Category Archives: Women’s Issues

stay-at-home

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.

compassion fatigue

How to stay compassionate without compassion fatigue

If you turn on the news or scroll through your social media and instantly feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone.  Every day, it seems like there are new global issues that require your time, attention, and most importantly, your compassion. Over the past year, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by without us hearing, speaking, or reading the phrases “COVID-19” and “Coronavirus”.  Beyond, the pandemic, there are tons of social issues that need your voice right now. So how do you remain dedicated to the causes you love without getting compassion fatigue?

Only get your news from reliable sources

Where do you get your news from? An overload of information and (dare we say) misinformation can contribute to your compassion fatigue. The correct information is important to keep us apprised of issues in our area, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. To ensure you’re consuming only correct information and the right amount of information, choose a handful of reliable sources to keep you up-to-date. You can get just the right amount of information about homelessness in Niagara and how you can help by signing up for the YWCA Niagara Region newsletter. We promise to only send you the details you need!

Supporting your cause doesn’t have to be overwhelming

Often, social issues feel too big to tackle for one person and so we quickly feel overwhelmed by the thought of “but, what could I possibly do to make a difference?”. We get it. But, supporting the causes you love does not have been stressful. In fact, it can even be fun. Yes, fun! The YWCA Niagara Region is planning to have a ton of fun while supporting women and families experiencing homelessness during the annual Coldest Night of the Year walk-a-thon on February 20th. Reconnect with your friends and family through this virtual fundraising event while making a huge difference for families in Niagara. This event is meant to be stress-free so helping your community doesn’t have to contribute to your compassion fatigue.

Get outside and feel grounded

We’re isolated in our homes. We’re consuming digital content faster than ever before. The bottom line, we’re overwhelmed. Taking a break and going for a walk outside can be part of a new healthy routine for you to disconnect from the things that overwhelm you. Fresh air is great for clearing our minds and keeping us grounded. If you need another reason to get outside, check out our Coldest Night of the Year walk-a-thon event to tie your outdoor walks to a meaningful cause in Niagara!

Trust us when we say we know what it is like to care so much that it is stressful. Each and every guest to come through our shelter doors holds a very special place in our hearts. But we know it takes compassion to create change and we’re grateful for supporters like you who care so deeply too. Let us know in the comments below how you stay compassionate for the YW while ensuring you don’t feel burnt out!

new years resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions for 2021

I am not sure that I accomplished anything on my 2020 New Year’s resolution list (and that’s okay), but I know that it was important that I made one. New Year’s resolutions are an opportunity to set our intentions for the year ahead. I think that just by writing them down, we are in some way subconsciously more likely to implement them in our everyday lives, even if it is just in small ways. So I am continuing my annual tradition of creating New Year’s resolutions based on the teaching of the year prior. This is what I resolve to do in 2021, and I hope you’ll join me.

1.       Support more BIPOC creators and entrepreneurs

I have always loved shopping small and supporting local. But if 2020 taught me anything, it is that we need to be doing more to support the BIPOC community. One of the many ways I can do better to support the BIPOC community is to be more thoughtful about where I spend my money. The Niagara Region is full of amazing BIPOC creators and black-owned businesses and just a quick Google search can help me find them.

There are fewer barriers than ever to supporting the talented BIPOC creators in Canada. And we would love to hear more about the black-owned businesses that you love and support!

2.     Incorporating rest as part of my to-do lists

This year has been exhausting in so many ways. Even when everything is closed during lockdowns, I still somehow find myself with a mile-long to-do list every day. I often feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and underachieved. After hearing stories of parents homeschooling while working from home full-time and small businesses working double-time to stay afloat, I can’t believe that I didn’t recognize the signs of burnout in my own body.

I am not a parent or a small business owner, so perhaps I thought I had no reason to be exhausted, to complain, to not achieve everything on my to-do list each day. But, the reality is that everyone, no matter who you are, needs rest. Nearing the end of this year, I have already started this New Year’s resolution, but today I resolve to continue it. Rest is a priority which is why it is always at the top of my to-do lists.

3.     Be a generous leader with my knowledge

2020 was a year of learning. I learned about working from home, being a better leader, trusting myself, taking time for me, and so much more. I discovered that there are ways in which I am a leader and never even realized it before. So now, in 2021, I was to empower and enable the leader in me to support others and raise others up into leadership – whatever that may look like for them.

With all the lessons I learned in 2020, from professional to personal growth, I have knowledge and experience that may someday help someone else through a challenging time. This year, I resolve to be generous with all that I learned and work to build community through leadership.

