Tag Archives: homelessness

I participate in Coldest Night of the Year because we need the awareness.

When the volunteer opportunity to help out at West Niagara Affordable Housing was first presented at her parish around five years ago, Lee knew she had found the perfect fit. “I liked the concept and what the program was all about. West Niagara Affordable Housing (WNAH), or GAHP at the time, is more than a band-aid solution. It helps people to really get back to a place of independence. That idea appealed to me.” So Lee got in touch and has been helping our team out ever since. She helps the Transitional Housing Workers with their filing, answers phone calls and provides any other administrative support that might be needed.

“It could be anybody.”

When she heard that the YW was going to bring Coldest Night of the Year to Grimsby, back in 2016, to raise funds for the program she had been volunteering for, she was thrilled and knew she had to get involved. “I think it is so important to bring people the awareness. To let them know it is not just people you see in the streets but that it could be anybody. People sometimes think that there is no homelessness in West Niagara but there is! I see it first-hand through my volunteer work. I think Coldest Night of the Year is a great event to open people’s eyes to some of the issues, as volunteering has done for me.” Lee has volunteered at the registration desk at the event and her entire parish is involved as well. “You can help others and have fun at the same time, it’s perfect!” When asked why someone should get involved with Coldest Night of the Year, Lee’s answer is simple: “The more people walk and the more people donate, the more we will bring the awareness to the forefront, and that’s where real change can begin.”

To walk with us or to donate to the event, please visit www.cnoy.org/westniagara!

Thanks for all you do, Lee!

Experiencing Discomfort: No Fixed Address 2018

The discomfort hit almost as soon as I lay my head down on my fluffy pillow. In a tent, with a small yoga type mattress, I could still feel every single bump in the ground. The roots digging into my bones made me continually adjust myself into a position that seemed tolerable. Tossing and turning most of the night, hearing sounds in the distance, I couldn’t help but think about the homeless people sleeping on a park bench. How exposed they must feel. How uncomfortable, terrified, and lonely they must feel. Shuffling to try to avoid those thoughts, I fell into a rough sleep. Well into the night, the cold crept upon me. Wrapping myself deeper into my warm comforter, putting my hood up, I fell into a light sleep.

The sun came up quickly and early. Groggy, I woke up so sore. Almost every part of me was aching. I struggled to pull myself together and get out of the tent. My goodness, I was exhausted. It felt like I didn’t even sleep. And yet, there are so many people in our community that sleep on park benches, in cars, on floors night after night. They’re waking up feeling awful, going to work, and going back “home” to any of those positions and doing it all over again. Can you imagine?

The thing that kept me up in the morning was knowing that in a couple of hours, I’d take a long hot shower. Id’ be able to brush my teeth and clean my face in my sink without any inconveniences. That evening I’d be able to crawl into my comfortable queen-sized bed in nice sheets and a clean comforter. The night prior’s discomforts would be all but a distant memory unlike the reality it is for so many people. And let me tell you from my experience that a tent is much more spacious than a car and it allows you to be in a better position. So I really had no reason to even have a slight negative thought about it.

One night was uncomfortable. Being sore for the entire day was awful. Every single person that participated in this event was grateful to go back to the comfort of their home. But so many people in our community don’t have that luxury. They don’t have a home or any comfort.

That’s why we take a night out of our lives each year to help the YW help our homeless. Because what’s one night compared to all of the people who do it for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years.

What is your boardroom used for?

Is it a multipurpose room set as a meeting space during the day and a bedroom to multiple people at night? A child’s safe place with their mom? Is it someone’s temporary home?

Here at the YWCA Niagara Region, ours is regularly just that.

I will never forget that one Friday morning I came into work at the YWCA Niagara Region. It was a little earlier than usual. I was on my way to the Fund Development office, walking past the boardroom when I noticed the lights were on. That was rare for that early in the morning. So, naturally, I glanced into the room.

What did I see?

Not one, not two, but three beds. In our boardroom! Unbelievable. The purpose of a boardroom is for meetings, not for someone to sleep at night. The fact that there were three was even more alarming. That meant three people were crammed into a room with all of the tables and chairs for a meeting along with the three beds. Three people!

The YWCA Niagara Region St. Catharines Emergency shelter already holds at least twenty women and their children every night. To think that more people needing a safe place to lay their heads are being put on pull out couches and cots was extremely upsetting. I then found out that there were two more cots in our Kate Leonard Room (another boardroom across the hall). Five people in total were sleeping in what was intended to be a meeting room. This was in decent weather. Can you imagine what the demand is like during terrible weather? I teared up a bit as my heart went out to these women and children.

