Category Archives: Women’s Issues


I remember the first time I saw him, I was ordering my morning coffee at the little café down the street when a hand reached in front of me and tapped the machine for my order. I thanked him and insisted that I pay for his order, but he declined and said he would rather my phone number instead. After just getting out of a toxic relationship a few months prior, I was missing being cared for and latched on to how exciting and new the possibility of him was.

In the beginning we texted every day, he took me out to dinner and bought me gifts, he wanted to know everything about me! We had so much fun together but we also shared tender moments talking about how we wanted to get married and have a family, I always wanted a big family. I fell pretty fast for him… what can I say, I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. He started taking me to parties on the weekends where alcohol and drugs were freely offered to me. I didn’t want to disappoint him, and I was just so happy that he chose me to love that I started using at these parties.

When I was trafficked for the first time, he told me he had invited his best friend over for a birthday dinner. I spent 6 hours that day getting ready, I wore the new dress he bought me and cooked an amazing meal. When they got to my place, my boyfriend told me what I was expected to do for his friend – I was so scared, I couldn’t say no, I didn’t say anything at all. Afterwards my boyfriend spent the night with me, thanking me and telling me that as soon as we made some extra money, we could buy our own house for the family we wanted to have. Looking back now I should have run right then, but I thought he loved me. I thought he wanted to spend his life with me and our future family. In a vulnerable moment though, I did what he asked of me. I wanted to show him how dedicated I was to him as he was to me. How was I supposed to know this would keep happening?

His friend started to come over once a week and I would make dinner for us. Then I was introduced to a new friend of his who he said was a co-worker that I could not embarrass him in front of. At this point I was at the worst of my addiction, using alcohol and drugs to fall asleep at night and especially when my boyfriend’s friends came over. One night I was too exhausted to cook, so I went on my boyfriend’s laptop to order food and saw a nude picture of myself in an email thread to 18 different email addresses, with a price attached.

These were not my boyfriend’s friends; he didn’t know these men! I made them dinner, and they were strangers paying my boyfriend to have a night with me. This was the moment I knew something was wrong. It took months for me to decide if I was going to do anything about it. I would have given anything to go back to the beginning of our relationship when it was fun and care-free. One night when he left my house, I got into contact with one of the advocates at the YWCA Niagara Region shelter. She talked to me about my options and that they run a shelter specifically for people who have experienced

similar things – a shelter for survivors of human trafficking. I had no idea what that even was, let alone if I wanted to go to a shelter! But I called them back weekly for two months before I worked up the courage to pack a bag, call them back and tell them I was ready. At 2 A.M. after one of his “friends” beat me up, I ran four streets over and got in the Uber she had sent to my location which then brought me to a shelter in downtown St. Catharines. I was scared he was going to find me, so they helped to get me to the Safer House that next morning.

I was in and out of the program three times. I was renting my own apartment and there were some days I missed my boyfriend so much. Something would happen between us again and they welcomed me with open arms each time. I am grateful to the YW because I would not have been able to understand what a healthy relationship looks like or secure the money I needed to get an addictions counsellor. I finally ended my lease and was going to start fresh – it was the hardest decision I ever made, but it may be the decision that saved my life. My case worker at the YW has helped me to find myself again, to not let this horrible thing that happened to me be what defines me. I know now that I was being exploited and the “love” my trafficker – not my boyfriend – was giving me was not real love.

Every few days I wake up scared from having nightmares from the night before, but I won’t give up on myself. Positive steps forward every day. In my times of struggle I remind myself of the accomplishments I have made and remember that I’m proud of myself for leaving and accepting support from the YW.



I felt my 9-month unborn daughter kick inside my stomach while we were moving boxes from our home. Instead of being excited, I wanted to throw up. This was no longer an exciting time in my family’s lives where we were bringing a new baby into this world. In this world, our reality, my family was evicted from our 2-bedroom townhouse when the housing market skyrocketed, and we could no longer afford our rent. We’ve never had a lot, but we always had enough. This wasn’t the case anymore, we scrambled to find safe and affordable housing. Anything we could afford turned out too good to be true. Any family we tried to turn to only ended up pushing us away. There was no place to go except the shelters in our area, I could not have my babies on the street. I remember praying that my two girls wouldn’t remember this time in our lives; a time when mommy and daddy couldn’t give them a safe and stable home to grow in.

So shelter became the only option. This meant I had to go with my children to one shelter and my husband, Tom, went across the city to a men’s shelter. We were separated. A small town apart now felt like opposite ends of the earth when I was caring for two children by myself and missing my partner during the most uncertain time of my life. I kept thinking – What would I do if I had to deliver my baby by myself because Tom couldn’t stay with our family? How would Tom feel missing the birth of our baby? I knew this could only last a short period, because living separately and in an unstable environment with two little girls, just wasn’t working. With our children, and another on the way, there seemed like there was no hope. And I needed my husband.

Tom, in our desperate search for a better answer, came across the YW’s Emergency Family Shelter. The only shelter units of its kind in the area. A place where families can stay whole. Where women don’t have to separate from their partners and children don’t have to separate from their fathers. I contacted the shelter and our journey with the YWCA began. Sure, there was a certain relief felt when we arrived, but we were still scared and anxious from living in uncertainty for so long. We didn’t know what to expect and were tired of moving around so much. It made it worse when my 8-year-old daughter, Ashley, said she was nervous about another new home. I didn’t blame her; I was also sick of constantly being in fight-or-flight mode.

It didn’t take long after we moved in that I was finally able to exhale. I suffer from extreme anxiety and used to shut down as a way to cope. Finally, I was in a safe space where I felt supported enough to open up. It honestly felt like a weight was lifted off my chest and I was able to breathe again. I allowed myself to feel a shred of excitement… I was so wrapped up in the fight I didn’t realize I only had a week or two left of being pregnant. We were going to have a baby, we were going to be together, and we were going to be safe and stable once again.