4.    Be a better listener (and therefore better advocate)

At the YWCA Niagara Region, advocacy is a large part of the work that we do. One thing I have learned from working at the YW is that advocacy is a skill that’s learned and nurtured. First and foremost, advocacy starts with good listening skills. In order to empower someone’s voice, we need to hear firsthand about what is going to be helpful for them. We cannot assume we know what they need or what will be most meaningful for them in our advocacy. We need to listen to their story, believe their story, and be open to listening to their needs. Only then can we be good advocates for those who need our voices to be heard.

5.     Forgive myself for saying the wrong thing and try to do better

The other day, I said something that perpetuated an anti-feminist narrative and my husband called me out on it. Right away he said, “that wasn’t very feminist of you”. It was… embarrassing (read: mortifying) to say the least. I thought about that moment for a long time and beat myself up for it – why did I say something like that? Is that how I really feel? Am I not a true and honest feminist?

After being far too mean to myself, I realized something: All my life, social influences have been encouraging me to think with an anti-feminist mind frame. It is the way the world has always worked. So now, to think and act with feminist, I am constantly rewiring my brain. The reality is that, even as a die-hard feminist, I will say and think the wrong thing sometimes. But I have since realized that these moments are actually just learning opportunities to rewire my feminist thinking so that I don’t make the same mistake again. I have forgiven my feminist self and that is progress.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of everything I want to accomplish, but it is a start. It can be daunting to set ourselves up with mile-long lists of resolutions – and it doesn’t always set us up for success either. But I believe these resolutions are reasonable, measurable, and actionable. Most importantly, I think these resolutions and impactful – for me and for others. So, if you’re looking to set some intentions for 2021 that will make your community a better place, I hope you consider some of the items on this list for yourself!

Things we learned in 2020

Things we learned in 2020… possibly the worst year ever

We’re nearing the end of the year, and just as many others do, we are reflecting back of the year to see how far we have come, what we have learned and how we have grown. This year… well, this reflection feels a little bit different. 2020 was filled with so much fear, uncertainty, and isolation. But, a lot of good came out of the adversity. That is what we’re talking about today on the YW Blog.

Here are some of the things that we learned during the worst year ever:

Niagara is the best place to live

Okay, so, maybe this isn’t something we learned so much as it is something that was reaffirmed. But it is worth mentioning – Niagara is the best place to live. Our community surrounded us with hope during some of the darkest times we have seen in over a decade. Despite our uncertainty, we knew we would pull through because of all of our supporters letting us know they wouldn’t let us fall down.

Not only that, but each and every member of this community is doing their part to make Niagara safer and healthier during the pandemic. YOU are wearing a mask, washing your hands, keep a safe physical distance. YOU are supporting small businesses and non-profits during challenging times. YOU are making sure no one is truly alone. Niagara is the best place to live… because of YOU.

A sense of community is important (and CAN be achieved virtually)

This one is a specific nod to the first-ever virtual Niagara Leadership Summit for Women 2020 held in October. Months into the pandemic, we were all feeling the notorious “Zoom Fatigue” like never before, but we knew our community needed a (virtual) space to rally together. NLSW 2020 was another area where we were full of uncertainty. Would people show up? Would people be too burnt out? Could a virtual summit create the same sense of community as our in-person event?

Not only did you show up, not only did you engage, not only did you connect… but we had one of the best Leadership Summits yet! Our hearts were filled with gratitude as we watched attendees actively participate in over 15 workshops, seminars, and panel discussions hosted by 20+ speakers. Together, we became empowered in our leadership and our ability to lift others up into leadership roles. Together, we reignited the sense of community we had been missing for 6 longs months. Together, we pledge to be compassionate, dedicated, innovative leaders as we navigate through these unprecedented times.

Niagara is a community of allies – and they had our back

We weren’t sure what to expect when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Canada and Niagara, but we could tell we were in for some hard times. Through every curve ball thrown at us, we always had an ally who could support us and see us through the instability. When we needed fresh produce to provide healthy meals, community partners like The Soup Kitchen stepped in. When we needed PPE to keep shelter guests and staff safe, foundations and granters like United Way and the Niagara Community Foundation made their opportunities known. When we needed to shelter high-risk guests and individuals who may have been exposed to COVID, the Niagara Region created a safe space.