How would I feel if I were tossed into a boardroom with two other people or with my little kids? How would you feel? Vulnerable, to say the least. Grateful, of course and happy to be safe; but sad, scared, and uncomfortable. I can’t grasp exactly how they must feel. Unless you’re in the position, how could you? The thought of small children and their mothers curling up in a room that I personally use to plan events and gain community support is upsetting. One that’s used to make decisions to help clients, not house them. It’s not a bedroom, there is no closet to put away clients’ belongings.

After taking a minute to let it sink in that this was a daily reality, I stepped outside with my hand to my lips in utter shock. The advocate on duty apologized that she hadn’t had time to clean up the beds. Well no kidding, there were at least 25 women and their children who most likely needed her attention in the morning. So, no, she didn’t have time to clean up all of the meeting rooms. This is what we have to do to ensure that Niagara women and children have somewhere they can safely sleep, have a warm meal, and the comfort of a shower, even if they have to be placed in a boardroom with others. At least they have a safe place and a semi-comfortable cot.

            “I was shocked and heartbroken, tearing up. I mean, who wants to sleep in a boardroom? My heart went out to these women and children living in this type of situation!”

The unfortunate thing is the YW as well as all of the other shelters across the region and country have been running overcapacity for quite some time. They’ve been struggling to find the room for women and children in need. In 2017, the YW operated at 110% capacity. Hotels are thrilled when they reach 60% capacity. That’s how high the demand for just a bed is. Not to mention the fact that the demand for meals went up 42% in the last year at the YW, which had us serve a total of 94,691 meals.

I can’t explain my heartbreak. We are trying our best, but the demand is still rising and we are running out of room.

This is why I’m participating in No Fixed Address and supporting the YWCA Niagara Region, and this is why I am passionate about my job.

Because there are women and children, as well as men (in the men’s shelter) who live in impossible situations and deserve better. Who would I be if I didn’t try to make a difference? I certainly would hope for help if I was in the situation, and the hard reality is it can happen to any one of us.

So, what is your boardroom used for?

Help me make a difference and participate in the YW’s No Fixed Address event on June 8th-9th, where we can help end homelessness.

The Perfect Gift

We are bombarded by advertisements, displays, salespeople, and online ads of ‘the perfect gift.’

It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?

Or do you love the hustle and bustle of the season? Worrying what to get and how you’re going to find the time to even get it?

Do you love the sleepless nights filled with dreams of recipes that fail, presents that are returned, and family that doesn’t make it home for the holiday?

Do we lose something, in this commercialized version of Christmas, or do we gain what we wait for all year, to be with our families, months of planning, all over in hours of endless preparations and a few minute meal.

Is this, what Christmas was meant to be? Is this, what Christmas felt like when you were a child? Is it filled with excitement and wonder and magic and awe of the beauty that surrounds you in the lights and the giant trees, and the bigger than life presents that Santa brought for you? Is this, what Christmas still feels like to you, today?

Or can we agree, maybe, that as we’ve grown older, our families bigger, and our hearts maybe a tiny bit smaller, (I mean, how often do you really see the neighbors anyway, they don’t need a gift from you)…can we agree that maybe, as the old saying goes, “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Perhaps, the Grinch was on to something.

I’ve always been in awe of the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever your belief may be, Christmas is filled with hope and majestic wonder. Just look into the eyes of a child, or a loved one. I dare you not to smile.

Joy. Laughter. Love. Excitement. Extravagance. Tradition. Closeness. Giving.

Just a few of the words that describe Christmas for me.

But if I’m honest, I’ve lost some of the magic, too.

It’s easy to do. I think that in our fast paced, need it now, have to get the best of the best, world, we forget that the true meaning of Christmas is love. That the true spirit of Christmas is in giving, but not just giving because we have to for the many reasons that we’ve been lead to believe, but giving because it comes from our heart. Giving that means something to us, from deep within us, because it gives us joy.

Stressing over what to get everyone and spending more money than we have does not bring us joy, let’s be real here.

Joy is in the little moments of putting up the tree with our family, baking with the kids, getting that gift off the top of our niece’s or nephew’s Christmas list because we can afford it, and we know how happy they will be playing with that toy, with us. It is in the moments of, regardless of a Christmas tree with presents under it, or food on the table, we are surrounded by people who love us, exactly as we are.