My daughter was 6.2lbs- 16.1 in when she finally came, and Tom was able to cut her umbilical cord. I am so thankful to the YW for bringing my family together. After being in the shelter for 4 months, we received life-changing news. Our YW social worker located an affordable rental for us! Slowly things are starting to fall into place. We no longer have that underlying worry of never owning a home again because we were moving in in a few days! We’re getting our lives back. Back to a place where we don’t have to worry so much and can focus on what matters most – our family. Finally.

We are grateful to Sophia, Tom, and Ashley for sharing their story with us, with you. Sophia was one of the first 9-month pregnant women in our family shelter at Oakdale Commons. It broke my heart to hear that she went through such a rough time, especially during late stages of pregnancy, being separated from her partner. We are in awe of their determination to find a better solution which brought them to the YW. Your support has kept this family together during a hard time. Your support has given them -Sophia, Tom, and Ashley – hope.

Your gift can be the difference between families being separated or being united during a time of crisis.



My children mean everything to me. Everything. I would do anything for them. But we hit a rough spot two years ago. A really rough spot. My partner and father of my two children left us out of the blue. We were shocked, scared, and heartbroken. It was really hard on all of us, especially my children. I felt numb.

I tried to carry our mortgage on my own but on a single paycheque, it became too difficult. Beamsville has been our home since the children were born. It’s been our whole lives. But it didn’t look like our home was going to last when I realized I couldn’t keep up with all of the payments. I lost our home. I looked everywhere for somewhere in our area that I could afford. I didn’t want to take my children out of their school. It was the only sense of normalcy they had. I didn’t want to uproot their lives any more than they already had been without their father. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Luckily, the YW’s transitional housing program exists. We had to go on the wait list for the program but it was a glimpse of hope I could cling to. Keshia stayed in contact but wasn’t hopeful we’d find something quickly during the affordable housing crisis. Especially an affordable unit for 3 people! It took a bit of time to find a place that was suitable. While I waited, I was lucky to have friends and family let us crash on their couches for a few months. I’m sure they weren’t happy but it kept us afloat as Keshia worked so hard to find us a place. I’m grateful she did.

It was such a beautiful moment when I got to show my children their new home. They were so excited to not be sharing a couch! And I was so excited to finally call a place our home. It was a fresh start for all of us. With that fresh start and sense of stability, Keshia and I began working on my goals. We knew one had to be finding a job that I would be able to sustain a home with. So we went back to the drawing board and set me up to go back to school! I was so nervous but knew I needed something new. And something that would set us up for a good life. So while the kids are in school now so am I! And it’s going really well. Exhausting at times but lots of learning. I’m enjoying it. We’ve been in our place for the last 16 months and I graduate in May. I’m starting to feel like less of a failure and more like a person who contributes to her family and community. I hope I make my children proud as they grow up seeing me finish school, get a full-time good paying job, and give back to our community.

This is our second Christmas celebrating in our home. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity. To have a place to decorate, celebrate, and be together as a family.


Your gift can be the difference between a family having no where to go during a time of crisis or having a home. Thank you for caring. 

Jill’s Story – Sigh of Relief

I can’t even tell you how heartbreaking it was to realize we no longer had a home. I was so scared because I didn’t want to end up on the streets. That wasn’t an option, not while I was supporting my 3 young children. I was grateful when a worker at Gillian’s Place referred me to the YW. I’d tried every other option I could think of. I didn’t even know about the YW until they told me. I am so thankful they did! As soon as I called, the advocate worked with me to create some temporary solutions until we could figure out what to do. I kept saying, we cannot go out on the streets. Please help us!

We were leaving a really awful situation that I’d rather not talk about. I was able to save myself and my babies from this situation by leaving our original house, but we had to couch surf for a bit. It wasn’t a great experience. I feel bad but mainly thankful to all my friends who helped us throughout this time. I know it’s not easy having 3 children (5, 3, and 6 month-old) crowding in your home. But many friends helped us throughout the 5 month wait until we could get our new home. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had kept my babies in our original home; I feel sick just thinking about it. The YW’s offsite worker took over our case quickly after that phone call to help us find a unit that would work for our needs. It wasn’t easy to accommodate us, especially with a baby, but finally we found something!

They always talk about the first time you step inside your new place. The immediate sigh of relief. That feeling didn’t come right away for me. I know my children – the 3 and 5 year old – were very happy and excited to have a home again with their own rooms. They took to our home so quickly! My baby began resting more as if she could sense a stable environment and knew our fight was finally over. But it took about three weeks for me to finally feel that relief. I think because I was scared another shoe would drop. That they would call and say they made a mistake, or we needed to go somewhere else. I was so worried about it.

The moment I felt the relief was when I was on the phone with my YW social worker. When she laughed at my question of if I could put up the painting my oldest son made at school on the wall. She laughed! I was so nervous to even ask and she laughed!


“Yes, Jill. Of course you can put up that painting. You can put up a few paintings. This is your home.”
I paused.
“Jill. Did you hear me? This is YOUR home.”

Each night as my children brushed their teeth in random bathrooms as we stayed with different friends, I would hold onto the dream that I would one day be able to fully protect my children from the situation we fled. Here it was. 5 months of uncertainty and fright that I had to hide for my children’s sake, coming to an end. I could finally come out of fight or flight mode. I breathed out that huge sigh of relief. This place, where we have been settling in was our home. I could finally unpack our things including my suitcase which I’d continue to live out of for the three weeks prior. We were staying here. We were safe here. This is OUR home.