For these long ten months, it has been a team effort to navigate the strangest times. There are so many more people, community groups, and organizations – more than we can count – that have advocated and supported Niagara’s most vulnerable. And we are beyond grateful for you.

While 2020 was nothing like we imagined (or ever could have anticipated), getting this far is nothing short of a miracle. We’re grateful to take a moment during the blur of the holidays to reflect not on the challenges and trials of 2020, but of the good we have seen in the community in spite of it. While we miss our community like crazy during the lockdown, we know that we will come out of these times stronger and better than ever. We cannot wait to see you in 2021!

Women’s homelessness during the holidays in the midst of a global pandemic: Why you should care

Women’s homelessness, like everything else that has been impacted by COVID-19, is different this year. This year, homeless women’s realities have worsened. 

Limited access to family

The Niagara Region is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases in late December. As the region sits in the Red Zone, Niagara residents are advised to limit their indoor contact with others. For many, this means the holiday season looks a lot different; for women and families experiencing homelessness, it means limited access to their support system. A province-wide lockdown (in preparation for the spike in cases due to the holidays) is around the corner, only worsening the realities of those who are already struggling.

This could also lead to the worsening of other issues such as mental health issues. Being unable to connect with the people they love could push those experiencing homelessness to feel loneliness and despair. 

Precarious and scarce work

For families already struggling in poverty, the holidays are always an uphill battle. Creating Christmas magic seems impossible when a shoestring budget is barely enough to cover living expenses. Now, many of these families, particularly women-led families, are struggling to survive among lay-offs and limited seasonal work. Women who were able to find seasonal work in retail during the holidays in the previous year are experiencing, first hand, the impact of the pandemic.

The reality is that the holidays look nothing like our previous celebration leaving many of us feeling disappointed and lonely. All of this is elevated for women and families at the YW navigating homelessness during the holidays. At the YW, we rely on our community to help us navigate such challenging times. We are grateful for the support from local businesses and organizations that have identified the need in the homelessness sector in Niagara and taken action to help those struggling most. 

As we prepare for a month-long lockdown following Christmas, we ask our community to do what they can to help the women and families struggling in isolation during the challenging weeks ahead. If you have the means, please consider giving: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=121795&langpref=en-CA&Referrer=https%3a%2f%2fadmin.e2rm.com%2fEventUserInterface.aspx

Susan’s Journey: A story of perseverance

One of the most recent team successes starts with Susan and her 4-year-old son.

Susan had a relationship breakdown with a best friend that she was sharing an apartment with, leaving her homeless and seeking shelter.

She worked tirelessly to support her son and find housing in his school zone, while also trying to find a new place to call home.

Susan, like many other single supporting mothers, was searching for housing on an Ontario Works budget until her son was old enough so that she could go back into the workforce. Unfortunately, with no family support and the price of childcare, this was Susan’s only option to sustain herself and her son.

Susan finally found a place for her and her son after going to 9 housing viewings and making sacrifices regarding her housing wants and needs. But every time, she heard the same response: “We just don’t think that this is enough space for you and your son,” or, “we ultimately decided to go with a single working adult instead”. With Susan’s limited budget, she was forced to try and make a home out of either a bachelor or one-bedroom apartment. She often gave the bedroom to her son and made herself a space in the living room.

Susan felt completely defeated. She felt guilty for letting her son down and not being able to provide for him and get out of the shelter.

However, Susan persevered, and with the help of the housing stability worker, she was able to secure a two-bedroom apartment in the city of her choice.

It took Susan 10 viewings, but ultimately, it worked out as a best-case scenario, providing her with adequate housing just on time for Christmas! With her perseverance and some help from the YW, Susan and her little one enjoyed the holidays in their new apartment, in which they found some peace and stability.

We would like to thank the Delta Bingo of St. Catharines for their support in making Susan’s success possible. Delta Bingo of St. Catharines helps us to support the operations that take place in our St. Catharines shelter found on King Street. The success of our operations and our clients would not be possible without their help!

Linda’s Story: Helping women invest time in themselves

Linda came to the YWCA in October of 2018 with her two children. When she first arrived, she was struggling with depression. Her life was all out of sorts. After the tragic loss of her mother, depression started to settle in and affect her daily life activities. Linda stopped doing the things that brought her joy. Her depression started getting in the way of necessary things as well, such as paying the bills and taking care of her children. Her struggles with mental illness pushed her to start consuming drugs. She kept this to herself and suffered in silence. After some time, Linda moved to the Niagara region and found the YW.

