Tag Archives: Homeless

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

fundraising piggy bank

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


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

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

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

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

Now she just needed a catchy name for the event.

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

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

So what does fundraising have to do with leadership?

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

Be a leader and get involved in NFA.

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

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

Images courtesy of Google and YWCA Niagara Region.

Ho-Ho-Homeless For The Holidays

Spirit for the season can be near impossible to muster when every brain cell is busy wrestling with worry. Worry over where you and your children are going to rest your heads once the silver and gold of the holidays has tarnished, worry over balancing the decision of choosing appropriate housing and sacrificing your food budget or settling into below standard accommodations with fuller dinner plates, and even worry of finding a job in a city where the unemployment rate is higher than your debts and university educated citizens are fighting over minimum wage positions like most everyone else. For a person finding themselves without a permanent roof to colour their children’s imagination with visions of Rudolph tripping over a string of twinkling lights, most would rather blink into hibernation and have the entire December shenanigans nothing but a blip in their past they pray won’t be repeated the following year.
For those Grinchy folks we YWCA staffers have a solution…

Glue a Santa beard to their chins and over-sized elf ears to their heads in their sleep?

Nah, but the visual is far more entertaining to me than it probably should be!
Instead we amp up the already pumped season to remind them that just because their life is a hopscotch field from where you want it to be, this doesn’t mean Holiday cheer is a candy cane length too far from their grasp.  
Items on the list for mission “Inject Holiday Enthusiasm”: Over-decorating the house with positively anything containing mass amounts of glitter, Santa, holiday greetings, hand-crafted snowflakes more perfect than found in nature, plus a wind-up – nearly driving you out of your mind – carol-singing snow globe – CHECK. Crafting beautiful hand-made Christmas cards for family and friends – CHECK. Erecting a tree dripping in lights, colorful ornaments and candy canes pilfered before the following day – CHECK. Chowing down on a button-popping, calorie boosting, holiday inspired feast – CHECK. Not to mention, along with all the holiday overload, was a visit from the big guy in red, Santa himself, taking a break from his yearly preparations to sit and read to the kids before tackling the all-important wish list.
Much better than waiting in line at a stuffy, packed elbow to elbow mall, and can still plaster a smile on the face of any child hoping they skirted the “Naughty” list.
Being in the shelter, on the naughty list or not, by no means denotes a free ride no matter the time of year. Ask any guest who has crossed our doors and they will have no qualms about telling you that taking that step across the threshold in a reach for help was one of the hardest decisions they ever made. For us lucky staff, the holidays gives us a chance to remind these strength-building ladies that making that leap doesn’t stamp them as a cast-off until they re-establish a foothold back into the society the feel they stepped out of. 
Alternatively, being within the shelter is a time to pause, reflect, establish a simple and manageable plan, and have the breathing room to enact said plan with a measure of dignity. Doing this while everyone is sticking season’s greetings into every call while telling you the rental you really wanted has already been rented, is tantamount to a helpful hand across an icy road before they push you face first into a snow drift, and for many, it occurs again and again. Something hard to watch when you spend your shifts trying to keep up everyone’s drowning moods and erase negative thoughts of letting down family.
Just because you’re homeless, most assume this means you have zero family or loved ones you hoped to buy the perfect gift that tells them you pay attention to their wants and needs, and took your time in landing on a decision you wrap and anticipate them unveiling. Far from reality. Most times that family doesn’t have the means or accommodations to set another up, but they still gather for a yarn around the tree, setting up a homeless person for the embarrassing moment when presents are being circulated by everyone else but you. Unfortunately, the “perfect gift” tends to come tethered to a less-than-perfect price tag you’d swear the cash register crafted out of spite. When you have rent and moving expenses to consider, settling for something smaller or homemade is the sensible choice.
As a kid your dread grew resentful, crossed arms when you found the sweater-sized wrapped box beneath the tree. As an adult that feeling only duplicates depending on the gift-giver. In shelter, we like to have those boxes contain something useful yet still wanted. A plush house coat with matching slippers, cozy PJ’s for cold nights, winter gear to hug old man winter without the frostbite…anything a woman or child would open and gasp in delight instead of disguised disgust is what we strive to gift when possible.
Accessing community resources gets you necessities; A few warm items on your back, hygiene products to look your best, and some food to fill your tummy. Most times room for anything else is not sought after when those necessities are no longer a worry, but the YWCA isn’t all about providing strictly needs. We are about making women and their families their best and empowering them to face the world with open eyes and bolstered confidence in the success their hard work will lead them to.
To do this, a person needs to feel worthy of receiving that special something. Contrary to belief, it doesn’t take a lot to accomplish. A sparkly pair of earrings, a fashionable scarf, a book they were waiting to delve into, anything to fortify their spirits and inspire motivation. Add a gift that spreads a wide-toothed grin on their kids face and you have a person ready to scrape away the outer shell weighing them down to expose the women equipped to lift a confident chin, and obtain the next steps needed to regain a self-sufficient existence.
Times of the year like this tend to remind people of loved ones, especially those they lost who will miss out on the celebration. Some don’t possess the “This one year…” stories to recite over hot cocoa and a smile to regale the crowd with, having never possessed the childhood to foster such laughter-evoking tales. In the business of recreation, we do our utmost to reset that notion, focus on moving forward, and color a new tradition filled with a drive to multiply joy.
Whatever the guest celebrates during the holidays, no matter the Bahumbug in their bonnets, we endeavor to wedge a glitter-dripping fissure into a time when some would think taking a breath to celebrate would be counterproductive, when really it’s the fuel to keep going.
Happy Holidays from everyone at the YWCA, including our shelter guests, ones swimming in the deep-end filled to their Santa hats with tinsel, and even more so from the ones needing a little more convincing that the season is what you make of it and not dependent on the roof over your head.

Lose the Hate!

Prejudice: (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge – Websters Dictionary

Prejudices can come in all different forms and can be seen in many different places. Often it’s easier to look the other way than to do something about it, but when it comes knocking on your door, it’s time to take a stand.

I am writing this post because the YW recently had another family looking for housing, and like many others, they were driven from their home because of prejudice neighbours, neighbours who made “preconceived judgements…without just grounds.” The neighbours were so full of hate that these families were forced by fear to leave their homes. How awful it is to have to pack up and move because of fear? Imagine not feeling safe in your own home, and to wake up in the morning to find your property vandalized. These families fear for their children’s safety as well as their own. The unfortunate reality though, is that these families are not fleeing from some far off country, you’ve never heard of. I’m talking about leaving neighbourhoods right here in our own community.
When a family comes to the YW stating they can no longer stay in their home because they fear a neighbour, it just appalls me. They feel they don’t want to cause trouble and they take the abuse for as long as they can. They try to ignore the racial slurs thrown at them and their children. They don’t enjoy their yards for fear of being seen and ridiculed. No one should have to live like that.
You would think here in Canada, a country considered a multi-cultural “mosaic,” that prejudice would not exist or at least be very minimal.You would think we would be accepting of others and embrace our differences. How I wish I could say that was true. It’s not! Here in Canada where most of us, or our ancestors, have come from other parts of the world, we still have people in our community who think their race is better. What an awful way to live. I almost feel sorry for people with such closed minds who think their race is better. If only they would open up their minds and learn from everybody around them. Try different foods, learn about other cultures or maybe even other religions. Every culture and every race has something to give and teach us all. Lose the hate! Hate is not good for you or your community.
I believe prejudice grows through ignorance and fear. There is no need for ignorance. Open your mind, explore your community, get to know people from other countries, and ask questions. Your fear will vanish, your life will be fuller, and we will all have a much healthier community.