It’s been just over 3 months since we’ve been in our new home. It’s the perfect place. We have a good school nearby for my son and childcare close thankfully so I was able to go back to work after my parental leave. I continue to work closely with my social worker toward my goals. I’m starting schooling in January in hopes I’ll be able to get a better paying job. We are doing everything we can to get back on our feet. I’m starting to feel hopeful again that we will be okay.

Now that we have a place to call our own, we have four walls that can be covered by my children’s paintings, and I never have to ask for permission to proudly display my son’s creative side again. I’m happy. We are happy.

Penelope’s Journey with the YWCA Niagara Region

About a year ago, I shared with you how I ended up in the YW’s transitional housing program in West Niagara. I shared with you the joy that came with finally having a place to call home again. I shared my gratitude for all of you, who support the Coldest Night of the Year walk-a-thon. Without you, this program wouldn’t exist – for my boys and I, and for so many more who access the supported transitional housing program.

Here is what I didn’t know then: that entering the program is not actually the end – it’s where the real work beginsThe work of figuring out what’s next. I met with our amazing support worker often, and we talked, and crunched numbers, and talked some more. It quickly became clear that my main barrier was my minimum wage job. My only realistic shot at finding a home that I can afford was finding a new job. It made sense, I knew that she was right when she said that this had to be my main goal, but… it was so incredibly overwhelming. We had just found safety and stability by entering the program, so the thought of another new beginning, another step, another gamble… it was a lot. But Keshia, the support worker, was there for me every step of the way. And she helped me break this big overwhelming goal down into smaller goals. Manageable ones. And once there was a plan, once I knew she was going to be by my side for whatever may come, I was like a dog with a bone! I attended every virtual workshop that was available about writing applications and about interviewing skills. Every day after work, once the boys were in bed, I would apply and apply and apply some more. It was a crazy time, and I needed Keshia’s support often, as so many applications were turned down, or even worse, went unanswered. But eventually, it finally happened, and I found a job that pays a living wage. That was my turning point. It’s the one puzzle piece that had to fall into place for me to be able to see a future where I can truly take care of my family and be on my own with my boys.

Only a year later, here I am proudly writing this from an apartment that I am renting at full market rate, no more support needed. The place is a little bit farther from the boys’ school but we’re still in our home community, which was important to me. Sounds a bit like a fairytale? It is and it isn’t. This is the short version. Towards the end of my time in the program, when it was clear that we were going to move on to our own rental unit, the fear was almost unbearable at times. The fear of not making it. Of finding myself back where I was two years ago – evicted, couch-surfing, or even back in the shelter. But it was my support worker, who once again helped me work through my fears. “Take stock,” she’d say. “Let’s focus on what we know.” She’d remind me of my secure employment – a job that doesn’t just pay the bills but that I truly enjoy. We looked at all of my finances together to see how I can put some money aside for a rainy day, even if it is just a tiny bit every month. Because fear of that rainy day has become my constant companion. But Keshia has that covered, too. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “Just because you transition out of the program, doesn’t mean we’re gone.” So when I get worried or overwhelmed, when I see the gas prices and the price of groceries getting higher and higher, I try to remember that I am not alone. And sometimes, I just pick up the phone and Keshia still picks up on the other end. She’s still in my corner. And because of that, I have more and more moments when I know that I’ll be okay. And that my boys will be okay. I take stock and I focus on what I know – that right now, I have a job and a place to call home. I have two boys, who are doing well, because I am doing well. I have a support worker who is still on my side, and a community that is, too. I have these moments more and more often, and I hope that one day, these moments of gratitude and confidence will compete much less with my moments of worry and fear.

All of you signing up for the Coldest Night of the Year, all of you raising funds – you remind me that I am not alone. Your efforts change lives. They sure changed mine. Thank you.

The reality of human trafficking

Trigger warning: This article contains themes of sexual exploitation. If you find yourself in need of mental health support, contact the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) 1-866-550-5205 to speak with someone immediately and get referred to help.

Just one week after the national celebration of Valentine’s Day, Canada recognizes a new day of observation – Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Only in its second year, Human Trafficking Awareness Day shines a light on the modern-day slavery that happens across Canada and right here in Niagara, often in the form of sex trafficking.

February 22nd commemorates the day that the Canadian House of Commons passed a motion condemning the trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Its close proximity to Valentine’s Day creates a startling comparison that only reminds us how easy it can be to fall into a trafficker’s trap.

How it starts…

The realities of human trafficking aren’t what you see in the media. Very rarely is a young woman kidnapped from the street or the schoolyard and forced into the sex trade – the simple fact is that traffickers are too smart for that. Instead, it starts with a direct message on Instagram to a young woman, telling her she is beautiful and that he just had to reach out and get to know her. He asks her questions about her hopes and dreams and for the first time in her life, she feels seen. Important. Special.

The grooming stage

After chatting every day on Instagram, she feels like no one knows her better than this new friend. When he suggests taking their relationship offline, she is excited to meet up in person. He is kind and generous, taking her out to dinners and buying her gifts. After she mentioned money was tight for food this month, he buys her groceries and treats her to a nail appointment, telling her she is special and she deserved it.

He introduces her to his friends and tells her how happy it makes her that they all get along. He never introduces his girlfriend to his friends, he says. No one has ever been special enough until she came along. They move in together and life has never been more perfect.


She knows that she is starting to fall in love with this man; no one has ever treated her this nicely. But, suddenly, he has started to seem unhappy in their relationship. He does so much for her and she doesn’t appreciate him enough, he tells her. Some days are better than others, but she never knows which it’s going to be. She would do anything to make him happy again, to have him treat her as nicely as he did in the beginning. So, when he asks her to do something she isn’t really comfortable with in order to help their relationship, she does it anyway. Suddenly, he isn’t mad anymore and loves her again like in the beginning. But every time he pulls away emotionally, he asks her to do something else outside of her comfort zone. He pushes her boundaries and she agrees to his requests; she believes that he loves her and knows he is capable of treating her nicely, so why wouldn’t she do things to make him happy?