It was evident that she needed help to get back some of her self-esteem. FACS was involved and Linda needed someone to be a voice for her. Then, Linda and her children were brought into the On-Site Transitional Housing program. There was so much turmoil within Linda’s life, that she felt overwhelmed with her children and her ex-husband, who was her biggest challenge. With the support of the YWCA staff, Linda was able to develop skills to stand up for herself. Linda eventually allowed her children to go live with their father so she could work on herself. She completed a year in the On-Site program but still had a long way to go. Linda came back to the shelter to continue her journey, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a standstill. Still, housing applications and phone appointments with doctors and counselors were put in place.

At this time, Linda has moved onto the YWCA Court St. Supportive Housing Program where she can live independently and work on herself without the distraction of shelter life. Linda is very thankful for the care and support that she and her family received.

We would like to thank the Delta Bingo of Niagara Falls for their support in making Linda’s success possible. Delta Bingo of Niagara Falls helps us to support the operations that take place in our Niagara Falls shelter found on Culp Street. The success of our operations and our clients would not be possible without their help!

Sarah’s Story: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hi my name is Sarah. I’ve lived through the YWCA’s housing programs for the last few years. In the time I came to the YWCA I was broken in so many ways.

In the time I’ve lived at the YW’s St. Catharines Shelter, I have gotten help with my mental health with the support of the Women’s Advocates who have set me up with Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). I have also been an addict for just over 11 years so I have also been connected with Community Addiction Services of Niagara (CASON). I think I would living on the street if I never came into the YWCA housing program as well as never been able to accomplish some of the things I have been able to.

The advocates have also helped me go away to treatment for 5 weeks and I was able to complete the program. I have had a lot of things happen to me, bad and good. The advocates have helped me find a doctor, that lead to me being connected with psychologist. Having a psychologist has helped me understand why I am the way I am and ways that I can cope without spiraling. I have been given 6 different diagnosis, and am slowly getting the help I need.

If it was not for the advocates seeing something in me, that I could not see for myself and when there was no light at the end of the tunnel, the advocates were always there assuring me I could believe in myself and showing me there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. All of the advocates at the YWCA have helped me and for once I have hope and am not ready to give up just yet.

I am so incredibly grateful for the YW shelter and staff and for everyone who makes it possible for this shelter and services to be accessible to me free of charge. Thank you to this team and to the donors who have made my recovery possible.

Thank you,
Sarah

The YWCA Niagara Region would like to thank Delta Bingo of St. Catharines for their ongoing support to allow us to continue to serve our community. Delta Bingo of St. Catharines makes our operations possible from keeping the lights on, heating our shelters in these colder months and putting food on the table for hundreds of women and children. Without the support and donations of Delta Bingo of St. Catharines, success stories like Sarah’s would not be possible.

 

Supporting Niagara’s women in need virtually during a global pandemic

Organizations like the YW experience extensive barriers when trying to transition programs to accommodate the new virtual world we live in. From a lack of technology and gaps in training for the virtual landscape, it can feel impossible to support every woman, children and family that needs our support on the Niagara Region.

However, we are now excited to announce and that our Women’s Addiction Recovery Mediation (WARM) Program is currently being hosted VIRTUALLY via Telus Business Connect every Monday from 6pm-7:30pm. To get connected is quick and simple, all you would have to do is connect with the facilitator Maggie through email or phone warm@ywcaniagararegion.ca or 905-246-4483. Once you have connected with Maggie she will email you the invitation for the virtual group and explain the easy steps to get started.

Since WARM has transitioned into a virtual setting clients of WARM have expressed how grateful they are to still be offered the services they are in need of and are interested in while staying safe in their own homes. It is important that in these difficult times that WARM is still being offered to individuals in some sort of way while staying mindful that not everyone has access to virtual meetings or feel comfortable in that setting, WARM is able to connect with individuals via phone call or email. If you or someone you know is interested in WARM please reach out to Maggie at 905-246-4483 or warm@ywcaniagararegion.ca

The YWCA’s WARM Program is supported by Delta Bingo of Fort Erie. Their ongoing support of this Skill Development programming is vital for our ability to offer these services while keeping our clients safe at home. Thank you Delta Bingo of Fort Erie for making this work possible in pre-pandemic and mid-pandemic times!

Stacy’s Journey: Overcoming Tragedy

Stacy’s story of hardship began at a very young age.

While both of her parents struggled with substance abuse, Stacy was forced to enter the foster care system. At the age of 9, Stacy lost her father in a motor cycle accident. This was just the start of a tragic series of losses in her life.