Christmas is a time of togetherness.

This looks different for everyone. This could look like family and friends or neighbors and community. It could look like many presents and a table full of food or no presents and an empty belly. Or any combination of these.

There is one ingredient that can’t be taken away, despite our outside circumstances, and that ingredient is love.

We all have it, and we can all give it. We all want it and we can certainly all use it.

It might take a little humility and vulnerability, I know. It might take biting your tongue, and loving them anyway, despite what they’ve done. It might take a phone call that you’ve not made in a long time or a visit you’ve been dreading all year.

But if we can try to remember, even if just for a moment, that the perfect gift is love. That the reason for the season is hope. For a better tomorrow, for a better me, and a better you. For a better world, one that remembers love.

If we can try to all be gracious givers this holiday season. To only give what we have, with love and joy. To be peaceful and patient, with kindness that comes from a heart filled with love.

Love doesn’t look like what we bring, it looks like showing up for someone. Our families, friends, and perfect strangers.

The things just simply don’t matter when you are surrounded by people you love, or at least like, somewhat. Try to like them a little more this year.

May the true joy of Christmas surround you this holiday season ❤️

There is something that has challenged me these past couple of years. I like to give, to family and friends, but sometimes I look around and I see that my family and friends are quite blessed. So, I look for ways to give outside of the usual presents, sometimes at the expense of gifts for friends and family, and sometimes extra, depending on my own financial circumstance.

I’ve challenged myself, and I’d like to challenge you, as well.

There are many organizations in our region. The YWCA is of course one of them. These organizations need items on an ongoing basis. I know this can look like a lot of work and maybe even complicated, I know it did for me at first. Even overwhelming. But over time I’ve learned a thing or two.

Poverty has many faces in our region. Causes are no longer just national organizations that we click a button on the webpage and donate our annual allotment of donation money, though this is of course a great way to give back. When we look around our cities, we see the faces of people that have come upon hard times. I know that you see them.

But if you’re like me, you might like to know that you’re truly making a difference, and may have no idea who to give to.

Can I challenge you to make it meaningful? To you, and maybe even your family?

We can give to an organization or organizations that mean something to us, whether past or present.

For example, though I’ve never used the services of the YWCA, it has meaning to me because there are many times that I have been in a place where I’ve thought of an emergency shelter as an option. To give back one year, I learned that they have a list of needs on their website and I donated formula and diapers. I had no idea this was an item that was needed. I didn’t think about it simply because I don’t have children.

I was challenged once to put one thing that I didn’t need in a box each day for 30 days. I can’t even tell you how much joy it gave me to bring a box of items that I loved, but really didn’t need, to a local thrift shop. Thrift shops give back in big and meaningful ways to the community, and the world. They even gave me a gift in return, a punch card with a discount for the next time I shopped there. I craft, thrift stores are gold mines for items to craft with.

When I was in high school, our grade 9 French class decided to give a family Christmas. This meant buying all the gifts and food for the family’s Christmas. There are a few organizations that do this. I will never forget this experience.

There are many people in need of winter items, hats, scarves, mittens, that you can buy at the dollar store, or donate from home, as well as gently used coats and boots. This is a great way to teach kids to give.

I have been blessed to be a part of a motel ministry that provides food, clothing, and support to those living in the many residential motels in our region. I had no idea that many of our motels are no longer for tourists. The people who live there need everything. Stop by, take a look.

Books can be donated to many organizations, if you happen to like to read, and wanted to pick up a few extra for someone else.

And of course, there are the beautiful red kettles, of an organization that works tirelessly to combat many things, but hunger certainly being an important one of them.

The more I learn about what the organizations in our region do on a daily basis, the more inspired I am to give, based on what has direct meaning to me, or what might be an immediate need in our region right now, such as shelter and a warm meal during the cold months.

If you can’t give money, give time, and vice versa. Be creative. There is something that you have that someone else needs, whether it is time, talent, or treasure.

There are people in need all around us.

Have a wonderfully blessed holiday season.

My car & I

Kelly Snow

I have to preface my blog with a backstory. I will try to make it quick.

In 2011, I was hired at the Howard Johnson Hotel by the Falls by a gentleman named Fernando Morales, who was my manager. This was one of my first summer jobs, where I worked throughout university. Fernando became more than just a boss to me – he was a mentor, a leader, and a dear friend. Even after we both left the hotel for other positions, we remained connected and worked together on other projects.

