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Hang In There, Baby

Hang In There, Baby

I remember hearing this saying for the first time in the 70s. I also remember all the hype about the Women’s Lib movement in the news and other media.  It gave me my first awareness that all was not peaches & cream in the land of females. I quickly learned that women were tired of being pushed around and treated like second-class citizens. They were very vocal about the rights of women being overlooked or ignored. Women everywhere were tired of the status quo. They wanted more out of their lives than the generation before them had experienced. They were not content with subscribing to the roles played out on TV shows like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Honeymooners. Women wanted to get out into the workforce and have careers of their own. They wanted to carve out their own identity and make their mark on this world. They wanted equal rights, equal opportunity and equal pay that many men just take for granted. They wanted to be protected from sexual harassment and discrimination. They wanted the chance to pursue and fulfill their dreams and career ambitions. They wanted to be leaders not only in the home, but also in the world at large.

What actually happened was that women worked harder than ever each and every day of their lives. Most women are still expected to shoulder the majority of housework and child-rearing while juggling their own career or other personal goals. They are expected to keep a tidy house, cook meals, and raise kids; all while putting in a full day in the workplace. In addition to the previous mentioned responsibilities women have; many are also taking care of elderly relatives in some form or another. And I know I’m not the only one who values the relationships we have with our loved ones. We know how important it is to cultivate and maintain healthy, positive relationships that will produce happy, well-adjusted people for generations to come.

I have been taking Criminal Psychology & Behaviour courses for the last 4 years in order to pursue a new career.  Due to some injuries and health problems I am no longer able to do the physical tasks required in many of the fields I’ve worked in. It took me many years to accept my limitations and believe that I could still find meaningful employment. But what really shocked me was other peoples’ perceptions of what my days are like. Unfortunately, I’ve had to correct and educate friends and family about the importance of my time. This isn’t the 50s and I’m not your average housewife. I don’t watch soap operas or game shows. In fact, I don’t even turn the TV on during the day. I don’t lounge around the house with my hair in curlers waiting for my man to come home so I can wait on him hand and foot. My courses are intense and require lots of uninterrupted time and attention. My average grade is 94%. I don’t say that to brag; although I’m surprisingly pleased.

The point I’m trying to make is that I study and work very hard on every assignment I’m given. I take my studies very seriously and hope that one day I will be able to help others with the knowledge I’ve learned. Between my life experiences and lifelong interest in human psychology & behaviour, I believe I have finally found myself on the right path to the next part of my life journey. So when people assume I’m not doing anything all day long because I don’t punch a time clock, I am insulted and offended by their presumptions. I am annoyed when someone calls and expects me to give an accounting of my days to justify my reasons for declining to do them a favour. I find it astonishing that anyone could actually think that because I currently work from home that I’m not doing anything or that I should just drop whatever I’m doing and do their bidding. Nobody would ever call my husband and expect him to account for his time. Nobody would ever assume that he wasn’t busy or that he should be out doing everything for everyone else on his days off. Nobody would ever call him at the end of his work day and expect him to run errands for them. Instead, he is respected for his dedication to his career. He is admired and rewarded for his achievements.  And I am very happy for him and proud of his accomplishments.  We are partners and we support each other through the many changes life continues to bring us.

I still take great pride in creating a warm loving sanctuary for me and my family. I love preparing and cooking nutritious, delicious meals. I thoroughly enjoy my painting & decorating projects. I love the smell of a fresh clean house. I start every day by doing a load of laundry. I plan our social events and family gatherings. I work hard maintaining the gardens that surround our house and I love the serenity I get from doing so. I babysit my grand babies and help care for my elderly uncle. I enjoy my volunteer work with the YW.  But, all of these things require a lot of my time and attention. There is no magic wand I can wave and poof…all of my dreams and wishes come true. Instead, it all requires hard work and dedication.  My time is the most precious gift I can offer anyone. It is spread so thinly sometimes that I don’t think I’ll accomplish my goals. So when I choose to do something for someone I expect them to respect my time and not make assumptions about what they perceive my life to be. I am never bored or lacking in things to do. Sacrificing my precious time to help someone out is time that could be used to further help me achieve my personal goals. When I find myself being pulled in too many different directions I feel the need to step back and re-evaluate things. If I feel that my time is being taken for granted I become resentful and less willing to help others who are being selfish or demanding.  I definitely don’t respond well to “guilt trips” from people who try to manipulate me. Especially from people who say they love me.