In her family foster home, Stacy suffered from abuse for years. But finally , at just 15 years old, she escaped and found refuge at an emergency foster home.

There, for the first time in a long time, Stacy was able to find stability and balance in her life. She eventually moved into her own apartment and completed her high school and was voted Valedictorian – an accomplishment she is incredibly proud of.  She graduated with high honors and was given a full scholarship to pursue a college education! Stacy went to Niagara Collage and graduated as a Niagara Scholar of the Corrections Program. An incredible accomplishment!

Shortly after, she found a job in an Open Custody Program.

After years of hard work, challenges and finding her way on her own, Stacy finally felt like things were on track. She was finally living the life she was meant to live.

Unfortunately, a short time later, Stacy lost a close uncle and then just four months after that, she lost her grandfather. The loss of her loved ones was difficult, more difficult than she ever could have imagined. She struggled to cope, so instead, she drank. During this time, other tragic losses continued with the passing of a best friend due to cancer and another death of a friend by suicide. Everyone she loved was leaving her. Lacking the support and coping mechanisms necessary, Stacy turned to drugs which led her down an even more treacherous path. Eventually, she lost her job. Now, everything she worked so hard for was gone.

Stacy finally stepped foot in the YWCA Niagara Falls shelter in 2015, it was the first of many stays she had with the YW. Her impulse to rebel sometimes lead to Stacy being asked to leave the shelter when she did not comply with shelter guidelines. In shelter, the Women’s Advocates worked with her to identify her needs and she was introduced to the STOMT Program.

From the Niagara Falls shelter, Stacy entered into the YWCA Housing First Program. She continued to struggle to achieve her goals due to her substance use, but her Women’s Advocates continued to fight for her. The YWCA staff saw so much potential in Stacy. During her stay in the YW’s Housing First program, she found out she had a heart infection and was hospitalized for 2 months. Something that seemed so terrible turned into something good when this shocking news and lengthy hospital stay became a turning point for Stacy.

Finally, Stacy was able to enter recovery for her substance use for 6 months and was thrilled to find out she was pregnant. At this time, she was transferred into the YWCA On-Site Program. She gave birth to a healthy, happy baby boy named Tyson. Tyson is now Stacy’s entire world.

“He gives me purpose and motivation to keep going.”

Stacy has now successfully completed the On-Site Program and is about to move into a beautiful two bedroom unit through the YWCA Off-Site Transitional Housing Program.

When asked, “What was the best thing about the On-Site Program?” Stacy stated, “The best thing was the support from the staff and knowing I was accepted back without judgement”.

As she moved into the final stage of the YW’s Traditional Housing Program, her Women’s Advocate asked her, “If there was anything you could change about the programs at the YWCA, what would that be?” Stacy stated, “I would not change a thing. I am very happy with the commitment from the staff and would like everyone to know that the YWCA staff’s persistence saved my life.”

It is through the support and partnership of Delta Bingo Niagara Falls that the YWCA is able to provide ongoing support to the most vulnerable members of our society. Thank you Delta Bingo of Niagara Falls for your dedication of the work and services of our YW Culp St. emergency shelter.

Hidden homelessness: We need to think about women and their families

The stereotypical image of a bundled women asleep on a sidewalk is what comes to mind for most Canadians, when homelessness is mentioned. However, that is not always the case, the reality is more varied and complex. With no roof over their heads and no door to lock safely behind them, women are at a greater risk of physical, emotional and psychological harm. In Canada, women’s hidden homelessness is largely present. Women with precarious living situations are highly vulnerable. The number of young women that are homeless is alarming which is why a shelter is a safe space for them.

Women’s homelessness is often hidden and largely underestimated

Women’s homelessness is rarely visible. We often think that it looks like someone sleeping on the street, but homelessness can also be couch surfing with friends, trading sex for housing, or living in a tiny, overcrowded apartment. All these describe the hidden homelessness that makes it difficult to accurately estimate the number of women and families experiencing homelessness in Canada.

In 2019, the YWCA partnered with local image maker Michal Pasco. Together they embarked on a project to shine light on the faces of homelessness. The ‘YW Faces’ objective helped to bring awareness to hidden homelessness.

Women are constantly at risk when homeless, thus they tend to hide more. Their focus on safety first leads to the undercounting of women’s homelessness.