In 2014, I was looking for jobs after college, and I happened to score an interview with the Ontario Minister of Labour’s Chief of Staff. As a Labour student, this was my dream job. She called me on the Friday of that week and asked me to come in to meet the Minister himself on Monday. I had called Fernando in a brief panic and asked for advice on interviewing – he had done hundreds of interviews during his career – and his powers of persuasion were second to none. He suggested we get together and he generously took the evening off work for me, paid for our meals, and at the end, he thanked me for coming to him for help. He told me that it meant a lot to him that I came to him for this first. If I learned anything from my time as one of Fernando’s lucky staff, I learned to work hard (although, that was a lesson I learned first from my own father), and to be generous with my time and my resources – and my blessings. I learned to treat anyone who came to me for help the same way I’d want my own family to be treated.

In November of last year, Fernando was in a car accident on his way to work. He was airlifted to Sunnybrook hospital where he passed away. Not a week later, I was also in a car accident after being clocked by another driver. I was fine, if a little shaken up, but my car was written off. Fernando’s funeral was on a Saturday, and I spent the latter part of that same weekend car-shopping.  I bought a bright blue 2016 Prius C and it was special because it was the first car I bought brand new. It was the first time I could afford to do so –  a steady job allowed me to be a bit pickier than I had been in the past. I’d like to think that it was partially on account of Fern – he had provided me with the tools necessary to obtain my first professional role out of college, which eventually lead to my current position. And I’d like to think that partaking in No Fixed Address is my way of paying forward and honouring the generosity and kindness he always showed to me.

 

Kelly Snow is on the YWCA Niagara Region’s Board of Directors and apart of the YW BOD NFA team.

Giving Thanks, this Thanksgiving

On a good day, it is easy to express thanks, share that feeling of contentment and be grateful for all you have.

Let’s look at gratitude on a bad day…week….month,  or year.  It’s hard yes, but not impossible.

The Thanksgiving holiday, from an emergency shelter perspective, is something I wish everyone could experience.  Not to be homeless, I do not wish that on anyone.  I am talking about the incredible sense of community that happens at our King Street shelter in October.  The generous spirit of the Niagara community never fails to amaze me.

Local businesses, service clubs and individuals donate food and funds, enabling our top-notch team in the kitchen the ability to prepare the most delicious turkey dinners.  Included are all the trimmings, and a few extras that we consider luxuries in the non-profit world.  All in an effort to make the day one of a celebration of family, community and thankfulness.

People that have never met share what they have – with those in difficult circumstances.

I am honoured to see firsthand how this gesture from the community in their donations, and volunteering of their time, their caring …….fills the women and families at the shelter with gratitude.  You can see it in their faces and feel it in their hearts.  Someone cares, even when things look…well, bad.

To everyone that finds it in their hearts to give of themselves this Thanksgiving – THANK YOU, I am truly grateful  for the hope you provide for the women and families we serve.  Experiencing this every year, I am given the ability to draw on this feeling of connectedness when I am having a bad day.  It also makes me reach out, beyond myself to help raise my community up – and for the ability to that…..I am also grateful.

 

 

 

Out Of The Heat

I am rarely one to complain about the heat, because I absolutely HATE being cold. I mean come winter I am layered in at least three things at all times trying to get hot. That being said, I have found this summer to be particularly HOT and to be honest… long. Maybe that’s because I currently don’t have a/c in my car, my office gets really stuffy and our bedroom has the full brunt of the sun bearing down on it all day making it difficult to cool down at night, even with central air.

Listen to me complaining.

Do you ever wonder what those with nowhere to go do on an insanely hot day? I know a lot of us worry and strive to take care of those in need during the long winter months, but what about those days where the temperatures are sky high, heat alerts are in effect and we are all drooping even in our air conditioned offices, cars and homes?

What happens when you don’t have shelter to hide away from the baking sun and excessive heat?

When you are shooed away from a shaded spot because businesses often want people to move along?

When you are made to feel uncomfortable, unwanted and a burden for asking for a cup of water at the Tim Hortons?

When you don’t own a hat to cover your head, sunscreen to cover your skin.

When you see a blessed water park, but don’t dare go near it for fear someone will call the police on you.

What happens then? Where do you go?

This summer Niagara has seen six excessive heat alerts (though keep in mind most of those alerts last several days or longer). This alert is sent out by the region when the humidex is forecast to rise to 40 or higher, when the humidex is forecast to rise to 38 or higher with a smog alert, and when Environment Canada has issued a humidex warning.