When I look back over my life and review the expectations weighing heavily on most women who work and have a family I  can’t help but feel that women usually get the short end of the stick. What I’m trying to say is that women are still being overworked and underpaid. When we enter the workforce our workloads double. In addition to the pressures and stresses at work, most of us still carry the majority of the workload at home. We are expected to be everything to everyone. We are expected to have perfect homes while bringing home the bacon. We are encouraged to pursue a career as long as it doesn’t interfere with our family duties. Women have fought hard to advance the women’s movement and yet things haven’t changed enough. We are still expected to put others and their needs ahead of ourselves. It’s ok to return to school in order to better ourselves as long as we are still available to everyone. That is the message I hear when women are criticized or judged for the choices they make that make them less available to everyone. We are still judged by how clean our house is, regardless of how many hours we put into our careers or education.  The Women’s Liberation movement was started because so many women were tired of living the mundane life of a stereotypical housewife. It was supposed to free us up to be able to pursue our dreams and goals. Mostly though, it just added to our already-heavy workload. In the workplace we are expected to be multi-tasking robots that don’t dare call in sick or leave early to care for an ill child or elderly relative. The movement was created with the most noble of intentions.  However, that was over 45 years ago and I’m sad to say that we really haven’t come all that far in our quest to achieve those goals. We are still trying to achieve a healthy balance in our work/home lives but most women I know are still exhausted at the end of the day.  I’ve never worn a poodle skirt, I’m not sedated from valium and I’ll never be Mrs. Cleaver. This isn’t the 50s anymore and I’m never crawling into that box that just doesn’t fit me.

 

Question of the Month – The Two Faces of Niagara

realityCare for a reality check? Then follow our blog this month when we look in the mirror and ask ourselves: how many missed pay cheques would it take for each of us to be in the very same position the women and families at our shelter find themselves in?

Doesn’t take that many when you think about it, does it?

As we gear up for our event No Fixed Address, we start out the month by looking at the two faces of Niagara – our bloggers Franziska and Donna are reflecting on their home region and the two sides that come with the very same coin.

The Two Faces Of Niagara

Franziska

When I first moved to Niagara, two and a half years ago, I associated many things with the region: wineries, the Falls, crazy Clifton Hill, quaint Niagara-On-The-Lake, beautiful bike paths… the last thing I thought about when I thought of Niagara were issues such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness. When I finally moved here, however, I very quickly learned that this, too, is part of the reality of Niagara.

So when I think about the two faces of Niagara, I am trying to consolidate the image of elaborate parades and fireworks with the faces of the many women, men and children at our shelters here at the YW. I try to wrap my head around the fact that I can walk into cafes and restaurants all over the region at any given time and they are busy while hundreds of Niagara residents access food banks on a daily basis. I cannot help but think that it doesn’t have to be this way. I’d like to believe that Niagara can be the beautiful place it is for all of us and not just for a few.

One of the many ways to make a change is by participating in No Fixed Address – it will be sure to give you a new perspective and it will raise money for the fight against poverty and homelessness here in our backyards. Join us! Because doing nothing, changes nothing.

Donna

I live and work in St. Catharines, and love the Niagara Region, it has always felt like home to me and I cannot imagine living anywhere else in the world – anywhere!  Even more endearing is the fact that there are so many great things to do – and everyone should experience it all.

CAN everyone experience it?

I do not want to turn this blog post into a “the have’s” and “the have not’s”.  Experiencing the city or region you live in isn’t only about having money, although it would boost the economy – it is about feeling like you belong to something bigger, that you are a part of a community and your opinions matters.  You care about more than just, well to put it bluntly, you care about more than just Yourself.

So I ask you, CAN everyone experience it?  Are you experiencing it?  if your answer is no, what are you going to do about it?

Join me, get involved, become engaged, speak out, step up and I hope you join me on Friday, August 12th and 13th at No Fixed Addressone of the many great things you can do!

Self-Defense and Personal Safety

I don’t know about you, but I have some issues about people being in my personal space. Like for instance, if someone I don’t know stands too close or hovers around me trying to read over my shoulder I feel uncomfortable. If I get on an elevator alone and a man gets on I am instantly on guard. When I walk down the street I make direct eye contact with everyone I pass to discourage any would-be attacker. I feel like I need to put an invisible protection shield on before I leave my house  as a barrier between me and any potential danger. I think this hyper-vigilance on my part all stems from years of people not respecting boundaries and breaking my trust. As a child I felt like I didn’t have a voice and had to tolerate things that made me very uncomfortable. As a single mother I felt responsible for my safety as well as that of my children.  As a PSW I was trained to assess every situation and client I came into contact with. As a woman in the workplace I have been sexually harassed by clients, coworkers, and men who were in positions of power.  As a result of many life experiences, I recognize red flags very quickly and deal with problematic people in a diligent and direct manner.   I don’t like those who don’t have respect for other peoples’ boundaries. I have a right to privacy and I’m no longer afraid to stand up for myself.