If she really loves him, he tells her, then she will make sacrifices and do things that she might not want to do in order to help him and their relationship. Before long she is having sex with people she doesn’t know, watching as money is given to him, but never to her. Now he has blackmail to hold over her, and convinces her that no one else could ever love her if they knew the things she had done.

She knows this isn’t right, but she doesn’t know what to do about it. She wants to leave the apartment they share, but where would she go? He holds all of the money she earns, so how would she survive? She had stopped speaking to her friends and family months ago because he had convinced her that they didn’t care about her, so how could she reach out to them for help now? She could try to run, but what would he do to her when he finds her?

She is alone now, dependent on her trafficker for food and housing. She’s trapped.

Love is not supposed to hurt

But for her, it does, and she is not the only one. Over one in three survivors of human trafficking identify their trafficker as their current or previous boyfriend/girlfriend. The relationship factor makes it very difficult for victims to identify when they’re being trafficked. But when love starts to hurt, it is time to ask for help.

While it’s most common for traffickers to be men using the promise of love and affection to lure victims, there are also cases of survivors being lured by male or female friends and even family members.

You can help survivors of human trafficking this February by donating to organizations like the YWCA Niagara Region, who work to educate the community about human trafficking and give survivors the support they need to heal from the trauma of human trafficking.

affordable childcare

Affordable childcare: what happens when mom or dad can’t afford childcare?

If you have a child or are in the process of family planning, you know just how expensive it can be to access high-quality childcare in Ontario. The reality is, there simply are not enough licensed childcare facilities in Ontario to support the growing number of parents who can’t afford not to work while raising a family.

Here is how much childcare actually costs in Ontario…

Ontario has the highest cost of childcare, which varies depending on the area in which you live. If you live in Toronto or other cities in the GTA, you can expect to pay as much as $1,774 every month to send your infant (2 years old or younger) to a licensed childcare center for full-day care. This cost only minimally decreases as your child gets older and becomes more independent.

What about childcare subsidies provided by the government?

$21,288 is completely unaffordable for most Canadian families. In Ontario, you may qualify for some government support. Families in Niagara can estimate their monthly childcare costs using this calculator. However, we did some math for you to show the reality of childcare for families scraping by.

With the new minimum wage in 2022 posted at $15/hour, a two-parent household could make upwards of $51,000 before taxes, if both parents work full-time. This does not factor in the financial loss mothers experience while on maternity leave. According to the Monthly Parental Contribution calculation, for even just a single child, this family can expect to pay $453/month* to send their child to childcare. That’s $5436 per month for just one child – over 10% of this family’s income will go towards childcare.

Meanwhile, in Niagara, we know the cost of living for a family of four is $71,000 a year.

This family does not have room in their budget to…

… pay down debts (OSAP, credit cards, car payments)

… save for their child(ren)’s post-secondary education

… save in preparation for an emergency

… save for down payment on a house

This family will continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck, even with full-time work.

Childcare is unattainable, now what?

When a family is scraping by each month, childcare becomes a luxury. Someone needs to stay home with the children – typically that person is mom. And, as a result, the entire family suffers without the option of having two working parents. The family continues to scrape by, mom has no options for pursuing her career goals, and the whole family is one missed paycheck or vehicle breakdown from losing their housing and other basic necessities.

We need a better solution – one that allows mom to pursue her career goals, to provide for her family, and set her children up for success. One way we can do this is with the Early Learning and Child Care Agreement. Ontario continues to be the only province yet to sign on to this agreement which would allow for $10 a day childcare. Together, we can advocate for affordable childcare by contacting our local MPPs, asking our MPP candidates to prioritize affordable childcare in their platforms, and making this issue part of your voting plan at the provincial polls next election.

Homeless in a Canadian winter: There are no snow days for women and families experiencing homelessness

If you have lived in Canada for a year or longer, you’re likely familiar with Canada’s iconic winter weather. Powdery snow, glistening icicles, and sparkly snowflakes galore! While many love this classic winter experience, these sub-zero temperatures, and dangerous conditions pose life-threatening risks to folks without the privilege of shelter, mobility, and access to basic necessities.

Inclement weather and lack of shelter

The most obvious barrier caused by Canadian weather is the cold. People living outside in sub-zero temperatures are at increased risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and a weakened immune system. Folks simply cannot remain outside in Canada’s harsh conditions. As a result, warmer centers and emergency shelters are stretched to their limits to accommodate the demand for increased support.


How can you help?

Help homelessness services immediately by donating to non-profit organizations supporting homeless men, women, and families. Your gift will make sure everyone has blankets, hot food, winter wear, and beds for those in need of emergency shelter. However, you can also support all year long by advocating for affordable housing. By addressing the greater need for more housing, we can ensure families can stay out of the cold for many winters to come.

Heavy snow and accessibility

22% of Canadian’s life with some form of disability. And while not all will identify with mobility barriers, many will be affected by the inability to leave their home, access the sidewalk, or climb over snowbanks. We know that snowplows are working around the clock to clear the way, but you can also play an important role in making your neighbourhood accessible during inclement weather.

How can you help?

Check in on your loved one by phone or text. Do they have everything they need, such as food, running water, flashlights, and batteries? Clear your sidewalks as soon as you can. Folks with cardiac, raspatory or mobility difficulties could find snow to be a challenging, if not impossible, barrier to accessing community services and healthcare.