“This undercounting is not unique to the Canadian context: global trends demonstrate that women have been under-represented in research on homelessness, in part due to the hidden nature of their homelessness.” – The State of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness in Canada

By using inefficient measurement strategies and largely undercounting women, we also fail to identify the level of need for infrastructure that support women and families in poverty. Effective research can better inform policies and interventions that give women access to the resources they need.

Intergenerational homelessness starts and stops with mothers

Canadian evidence shows that adult homelessness often has its roots in childhood experiences of housing instability and violence.

“I thought it was the way life was…there was no safe house, there was no shelter that a wife or women could run to and be protected. So, many women, including my mother — they stood there, and they took it…and I took on that generational trait. You were just supposed to take it.”

There is less attention on the childhood experiences that are intertwined with the experience of the child’s primary caregiver, which in many cases is a child’s mother.

We must take action to break the cycle and address the housing challenges faced by many Canadian women. Addressing the housing needs of women, particularly the families headed by single women, is a critical aspect to solving chronic and intergenerational homelessness.

When we fail to address the needs of single mothers and their children with a lack of resources, we create a condition for their children to continue the cycle of homelessness.

The reality is that you can’t truly help a family if you’re not helping the whole who leads it. We know that generational poverty starts and ends with mothers. This is why safe environments and critical services are needed to help entire families out of poverty.

Public systems disproportionately drive women to poverty and homelessness

Women’s homelessness can be seen as interpersonal violence but can also be rooted in structural violence. Structural violence stems from social structures and systems put in place which are driving women to poverty and homelessness.

An example of such public system failures includes contradictory polices across systems (between social assistance, child welfare, and social housing) that make it difficult for women to qualify for income or housing supports.

Most social assistance systems cut entitlements for a mother as soon as her child is apprehended by child welfare, putting her at risk of losing her housing. This dramatically affects her ability to have her children returned to her care. Similarly, housing providers often consider a woman over-housed if she loses custody of her children. Nor will they consider the mother’s family size for future housing entitlement if her children are not currently in her care. Recognizing the harmful cycle in this one area could have a dramatic impact on homelessness amongst women.

Last year, YWCA Niagara Region served more than 500 women and 230 children with emergency shelter or transitional housing programs. Consistently over-capacity and frequently spread thin, the YWCA Niagara Region advocates for policies that prioritize women’s well-being and stability. Help us advocate for a better life for women in Niagara.

 

Meet Sarah: A look into homelessness in a pandemic

Sarah’s story is full of challenges, twists and turns, but she has never let any of that stop her from striving to be a better person. She first reached out to the YWCA Niagara Region in 2015 when she was faced with homelessness after leaving an abusive partner.  She struggled with her mental and physical health after suffering long-time abuse and the homelessness in a pandemicpassing of her infant son. All hope felt lost as Sarah faced barrier after barrier to get her life back on track. But then she walked through the YW’s doors.

Sarah has received support through a variety of our programs including off-site transitional housing, On-site Transitional Housing and our skills development workshops. Sarah’s journey with the YW was also the start to her mental health journey – an important step for identifying and understanding the symptoms she was experiencing. Access to these services has been critical for Sarah’s recovery and her journey to self-sustainability. Now, with support from her women’s advocates (social workers), she is able to manage her mental health on an ongoing basis.

In On-site Transitional Housing, where she is currently working the program, Sarah has been working towards her goals of practicing mindfulness and stress management as well as acquiring new life skills like household budgeting. Sarah was starting to make plans for the future, big plans, and then COVID-19 hit Niagara….

“I wake up every day and for a moment I forget about COVID and the pandemic, but then I remember and I start to feel stressed out.”

COVID-19 hit a lot of YW guests hard and Sarah was no exception. Her autoimmune disorder makes her worry often about contracting the virus and what would happen if she got sick. But she is grateful for the support of her women’s advocates that “keep [her] on track” and calm because she knows she “has someone to talk to” about her fear around the pandemic

In her experience with the YW, Sarah is so grateful for the staff, who she says have always treated her with respect no matter the circumstances.

“The staff are on the top of their game,” said Sarah. “They go above and beyond and they stay on top of everything.”

As Sarah eagerly awaits the end of the pandemic, she looks forward to her plans for the future including going to college for community service development. With this education, Sarah can begin a rewarding career where she can use her lived experience to help others struggling to manage their mental health. She is also excited to rekindle her relationship with her son who she had to put up for adoption many years ago.

Despite the challenging times that a pandemic brings, Sarah’s exciting future gives her hope to push forward and remain on her path to self-sustainability.

“I am going to keep fighting,” she said. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything, right?”