAH sat down with me and helped me fill out the necessary forms to become part of their program. I was so overwhelmed and felt totally lost. They were there to reassure me. They took the time to listen, encourage and provide reassurance which was very much needed.

This program has enabled me to start again, continue with my schooling, which will enable me to get back on my feet and continue to provide for my children.

Since I’ve been in the program, they have not only helped me find housing for me and my children, but they also provided access to programs to assist in rebuilding life skills. They take the time to meet with you, assist you with goals, support you with court if needed, and assist you in any way they can. This program has provided so much to so many. This program has enabled me to start again, continue with my schooling, which will enable me to get back on my feet and continue to provide for my children. It has enabled me to rebuild myself in a safe environment, removed some stress, and I just can’t say enough good things about them.

If there is anyone here who needs help, or who knows someone who does, I encourage you to reach out to WNAH. Both Cheryl and Keisha are wonderful to work with and they will help you in any way they can.

I would like to thank Cheryl and Keisha from WNAH for renewing my hope and for providing a service that has helped me and my children start again. For anyone looking for an organization to help, I strongly suggest you look at WNAH. Their services change lives, I am just one of many. From the bottom of my heart – Thank You!!!

We are still accepting donations for our Coldest Night of the Year event until the end of March. Your money stays here in West Niagara and supports community members such as Trina here in Beamsville, Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln.

Please consider making a donation at https://cnoy.org/location/west-niagara.

READ HOW TRINA’S STORY CONTINUES….

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 joke.house, 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.”

Capture

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?

 

Housing First

“Home is where the heart is.”

“If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.”

“Home is where one starts from.”

HOME. It has got to be one of the most wonderful words in our vocabulary. The thought of home makes most of us feel good and happy and warm and fuzzy. My home, my comfort.
Here at the YW, we rarely use the word on its own. We talk about homelessness, people who do not have a home and people who are waiting for an affordable home. In Niagara, that is an estimated 11,035 people by the way.

Picture a full Meridian Centre – every seat taken. Now picture it twice.
That is how many people we are talking about here.

To change those stats, the Region launched A HOME FOR ALL, Niagara’s Housing and Homelessness Action Plan in 2013. A key element of this ten-year plan is to promote and implement the “Housing First” principle. The idea is to place homeless individuals and families directly into permanent housing, which is a slightlysupport decrase, independence increase different approach from the one we use for our other transitional housing programs. To go through the stages of transitional housing means a continual increase of independence while the staff support is slowly being decreased from stage to stage. This program aims to support those women and families, who have for one reason or another hit bottom and quite simply need some time and help to get back on their feet.

The Housing First model is aimed at supporting women like Hannah. When Hannah first came to the YW, she struggled with homelessness chronically. Most of the women and families who come to our doors have just hit a rough patch, but when we talk about chronic homelessness, we mean individuals who face challenges such as addictions or severe mental illness. Because of her addiction, there were a lot of services that Hannah was not able to access. She simply did not know who to turn to.

“The Housing First approach improves the lives of those who are homeless and have a mental illness. It makes better use of public dollars – especially for those who are high users of health care and social service resources.” – MHCC

Thanks to funding through the Region of Niagara, the YW has five Housing First units and we were able to provide Hannah with a home. From there, our Housing First worker was able to help Hannah redefine who she is. She connected with a physician, established her sobriety and with people around her who cared, she flourished, and her confidence returned.
Research by the Mental Health Commission of Canada shows that it is the best solution for the chronically homeless to provide access to safe, permanent housing first and to then offer recovery-oriented services: “The Housing First approach improves the lives of those who are homeless and have a mental illness. It makes better use of public dollars – especially for those who are high users of health care and social service resources.”

The YW has five permanent housing units that have been in use since April 2015. It is a hugely successful program and another great resource for people who struggle with homelessness in our region. It is their chance to finally have a home again.
Because home is “where one starts from”.

 

Homelessness, Cars and Community: The Making of No Fixed Address

fundraising piggy bank

One of the biggest decisions of a non-profit organization is deciding what kind of fundraiser to hold. It’s pinning down a vision, need and goal…and then communicating that need to the public in a way that makes them want to get involved.

 

This is rarely an easy feat, especially in its first few years.

The YWCA’s Women of Distinction Awards was a great example of honoring leadership in our community.  Started in the mid-eighties, the YW held the awards dinner and banquet to highlight the women in our community who were accomplishing great things.  It was an honor to be nominated, as it was always a wonderful evening spent in a room filled with women the community held in high esteem.  However, this event rarely did anything to highlight our organization—or raise the funds needed to help keep important programs running.  For an 85 year old organization, our profile was still very much obscure within the region.  Few people knew what the YW did for our womenAnd so, it was with sadness that we decided to quietly say goodbye to this fundraiser, the last one taking place in May 2011.

So there we were, without a major fundraiser…and let me assure you that our Fund Developer, Nicki Inch was just a little stressed about this.  Fortunately with some reassurance from our Executive Director, she was given some time to hold a focus group to begin looking into new ideas.  While researching, Nicki came across a 24 hour event held in San Francisco addressing the issue of homelessness and inspiration struck.  She just knew this was going to be a success.

I remember her excitement.  Her mind working on constant overdrive, frantically trying to keep up with the ideas that were just pouring out of her. That excitement was contagious! In fact, it started spreading like wildfire. I remember being so proud of Nicki.  We finally had an event that felt right. I was inspired by her and proud of her not just as a co-worker—but also because she is my Mom.

Now she just needed a catchy name for the event.

NFA LOGOIn March 2012, Nicki began ‘shopping’ No Fixed Address around.  It wasn’t a hard sell, in fact, it really had legs of its own.  For the first time, we had people coming to us; sponsors that had previously turned us down in the past, or been a hard sell were now asking to be involved!  Incredibly awesome people started clambering to sit on the numerous committees Nicki developed to help put the plan into action.  Donations were rolling in…..AND people were signing up to sleep in their cars!

 It has just been so incredible to see the many people that are drawn to this event.  Not only have people embraced it, but they have made it their own. NFA has become a vehicle to educate individuals, as well as, their children about some of the social  realities connected to homelessness.  It has become a common ground for employees to bond beyond the office, while working together for the common good.  NFA has given a voice to those who have personally experienced homelessness.  It has become a venue that exudes hope, offers encouragement and expresses sincere compassion for those in need.  NFA has succeeded in its goal, to raise awareness about the persistent and rising problem of homelessness in Niagara.

So what does fundraising have to do with leadership?

For me, leadership is an entire community coming together to work towards ending poverty and homelessness in Niagara.  Leadership is also the many people behind the scenes who tirelessly commit to seeing the plan through to action.

Be a leader and get involved in NFA.

284752_274619232653331_874822578_nNo Fixed Address is a 24 hour Live-In-Your-Car-A-Thon to raise awareness about and funds toward ending poverty and homelessness in the Niagara Region. Like a marathon or a walk-a-thon, participants will gather sponsorships from friends and family and take part in an event that gives them a taste of what it is like to have to live out of their car. The event will take place from Friday August 15th to Saturday August 16th in the parking lot of the Pen Centre (by the Target side of the mall). Over the course of 24 hours, participants will experience just how little room a car has when you sleep in it, what a convenience store diet means and how difficult it is to find a rest room when you need it the most. Participants will be stretched and challenged and will leave forever changed.

To become involved or learn more information please visit our website at: www.nfaniagara.com

Images courtesy of Google and YWCA Niagara Region.