Dangerous travel and precarious work

As folks across Niagara work from home or enjoy a Snow Day with their family, others brave slippery roads and treacherous snowbanks to get to work. But, why would so many take the risk? The reality for many folks, especially those in low-income positions and precarious work, there is no option to take a day off due to weather. Skipping a single day of work, even in the interest of safety, could be the difference between making rent, or choosing heat over groceries.

How can you help?

Canadians should not need to risk their lives on their commute to work to be able to pay the bills. You can help make Canadians safer by advocating for mandatory paid time off, such as sick days, emergency leave, and personal time off.


Canadian winters can be beautiful, but other with the property tools and resources in place to make winter work for everyone. Are you ready to do more for women and families experiencing homelessness this winter? Join the YWCA Niagara Region on February 26th as we participate in Coldest Night of the Year – West Niagara. This winterrific family-friendly walk raises money for the YW’s West Niagara Transitional Housing program, providing affordable housing to women and children in need.

Team up, walk, and fundraise! It’s cold out there… but there’s no place like home.

Finding Addy: How a woman’s life was changed forever by your action

I have always been a burden. A burden on my family, my friends, “the system,” as they say. I’m the forgotten. The person who falls through the cracks. A few months back, they found me on the streets. I was looking for a place to nap because I had been up all night, feeling unsafe and this person walks up to me and starts talking about having a home for me.

I was scared, overwhelmed. I was excited too though. It had been a rough night and the thought of

getting some rest somewhere warm sure was nice. I thought they were just offering me a shelter bed for a little while, and that the cycle would repeat again. They said it was going to be an apartment in a brand new building and it was all for me. That doesn’t sound possible for someone like me though, does it? Someone, who’s been in and out of every shelter in the region. Someone who’s been treated like dirt for all her life. It couldn’t be true. I have long accepted that I simply wasn’t meant to have a home.

So I didn’t believe them at all when they kept talking about having a “home” for me. My life has been a series of disappointments. It didn’t sound like this one was going to be any different. I’ve given up on hope a long time ago.

And yet, my friend… my life has changed since that day on the streets in a way lives only change in the movies. And that is because of donors like you. I still can’t quite believe it, but against all odds, it wasn’t some cruel joke, it wasn’t another letdown. I have my own apartment! With my own kitchen, my own bathroom… I mean, it wasn’t easy at first. I kept waiting for someone to kick me out again. And it’s so quiet in here. When you sleep in the streets, it’s never quiet. Those first few nights, I slept on the floor. I was just too overwhelmed. I tested them a little, too, to see if they would just give up on me. But they didn’t. They still haven’t. Josie, my Intensive Case Worker, checks in with me and we talk, and my anxiety gets a little bit better every day. It’s been three months now since I’ve moved in, and it’s starting to feel real and right.

I have a home! I love saying those four words. They feel foreign, but they feel right. In the mornings, when the sunlight comes pouring into my room, and my head is resting on a soft pillow, I still sometimes have to pinch myself. I don’t know how I deserve this, or even IF I deserve this at all. But I am glad that I am safe. I am glad that I am home. I am glad that I’ve been found.

Celebrate Pride!

Let’s Celebrate Pride!

Pride: The feeling of being exceptionally happy with ourselves. Everyone, in their uniqueness and individuality, deserves to feel this pride in themselves. A diverse community makes us stronger which is why it is so important to the YW and the Niagara community, to celebrate pride and the LGTBQ+ community at large.

In a step towards inclusion, Canada officially designated the month of June to be Pride Month in honour of the LGBTQ+ community. With that in mind, we shouldn’t just be aware of June being pride month, but also celebrate it whole heartily.

Today, we’re sharing some of our favourite ways to celebrate Pride Month:

Educate yourself on the LGBTQ+ community

If you are still unaware of LGBTQ+ history and why it is so important to celebrate these individuals, an effective way to start is by doing your research and learning. The LGBTQ+ is represented on so many different platforms and forms of media which makes it easier to access information and learn about this community. Using the internet, reading books, watching the news, listening to stories, and watching movies are all ways to gain more knowledge and familiarize yourself with LGBTQ+.

Check out this recent article on the history of Canadian pride and perhaps take some time out to watch these LGBTQ+ films as well!

Celebrate Pride   Celebrate Pride

Attend and participate in events that support LGBTQ+

Another way to celebrate Pride is by attending events where LGBTQ+ is celebrated and discussed. This way you can be around other individuals who are just as interested in the LGBTQ+ community and believe in equality.

Of course, with still having to consider the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuring everyone’s safety, attending rallies should be avoided to prevent close contact with others. However, for future reference, rallies and parades would be a great way to celebrate pride as well.

DIY LGBTQ+ clothing and accessories

Decorating and creating art is one of the most popular and fun ways to express yourself, so it would only make sense to apply it to celebrating pride. Pull out a plain t-shirt and tie-dye it with pride colours, snap some LGBTQ+ buttons onto a hat, or even buy stickers and flags for your car to show what you support.

Here is some cool LGBTQ+ inspiration to take into consideration.

Celebrate Pride

Check out this tutorial by this talented youtuber, on how to DIY your own pride t-shirt!

Celebrate Pride

Check out this DIY on how to create your own gay pride tee.

Have open conversations

A collaborative and effective way to understand LGBTQ+ and its significance is by starting the conversation within your vicinity and close circle of friends and family. When conversations are begun with people you know and that care for your interests, it holds significance, and later on, more people go home with extra pieces of information about the concept. Talking about LGBTQ+ alone is something that does not cost much or take much energy to implement, and at the end of the day, it is super effective and a way to celebrate pride as well.

All in all, just how other holidays, events, and functions hold so much significance to us and we’re always subconsciously aware of celebrating them, we shouldn’t forget that pride month means a lot to a large group of individuals who have faced discrimination in the past. We should prioritize commemoration towards the diversity of our community because everyone deserves to feel like they belong.