The region recommends that during an excessive heat alert residents should:

  • Plan outdoor activities during cooler parts of the day
  • Rest frequently in shaded areas
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless fluid is restricted by your physician)
  • Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car
  • Dress in cool, loose clothing and shade your head with a hat or umbrella
  • Take cool showers or baths until you feel refreshed

This is all well and good for those who have access to those options.

When these alerts are sent out, the YWCA and other shelters such as Southridge and The Salvation Army are mandated to accept anyone seeking shelter. While the YWCA can only accept women and children, we would refer men to our Men’s shelter or those shelters who accept men.

But the sad part is, that they aren’t always accessed.

Often, most of us don’t realize how the effect of a hot day can sneak up on us, never mind those suffering from chronic alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health issues. Research has shown that addictions can cause our bodies to react differently, causing an increase in dependency and cravings. Add to the fact that on a normal day you are turned away from shelter for a variety of reasons, your gut reaction becomes to stay away instead of being chased away.

This is why you often see those in need around the bus station, malls, Wal-Mart and Tim Hortons. They are some of the few places where they aren’t asked to leave as long as they are keeping to themselves. That sentence was really hard to type.

We all complain about the heat. About our a/c not working properly. About being sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable. We prepare in advance for the summer… stocking up on water and ice cream. Getting the water slides and pools ready. Thinking of the best way to keep the house cool. But so many of us don’t stop to consider how the other half are faring. We walk past the outstretched arm because we are so used to seeing it. We turn our heads to the side and maybe say thanks that we aren’t in the same position.

But maybe next year, while we are stocking up on water, we buy some extra to keep cold and hand out on those super awful days. Or offer some sunscreen or a hat. Check up on someone and say hello if you are concerned. Donate items such as water bottles, sunscreen, hats, bug spray etc. to the shelters to hand out.

We all deserve to be comfortable and safe. We all deserve to be thought of.

Meet The Bloggers – Poverty and Health

Canada takes  a lot of pride in its publicly funded health care – as we should! To remind ourselves how good we have it in Canada when it comes to health care, all we need to do is take a look at the other side of the border. However, we are also well aware that the system is not perfect, especially for those of us, who don’t fall under a certain social status and income bracket. We asked our bloggers about their experiences with health care and the affordability of it:

Ellen

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

Labour Day weekend marks the 4th anniversary of my partner’s lymphoma diagnosis. It took me awhile to connect that the fear and sadness I feel at the steamy end of summer is a remnant of that personal trauma. My partner is alive and thriving today, but there is emotional scar tissue. A life-threatening illness gives rise to many distressful thoughts, and one of them is the very real fear of financial ruin. My work for the past eight years has been a chaotic and precarious jumble of freelance and contract gigs, with times of frenetic gain and times of anxious sand scratching. Luckily (and it is very much luck, no matter the skill, intelligence, or effort of the employed), my partner has a good job—a union protected job—that has, thankfully, a disability package. He was off sick for two years. Two years. Like everyone faced with crisis, we cut our spending and lived in stasis. I work from a home office, so this allowed me to simultaneously act as his caregiver. His benefits allowed him to recover fully before returning to work. And, I should mention this, upon diagnosis, when things seemed so dark and dire and he didn’t have the strength to walk stairs or perform most of the functions of daily life, his colleagues at work collected cash from their own pockets and gave it to us. His union matched the funds. I cannot tell you how much that helped pay for all the out of pocket incidentals of illness: the groceries, the liquid food replacements he needed to survive, gasoline, and parking…endless expensive hospital parking. He also has a good drug benefit plan, but despite this, one of his drugs cost a whopping $1,600—far beyond what his benefits covered. Luckily (there’s that word again), a caring hospital pharmacist found a charity that paid for what wasn’t covered. I know my partner is alive today because of modern science and our health care system. I also know that without socialized health care, and the good benefits of a good job, we would be homeless—likely living with family. doctor-840127_1920There is no way most people can save for two years of illness or emerge financially unscathed thereafter. So, I am very grateful that my worst fears (one of them being the death of my partner) were not realized. I am also aware that many—too many—Canadians are not so lucky. I know many people who work, exhausted and in pain, while receiving treatment (or, work as long as they can before their bodies just can’t do it anymore). I know those who return to work before they have fully recovered. And I know those who, already living marginally, have their spirits and meagre finances further crushed by the illnesses of poverty. My mother-in-law’s gravestone (if she had one) might well say: “She died of poverty”. Again, this is even with our much vaunted medicare. My sister, who lives in Australia, emerged $10,000 in debt after surgery for ovarian cancer in that country. And that is with healthy private insurance! I know what happened in the past in our country to people who had no means to pay for treatment. I am the daughter of parents who each lost a parent early to sickness and disease and I know how this materially changed their lives. We have a solid enough health system, but our methods of materially caring for the sick and dying and their dependents, fall short.