Years ago, as a young, divorced mother I took a self-defense course to learn how to defend myself if I ever needed to.  I felt vulnerable and I was terrified of being attacked and not being able to protect myself. I was tired of feeling helpless and hopeless and I didn’t want to be ruled by fear anymore. So I decided to do something constructive about it.  I’m the type of person who believes that there is a solution to every problem and I won’t give up until I find out what that is. Learning how to protect and defend myself gave me a newfound sense of confidence and pride. I learned how to protect and defend me and my children. I also learned how to spot the dangers around your home and car. It was a wonderful feeling to know that if I used certain techniques I could effectively defend myself; in spite of my size and gender. I learned what areas are very vulnerable on an attacker and the best way to strike them. It was very reassuring to learn what precautions I needed to take in order to make our home a safer place to live. I put deadbolts on the doors and bars on the bedroom windows to prevent intruders from breaking into our ground floor apartment. I was taught to be aware of my surroundings at all times.

As females, we are taught from an early age to be nice and act like a lady, while boys are encouraged to be aggressive and assertive in protecting themselves and their loved ones. Well, that might sound ok in theory, but in reality it creates a learned helplessness in females. We are taught that nice girls don’t yell or use physical violence. That’s great if you have a personal bodyguard to protect you around the clock, but for most of us that’s just not reality. Most of us are alone at different times in our daily lives. Unless you intend to become a hermit, I highly recommend taking a self-defense course. It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I learned how to protect myself against a variety of scenarios. I learned to be assertive and walk with confidence so that I don’t look like an easy target. It gave me the ability to look for ways to safeguard myself and my property. I became educated in ways of improving safety for myself and my loved ones.

I am a very private person and my home is my sanctuary. No matter where I have lived, as long as it was safe, clean and comfortable I could relax and enjoy my life. I’ve always made sure that I took the necessary precautions to protect myself and my children.  I put deadbolts on my doors, I never let strangers into our apartment building and I never park next to a van. I am always aware of my surroundings and observe anyone in my vicinity. I look for any possible ways that could lead to a breach in home security or personal safety. I look for ways to prevent any possible intruders from getting into my home and car.  I don’t take risks or chances when it comes to my safety because I never want to end up on Cold Case Files.  I can’t help it, I’ve learned the hard way that what you see and what you get doesn’t always coincide. I’m also pursuing a degree in Criminal Psychology and Behaviour so my eyes have been opened up to some many new things. My mind is trained to observe and study people and if something sends up a red flag for me I pay close attention. Listening to your gut instinct is one of the smartest things you can do for yourself.

But what do you do when you live next to people who are annoying and nosy? What happens when your new neighbours are intrusive and don’t respect your right to privacy? How do you balance being civil while maintaining boundaries with these new strangers in your life? Why is it that some people think you should jump right into friendship with them just because you live on the same street or work at the same place? For me, trust is something that is earned. It is not something that I just hand over to anyone who comes into my life. I don`t care who the person is or what image they present to the public. It takes me a while to get to know and trust people. People who come on too strong or are overly friendly make my spidey senses tingle. People who invade my personal space without permission put me on high alert. People who have no respect for boundaries make me angry and suspicious. People who don`t use common sense and courtesy irritate me.

How would you feel if your neighbours went snooping through your garage on the day that you moved in to your new house? How would you react? What would you do?  How about the neighbour who stands outside your dining room window looking in while talking on the phone loudly? Would it make you angry if you had to keep the windows closed all the time to keep the cigarette smoke out? How would you feel if you had to keep your curtains closed all the time because your neighbour stares into your window while she smokes her cigarettes? How would you handle a neighbour who is insistent that if you let them into your yard he could clean up the branches to put in his wood chipper? Would you be happy or suspicious because he also wants to use his rototiller in your yard to make you a garden? How would you feel about someone who doesn`t listen when you tell them repeatedly that you don`t need any help. How many times do you have to refuse someone`s offers before they get the hint that they are being overbearing. What would you do if he or she was overly friendly and made a big fuss about wanting to get to know your dog that you adopted for protection and peace of mind? How would you feel if your last house had been broken into by a neighbour and now your new neighbours are trying to get familiar with your dog in spite of your continual protests of refusal? What if your neighbour started calling out to your new grandbaby by name, but they`d never been introduced. How would you like to live next to someone who is loud, drinks a lot and calls out compliments to your husband over the fence while he`s doing yard work. How would you feel about your neighbours calling out your name every single time you walked out the front door or into your back yard? How would you feel about your neighbour asking your guests nosy questions?  What would you do if you caught the flyer guy looking through your front door window and deliberately antagonizing your dog? What if his behaviour was so odd that you started watching him and soon realized that he was intentionally irritating all the dogs on the street? What would you do if you saw him looking through everyone`s windows and mailboxes. How would you react to him throwing garbage on your property? Would you tell the neighbours on the street about the things you have seen him doing week after week. Would you consider him harmless and dismiss him as a threat based on the fact that `he`s just an old man`. What if you noticed that sometimes he doesn`t even use his cane and that he can walk really fast when he thinks no one is watching him. Would you call his place of employment and report him or would you just ignore him. Would you call the police?