Tried and true self-care tips tested by the YW team

Here is the reality, Niagara: We’re in our third province-wide lockdown + stay-at-home and we’re inundated with stress, COVID-fatigue, and even boredom. After more than a year of COVID, it is okay if you need to take some time to simply not think about the chaos, and to practice self-care. You’ve heard the saying before: “You cannot pour from an empty cup”. So, because we know from experience that this statement is true, we gathered all of our self-care experience to bring you only the best strategies for taking care of yourself during yet another challenging lockdown.

Finding variation in your routine

Many of us who continue to work have a pretty ridged lockdown routine that looks a little like this: go to work, go home, sleep… repeat. When we are limited on the places we can go and activities we can do, it is sometimes hard to remember that we live to do more than just work. Adding a variation to your routine can give you something to look forward to.

Zoe, a YW Senior Advocate, tells us about how she looks forward to taking a few minutes a day to make herself a nice cup of tea. “Just going through the motions of brewing the tea is part of self-care for me,” said Zoe. “Picking the tea, filling the kettle, and waiting for the water to boil – it’s all a part of a ritual that I look forward to.”

Staying connected virtually

Yes, we’re in our third lockdown, Niagara. But technology has caught up with us and our needs for human connection. In many cases, our friends and family are just a call away. If you have a hard time picking up the phone to stay connected with a friend, try scheduling a routine time (ie. every other Thursday evening) to phone/video call your friend and catch up.

Kelsey, a YW Women’s Advocate, tells us that is an important part of her lockdown ritual. Lockdown can be a lonely time and having those moments make it much easier,” said Kelsey.

Move your body

Working from home, or even not working at all, enables us to be inactive. Most remote work is done at a computer. If your regular routine involves sitting at a desk, or if your work requires largely mental energy, try embracing a new physical activity. This may not be a one-size-fits-all approach, so our Home for Good coordinators, Maggie and Bailea, recommended a few different ways to move your body, “Yoga, going for a walk, or even gardening now that the weather is getting nicer,” they said. “If you need a free at-home yoga program, I recommend Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube.”

Self-care is only caring if it works for you, not what others think you should do. These are just some examples that work for our team members, but it’s about applying the principles to find the method that fills the need for you. Only after we take care of ourselves, can we help another person. Do you have some tried and true COVID-safe self-care tips? Tell us in the comments below to help other take care of themselves and one another during this period of isolation.


What does Ontario’s stay-at-home order mean for someone experiencing homelessness?

Early in the pandemic, we talked about the increased risk COVID causes for women experiencing homelessness in Niagara. We know that not only would homeless women be more likely to get sick, we also recognize the challenges of self-isolating when you don’t have a home of your own. Women may be couch surfing with friends or family, living in a crowded group setting like an emergency shelter, or living out of her car. None of these realities are the solution to keeping impoverished women and families safe during a pandemic.

The stakes have never been higher

Now, in the third lockdown in Ontario, the stakes have never been higher for woman and families experiencing homelessness. COVID case numbers are rising in Niagara putting homeless individuals at risk. Beyond this, the provincial laws are shifted with the stay-at-home order that further challenge the capabilities of women and families, many of which lack the resources to remain “at home” or indoors.

Staying at home in an unsafe environment

For months, the pandemic has limited women’s mobility to leave unsafe and inadequate living situations. Sometimes they live with an abuser but leaving means making themselves (and sometimes even their children) homeless. Other times, women battling addiction live in an unsafe environment where drug use takes place. Long before COVID and the province’s stay-at-home order, the risk to physical safety and mental health posed incredible challenges for women to seek and maintain stable housing. Over a year later, these issues are even more glaring in the face of the pandemic.

Hidden homelessness and the stay-at-home order

Not often will you see a woman or a family sleeping on the streets. Instead, for their safety, women are often forced to hide their homelessness. Hidden homelessness looking like a woman sleeping in her car (despite the harsh Canadian seasons), a woman jumping from one friend’s couch to another before she runs out of places to go, a woman temporarily living in an emergency shelter. None of these women have a home – a stable home.

We need to stop the spread of COVID-19, so what does this mean for homeless women and families?

The reality of the province’s stay-at-home order is that we need to encourage people with homes to be at home as much as possible. Other options have not worked. While the circumstances are beyond challenging for Niagara’s economy, we recognize the imminent need to reduce to spread of COVID-19 and its variant strains.

So, what does this mean for women and families accessing community services like the YW? Resources are tighter, consultations and appointments are fully online (if available at all), waitlists for permanent housing continue to grow, and an increasing amount of people need our service more than ever.

Like everyone else, community services are being hit hard during this pandemic, but we know this work is needed in Niagara. Help us advocate for a COVID relief fund for community services to be built into the 2021 Federal Budget. Our frontline workers are holding together the fabric of our community during these challenging times, but they need your help. And if you have the means, please consider supporting our work.

Congratulations to our Executive Director, Elisabeth Zimmermann, on her 15 years of service!

Over the last 15 years, Elisabeth Zimmermann has led the YWCA Niagara Region through challenging times and to incredible successes. In that time, the YW has served thousands of woman and their families with emergency shelter, transitional housing, and skills development programming to help them back on their feet. In honour of Elisabeth’s 15 years, the YW’s Community and Public Relations Coordinator, Grace Howes, sat down with Elisabeth to reflect on her experience as the Executive Director to learn what she is most excited about in the future of the YW:

Grace: Tell me a bit about your leadership journey at the YW.