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

Dental care is definitely one of those things you don’t pay for if you don’t have the money. Early in my career, I worked for several companies that did not offer benefits packages. The pay was also shamefully low, so things like regular dental care and eyeglass replacements were out of the question (also…paying for OHIP premiums in the “old days” was very difficult on a low salary and I often took my chances not paying). One of my early goals was to get a job with benefits. It seems so trivial to some, but it meant so much to me. I cracked a tooth (molar) once and waited until I had  secured a job with dental benefits to get it looked at. My dentist sent me to a specialist who told me I would have to pay $500 upfront for the required work. I went home on the verge of tears thinking I couldn’t afford that tooth; I couldn’t afford teeth! I managed to find another dentist who would do the work to my defined benefits schedule and would allow me to pay in installments. The thing is, even with benefits, you often have to pay for services up front. If you can’t afford $130, or can’t fit it on your already maxed-out credit (as is the reality for many who live hand-to-mouth), you will do without, which just adds to your physical (and mental) health debt.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I think we have come a long way in the past 50 years. We have universal health care which we all pay for; we have quality basic health care. I’ve had surgery (and at the old, dismal, filthy St. Catharines General, with its Crimean war hospital theatre-like atmosphere) and the surgical skill (and some, if not all of the aftercare) was excellent. And I didn’t get a bill! I’ve spent a lot of time at Ontario hospitals in the last six years, and I’ve accessed (for loved ones) and witnessed excellent home health care provided through local Community Care Access Centres. I can’t say enough about the skill and caring of these service providers. We are also fortunate to have excellent community health centres in Niagara such as Quest, Bridges, etc. (a big shout out) that provide good primary care and a whole lot more, as well as advocacy on health equity issues and programs. I think that is where a lot of the change and innovation in health care originates — from direct service providers who believe in improving health by changing the system, tearing down barriers, or mitigating social inequality. They, along with poverty action groups, have the “broader view” that includes pressing for a living wage, since good health has everything to do with good, or even adequate income. Of course, within the existing systems, services such as health navigators at hospitals and clinics, can make a huge difference in terms of accessing the required and appropriate care. Knowing where to go for services (particularly no or low cost ones) and how to advocate for your health (mental and physical) or the health of someone else, can change outcomes.

Marilyn

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

I had major surgery almost 10 years ago that almost killed me. There were severe complications that have a direct link to the health problems that continue to this day. I had to learn to accept my limitations and work within them in order to stay healthy. I haven’t been able to work full-time since I had that surgery. My whole world as I knew it came crashing down and I was forced to re-evaluate my priorities.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

It chips away at your self-confidence. Chronic pain & illness can lead to isolation which can develop into clinical depression. It messes with your self-image. It’s very scary to be financially dependent on someone else. Society is very judgmental and places a value on people based on their income or ability to work.Marilyn

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

I feel very fortunate to have additional medical insurance through my husband’s employee benefits. There are many treatments and medications that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. This would have a negative effect on the quality of life I would have.

With prevention top of mind, what preventative health tip would you like to share?

Stay active. Engage in low-impact activities like gardening, walking and aquatic exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Regular exercise improves sleep, controls weight, has a positive affect on mood and stimulates creativity.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I honestly don’t know the solution to this very serious problem but I do know that it needs to be addressed by the government. If people don’t have access to proper healthcare now the government ends up paying anyway through things like hospitalization, Long Term Care facilities, disability, welfare, etc. There needs to be a more pro-active approach to caring for people to prevent the rapid decline of health and quality of life before it happens.