 

Be it ever so humble, there`s no place like home. Home sweet home! I love those sayings. That`s how I feel about every place I`ve lived in, whether it was the apartments or townhouses I have rented over the years or the house we currently own. I have always thought of my home as my sanctuary. I have lived in my current home for almost 9 years. However, we have had to constantly set and reinforce boundaries with some people since day one. I assumed that because our neighbours were older we would have no problems with them.  Wrong! Bad neighbours come in all ages and genders. I didn`t realize just how much of an impact others can have on our lives until certain people became more than just a bit of a nuisance. The results of negative behaviour by others quickly became quite obvious. I couldn`t help but notice how very dark and depressing my dining room started to feel because I had to always keep the windows and curtains closed for privacy. I spend large quantities of time in my dining room. That is where I do all of my writing and schoolwork from, on my laptop. At first it felt like my whole world was closing in on me. Then one day we decided to take back our lives by making some changes. First, we took out the dining room windows and built a solid wall in their place. We made a new entrance off of the back of the house by installing some new patio doors.  My husband then built a very tall privacy screen outside of our new patio doors off of the dining room. It is very tall and blocks their view into our house. It prevents them from standing in their driveway and looking in at us as we go about our daily lives. I also planted a hedge down the side of our front yard because I don’t appreciate the way they occasionally stand on my front lawn smoking cigarettes and talking loudly while I try to live my life inside. We had an alarm system installed and my husband has mounted motion detector lights all around the house that are very sensitive to any movement and are very bright. We’ve put a lock on the back gate and when next spring comes we are putting in new fences and more cedar trees to ensure our privacy.

It might seem like we have taken extreme measures to some people. Some people might even think we are overreacting or being paranoid. But to some people this will all make perfectly good sense. After all, what do any of us really know about the people who live around us? And what’s wrong with having a private sanctuary? When I am at home I don’t want nosy or bored neighbours dropping in for a cup of coffee or to waste time by being a gossip. I don’t want to feel obligated to drop whatever I am doing every time the neighbour comes over. If I’m reading a book on my front porch that’s not an open invitation to waltz over and just invade my space. If I`m in the middle of a project I don`t want to be interrupted by someone who is bored. Whether I`m upset about something, or grieving the recent loss of my aunt I don`t feel the need to explain to the neighbours why I am crying. If I can`t let my guard down at home and relax it`s going to lead to other problems. We don’t need or want their opinions or approval on anything we are working on in our yard. I don’t care to listen to their rambling stories that go on forever and don’t have any meaning in my life. I don’t want strangers calling out to my grandchildren and confusing them. If I don’t introduce you to someone in my life, it’s because I don’t know you well enough to trust you. Just because we are neighbours doesn`t make us friends. I don’t like people who try to slither their way into my life. I don’t trust people who rub me the wrong way. And I’ve learned to listen to my gut instincts with people. I’ve learned it’s better to err on the side of caution. Safety first! Always!
It’s crazy how much things can change when you get new neighbours. There have been other people in the one house and we never had any problems with anything or anyone before. There have been a couple of times that the one house has been sold and in 8 years we never had a problem with privacy or boundary issues with any previous neighbours that lived there. We rarely saw or heard the previous owners, but when we did we were civil. We waved hello and minded our own business. We never felt uncomfortable here before. We never felt like we were living under a microscope or that we were being stalked by the paparazzi; until they moved in. We’ve never had people openly watch us while we worked around the yard and call out to us over the fence with comments about our progress or efforts. The previous neighbours never tried to treat us like employees that came with the purchase of their home.  After a year of dealing with extremely rude and intrusive people we came to the conclusion that we had 2 choices. We could give up our space and hibernate or push back and reinforce our boundaries. We decided to take back our lives by making changes and not backing down. We are no longer friendly or civil with these people. We don’t speak to them and if they try to engage us in any way, we simply ignore them.

My home is my sanctuary and my family is my life. I refuse to compromise my principles or allow anyone to push me around and make me feel uncomfortable. I’ve worked too hard for everything I have to let someone else spoil it. We will continue to reinforce those boundaries for as long as it takes. Like I said earlier, there’s a solution to every problem and I will do whatever it takes to enjoy my life and home. I will never understand pushy people who think they can just run all over you. I will never understand people who don’t respect other people’s right to privacy, but I guess I don’t have to. I just have to do what I think is right to enjoy my life and take the steps needed to protect my family and safeguard my home. If that means my neighbours think I’m a bitch I can live with that! At least I`ll be able to sleep at night and enjoy my private sanctuary again.

Housing First

“Home is where the heart is.”

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

“Home is where one starts from.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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