Elisabeth: When I started with the YWCA in 2006, I was hired as the Director of Shelter and Housing. And then, the opportunity arose by the end of that year to apply for the interim Executive Director position. I applied and became the YWCA’s Executive Director in February of the following year. In terms of actual position, that’s what happened. And then, I learned what it means to be an executive director of an organization. It was a difficult time for the YW, at the time. We had just come through a turnaround, on the brink of bankruptcy. There had been measures put in place, but it was about solidifying those measures and ensuring the organization was sustainable and stable.

What is your favorite experience or memory as the executive director?

Oh, boy! That’s hard. There are so many. I think for me it’s a string of memories, mostly of women that I have met. Women who have stayed here and have been in our programs. It’s always amazed me, the resilience of women who has incredibly difficult lives. It has always been that touchstone for me, to remind me why this work is important. I think the other part is, just watching programs grow and being able to meet more of the needs that we’ve identified in the community.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as the executive director?

Lots of lots of lessons. I’ve learned a lot about managing, about planning, about working with the community. I’m always learning more. Not just from the perspective of managing the organization, but also in terms of the complexity of people’s lives, and learning how to live in the world of grey when it comes to programs. The world is a complex place, and I am still learning about it every day.

What has surprised you most in your experience as the executive director?

Elisabeth: I think, the unpredictability of this work. Good and bad. I think that that’s been the most surprising thing to me. You can be going in a certain direction and you think it’s gonna be okay, and then, things happen it’s not. Or, it’s better than you expected. I think the other thing that’s really surprised me in a way, going back to my favorite experience also, is the resilience of women. I am continually amazed by their resilience.

What are you most excited about moving forward at the YW?

Elisabeth: The big thing is Oakdale Avenue. The new building, it’s super exciting. And then, I think there are other possibilities and projects arising that I am excited about too. I think it’s always that new opportunity that you didn’t expect. I actually had a phone call today with a developer and it’s creating some potential opportunities. I think that’s part of the fun of it all. There are always these new opportunities and I’m always focused on knowing the gaps that we see in our community and serving women and their families. So it’s always exciting to know that there are new opportunities to support them. There are so many people in Niagara who are enthusiastic about our move and propelling us forward so that we can help more people – those supporters excite me too.

My last question is this. You’ve been an incredible leader of the YW for 15 years. Outside of work, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Elisabeth: Well first, those are very kind words. It’s been an absolute honour to be the executive director of this organization over these last 15 years. Sometimes I still pinch myself, thinking wow, people actually let me do this. (Laughs) In my spare time, I love to garden. I love to spend time with my grandchildren, children, and family as a whole. They are my top priority. It’s an absolute pleasure to have them take up a lot most of my spare time. I love the outdoors. I am very fortunate, I live in the country so I get to enjoy the outdoors a lot. I’m one of those old-fashioned people who likes also likes to knit and things like that. (Laughs)

Help us celebrate Elisabeth’s 15 amazing years of leadership, dedication, and service to the YWCA Niagara Region and the women and families we serve. Leave a message for Elisabeth in the comments below in honour of her YW anniversary.

#ChooseToChallenge: International Women’s Day 2021

We look forward to International Women’s Day every year. At the YW, it is the perfect time to look back and reflect on all of the work we have done for women in our community, but more importantly, we look forward to seeing ways that we can empower women in Niagara in the year ahead. Whether through events such as the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women and the Power of Being a Girl conference or our advocacy for women’s issues, the YW has a lot to be proud of on #IWD2021. This year’s theme – Choose To Challenge – especially reminds us of the ways we have overcome for the betterment of women and their families. After a year of ongoing challenge through the pandemic, we have all grown and changed – for the better. This year’s theme empowers us to keep on challenging ourselves because only then can we continue to grow and change.

How can you continue to grow in this year ahead?

Commit to learning about women’s issues in your community

A large part of our advocacy work is about education because we know an informed population is more likely to incite meaningful change. Every community is different but many struggle with some key women’s issues including domestic violence, barriers to leadership and employment opportunities, harassment, and sexism to name a few. In Niagara, one of our focuses as a non-profit is addressing the unique issues women face while living in poverty. We know women experience homelessness and poverty differently than men, and so the YW approaches all of our work with a feminist lens to better address the needs of the women and families we serve. A little research about the issues that are prevalent in your community can help you start your advocacy journey.

Raise awareness against bias

How do we do this? It is much simpler than you might expect – talk openly about women’s issues, bias, and discrimination. If something doesn’t sit right with you, call it out. By drawing attention to acts of bias, we’re able to address the issue head-on and hopefully correct it in the moment. Raising awareness against bias can be a simple as asking questions like “Is this space/conversation inclusive to ALL women?” or “Have we looked at this approach or issue with a feminist lens?”. Everyone is responsible for creating an open, unbiased environment and anyone can speak up against gender bias.

Bonus: You can help get the conversation started this International Women’s Day by participating in our #IWD2021 campaign on social media. Strike the #ChooseToChallenge post, post the picture of social media and tag us! In the caption, let us know how you are choosing to challenge yourself and your community.

Take action for equality

Actions speak louder than words and it is a very important part of advocacy. Taking actions to support gender equity in your community is as straightforward as donating to a women’s organization in your area. Non-profits and chairites rely on individuals like you to help lift up the voices of systemically marginalized women. Together, we are stronger than we are apart. Consider donating to a women’s charity like the YWCA Niagara Region to maximize the impact of your International Women’s Day gift!

There are so many ways to take action for gender equality all year long: shop at women-owned businesses, celebrate feminist media (movies, books, television, etc.), exercise your political rights, volunteer for a feminist organization. The list goes on and on. As one of the largest feminist non-profits in Niagara, we invite you to take action with a gift for women and children living in poverty.

symptom of poverty

Homelessness is a symptom of poverty – the parallels of homelessness and the global pandemic

We’ve been thinking a lot about illnesses and symptoms. How can we not when we don’t go a single day without thinking about COVID-19? One thing we’ve recognized over the last year is that COVID-19 isn’t the only illness plaguing Niagara. Poverty is a huge factor that influences our Region’s general health and we’re seeing the symptoms of poverty only getting worse. Today, we’re framing homelessness and other impacts of poverty in terms that we have all become accustomed to in 2020. Homelessness isn’t the issue; poverty is the root of our Region’s illness.