Allison

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

My father went on sick leave from work numerous times due to arthritis that left him unable to perform not only his work duties, but also other basic tasks around the home. In 2012 he suffered a stroke that extended his leave to over two years, and by the time he returned to work he experienced a culture shock from not only having to keep up with new developments, but from being treated differently by his peers. His sick leaves from work impacted his finances greatly since the money he received from work while on leave was not sufficient to cover the bills, and so he resorted to using a line of credit to support us. When he went on another sick leave, his inability to leave the house left him unable to get a doctor’s note his work required in order for him to remain employed. He was then fired by his employer of over 20 years. The last conversation I had with him was terrifying, as he had essentially lost all hope to get better, and would avoid answering my questions about whether or not this meant he was going to go on ODSP or OW. When he passed away two weeks after that, we learned that he was in severe overdraft and debt. Seeing what can happen to someone when they experience chronic health problems is something I will never forget, and exposed me to the many problems that exist both socially and systemically. There is simply not enough support for people experiencing chronic illness and other health problems.

Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

I have heard many wonderful things about Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines. Their questpriority populations include people experiencing homelessness, mental health and addiction issues, and many others who are in need of a supportive, nonjudgmental environment.

Irene

Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

In the last five years I have lost  my own family doctor of 25 yrs. I have been in extremely good health all of my life. I saw my doctor for physical check ups only. Through having to find a clinic to replace my family doctor, I found Quest Community Health Centre 145 Queenston St., Suite 100, St. Catharines, ON  L2R 2Z9.

This is a centre that provided health care professionals and programs that were inclusive to everyone. There have been no barriers. I was treated as an individual. Poverty was not a barrier to receive health care. The staff treat every person with compassion and empathy, no matter what their circumstances in life are or have been.

The Dental Program provides dental care for clients who cannot afford to see see a dentist because of cost. This program provides dental care and cleaning on a regular basis by professionals who donate their time. Their programs such as Road 2 Empowerment, a program to better and more efficiently advocate was immensely beneficial.

Living in Poverty means consistently advocating for our rights.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

LIrene2iving in Poverty creates health issues that I have never had  due to poor nutrition and the constant worry of not having food creates a fear that you may go hungry.  There is also the underlying fear that being homeless can happen to you again. Every ordinary situation becomes a crisis. This leads to stress and anxiety.

Even though I had the assurance that I had access to food despite that it had no nutritional value most of the time I was faced with the reality that if I did not have the means to get there, I would go hungry.

This fear is constant. It impacts decisions you make, relationships you have and too many times we isolate because the reality of poverty hits us so hard, we become immobile.

The mental strain on every aspect of our lives becomes exhausting. Although I am in a better situation, Poverty has taken a toll on my mental well being. There are still days, sometimes weeks that my entire system shuts down, mentally and physically. Poverty has left a scar that will remain with me.

 

#Reality Cheque/My Number – and a little more

I invite everyone to join the campaign – #RealityCheque – how many missed  pay cheques until I am homeless, to share their number.

Here  I will share a little more than my number – lived experience.

Last year at this time, I must confess I did not participate in No Fixed Address by sleeping in my car – the first time since it’s inception.  Why, well at that time in my life, it was a little too close to the reality I actually found myself living.

After 17 years in a relationship, I found myself leaving – yes it was my choice – and yes I had a good job at the YW and very supportive family – but my reality was at that time, I did not have a place to live anymore – I had No Fixed Address.

I Had No Fixed Address

Moms are great, and mine took me in while I sorted out my next steps.Wyatt2016…her dog’s reaction could be it’s own blog post, let’s just say I eventually wore him down to actually liking me during my stay – which took six long months.

During that time, I shared this information with very few people.  Work was my only remaining “normal” and I didn’t want to change that – especially, since everything else had changed so drastically.   There were days I clung to that small piece of normal.  So I went to work every day, attended meetings, composed reports and minutes,  going about my daily duties.  After work I would return to my Mom’s small one bedroom apartment, sleeping on an air mattress in her living room each night.  Waking up to the dog…..with that you still here look in his eyes – or was it me thinking that, projecting my feelings of self-judgement onto him.  Pretty sure it was a little of both.

My apartment search, which took four months,  in all honesty was depressing.  I viewed apartments that when I left, I felt sorry for the people living in them – the places were derelict and shockingly expensive.  Worse was the process of applying – I had no rental history, I had lived in a house!  Even with a twenty year work history at the YW, I wasn’t considered a good candidate at a few places.

Trying to remain the same person on the “outside” took its toll emotionally and physically – when I was in fact a very different person on the “inside”.

Add to the apartment search the fact that I was living out of a suitcase during this time, I was really aware that my wardrobe consisted of only a few pieces – would people notice?  Saving for first and last month’s rent took a bit of time too, so there were a few work lunches and social events I passed on – telling people I was busy.  Trying to remain the same person on the “outside” took its toll emotionally and physically – when I was in fact a very different person on the “inside”.  It was hard to believe that I would ever find a new “normal” – or a place to call home.