Symptom of Poverty #1: Homelessness

We know that women and families don’t suddenly become homeless for no reason. There is one key factor around homelessness that we address through our advocacy – women’s poverty. Of all the reasons someone might find themselves homeless (ie. inability to afford rent/mortgage), it all boils down to poverty. When women and families are unable to find affordable childcare that allows them to get an education or maintain stable employment, or must work in precarious fields due to insufficient wages, women continue to be trapped in the cycle of poverty. Quickly, entire families find themselves homeless because due to the lack of systems in place that allow women to lift their families out of poverty.

Putting families into stable housing is a priority for us because we know that it’s necessary for them to get back on their feet in all areas of life. But, one thing we know is that recurring homelessness is not uncommon because these women and families continue to be trapped in poverty. If we address the ways we oppress families into poverty, solutions to homelessness will follow with ease.

Symptom of Poverty #2: Health issues

Healthy lifestyles are expensive. When forced between housing and healthy food, many families are forced to choose the roof over their head instead of fresh fruits and vegetables. A box of macaroni and cheese for $0.99 or a package of instant noodles for even less will fill you up, but how long and how well does it actually sustain you? We know families in poverty are not meeting their nutritional needs and often end up teaching unhealthy cooking to their children. Extended periods of time with unhealthy eating practices beyond many people’s control create long-term health issues that weigh heavily on individuals and our healthcare system.

Unaddressed illnesses due to a lack of paid sick days are also a barrier for women and families experiencing poverty. When a single missed shift results in missed rent or no groceries for the week, people simply cannot afford to miss a day (or more) of work for doctor’s appointments, medical testing, or hospital stays. As a result, unmediated illnesses progress putting people’s health at even further risk.

Symptom of Poverty 3: Stress and mental health

It’s hard to express the kind of stress someone experiences when they find themselves homeless. It is impossible to understand if you have never experienced it. This stress only heightened pre-existing mental health issues that 25%-50% of Canada’s homeless population experiences.  Stressors around education, employment, and housing (and the lack of stability of those three things) can increase the risk factors for mental illness or relapse. Challenges around addiction and accessing the support needed for people experiencing poverty just further perpetuates the cycle. Mental illness will not be completely solved through the eradication of poverty, but reducing the factors that contribute to mental illness and creating accessible resources for mental health management can significantly reduce the barriers for women and families to lift their families from poverty permanently.

When we frame these elements of symptoms on a greater issue, it is easier to identify the root of the cause and therefore an effective solution. It also helps us to reduce the stigma around homelessness, physical health, and mental health. We’ve learned the ins and outs of COVID symptoms and what to do if we get sick with the Corona virus. Now, we need to address the symptoms of poverty and find a treatment that doesn’t just mediate the symptoms but addresses the root of our illness. Only then will Niagara truly become healthy again.

CNOY 2021

CNOY goes virtual in 2021: Here why you should still participate

It’s cold out there, Niagara. And you know what that means! Coldest Night of the Year – West Niagara is back for another year. It has been a crazy and unpredictable year, but we are excited to introduce you to CNOY 2021 in a way you have never experienced before – virtually! We can’t walk and fundraise together this year, but there are still tons of ways to make the most of this event. Together, we can ensure everyone in West Niagara has a place to call home during the chilliest times of the year. Here’s why you should participate in CNOY 2021:

There’s no better reason to get some fresh air during the pandemic

After a month of lockdown in Niagara followed by continued physical distancing, it’s no surprise so many of us are feeling a bit cooped up. This year, CNOY couldn’t have come at a better time.  We cannot think of a more empowering reason to get outside for a little while. With this year’s virtual format, it’s easier than ever to incorporate your CNOY fundraising into a walking method that works best for you and your schedule. Whether you choose to walk 2k, 5k, 10k, or anything in between, you can walk at your own pace anytime between February 1st and February 28th.

This means you can do your CNOY walk all at once or (a new idea that we totally love) you can walk a little bit each day throughout February. With this approach, not only will you be raising money, but you may also develop a healthy habit to carry throughout 2021.

It’s an opportunity to connect with friends, family, and coworkers

Whether you recruit friends and family members to join your virtual team or use this opportunity for team building with colleagues, everyone on your team will be working together towards a common goal. During this period of isolation, meaningful connections with others (even if that connection is virtual) can go a long way to boosting your daily mood and overall wellbeing. So gather your team, create a fun team name, and set some personal and group goals to strive for together!

NOTE: Only walk with people you live with. We must continue to stay vigilant in our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

People in your community need support more now than ever

It’s been a tough year in Niagara. The challenges we have seen our community experience are even more elevated for those without a safe place to isolate, without shelter from the cold, without a place to call home. It is stressful, sometimes embarrassing but especially terrifying to find yourself homeless at a time like this. But together, we can help families wipe away that fear in place of something else – hope.

When it was clear that we would be in the throes of the pandemic during our signature fundraising event, we wondered how we were going to pull this off in a way that is fun for you and impactful for the woman and families that need our help. Now, after months of planning, we have an exciting way to rally our community for an important cause. Despite the inability to walk together this year, we knew that canceling CNOY 2021 was not an option. Too many people in Niagara need our help – need YOUR help. Join us this season in our mission to give every family in West Niagara a home! Learn more about this year’s CNOY walk-a-thon and register to walk today.