The Judgement

I understood firsthand when the women staying at our shelter would state in exasperation – “I just want my own place”.  I could relate to their feelings of defeat, at yet another unsuccessful apartment viewing.  Like them, my self-esteem began to suffer as I saw the beginning of yet another month start and still no apartment to call my own – no matter what the circumstances, you still feel there is something wrong with you while in a situation like this.   As shallow as it may sound – I missed my favourite coffee mug, fuzzy slippers and a place to land at the end of the day – that was mine.  Most ironic moment came when I was leaving work one night and a client told me to have a good night, and to her friend I heard her say “at least she has a home to go to”.  Judged, yet again.

The judgement was my own – I learned being homeless is a LOT more than not having a place to live.

During this time, I also learned I am resourceful, my family loves and supports me, that I can leave a relationship and still remain friends, and that when I did share what I was going through with a few people at work I was offered unconditional support and absolutely no judgement.  The judgement was my own – I learned being homeless is a LOT more than not having a place to live.

Today,  I have a lovely apartment, my independence, stronger family ties, and a deeper appreciation of my fellow workers.  Most importantly, I understand intimately the thought process and feelings of being homeless and a deeper understanding of the work we do here at the YWCA in supporting women and their families addressing their homelessness.

This August I will be participating in No Fixed Address – I hope to see you there.  I may even bring my Mom’s dog along, I am pretty sure he misses me!

 

 

 

Getting To Know You Questions – #RealityCheque

Get to know your bloggers! This month, learn what their experience has been with poverty and homelessness. We asked them to pick some of the following questions to answer:

  1. What is one misconception you had on poverty, that you now feel differently about?
  2. The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?
  3. One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others, have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.
  4. For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?
  5. As part of our hashtag campaign #RealityCheque – Can you share, how many missed pay cheques until I am homeless?
  6. Sometimes it isn’t missed pay cheques, have you or someone you know had a life changing experience that has impacted their housing?  Please share.
  7. If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.
  8. How will you be participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event this year?

 

Crystal

What is one misconception you had on poverty that you now feel differently about?

I thought that nothing I could do would help anyway, so why bother. I’ve seen how far a little money can go. The YW can stretch a dollar like you wouldn’t believe, and help people looking for the Crystal Carswellmost basic human needs that we take for granted.

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

Sadness. I’ve met some incredibly interesting women through the YW, and heard stories from women from all walks of life. It’s heartbreaking when they find themselves at that door.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.

I am very lucky in that I have friends I can live with in desperation, or an ex who would no doubt move us up to Brampton in extreme circumstances. Not everyone is lucky enough to have this kind of support system.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year?

Team Cap (my son and myself) will be toughing it out in our little sedan over night! Can’t wait to see you all there!

 

Marilyn

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

When I hear the word “homeless” it makes me feel fearful and vulnerable. Being homeless is one of my worst nightmares.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others. Have you ever found Marilynyourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.

I left home when I was 16 because of an abusive male in the household and signed myself into a youth home in Welland. From there I moved to Toronto where I lived in boardinghouses and shelters. I am grateful for the security and provisions I was given while I was there. I will never forget the life skills and guidance I was given in order to be able to take care of myself and survive.

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?

Nothing lasts forever! — This doesn’t have to define you or who you are. Take advantage of the guidance and assistance offered at the shelter. Immerse yourself in the many  different skill-based courses provided by staff who truly care about others.

How will you be participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event this year?

I will be spending the night in my car to raise money and awareness to the plight of poverty and how ultimately, it affects us all. Ignoring a problem never makes it disappear.

 

Dana

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?
It brings out sadness. A home is so much more than a shelter that protects you from the elements; it’s everything. It’s your safe place, a place that provides food, shelter, love and nourishment for you and others. It gives you a sense of pride and safety, and without a home a lot of those things can be taken away. Your safety, your comfort, your confidence, and your ease of mind. It brings out worry, anxiety, and fear. I know that my home has always been a constant in my life, a safe place to go that is full of love. I know when I walk through my front door everything gets a bit better. For someone not to have that reassuring feeling is sad, and scary, and no one deserves to have that taken away from them.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others. Have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.
I am lucky enough to have never experienced homelessness – then again I am only 27 years old and there’s a lot more life to live. I have a fantastic family who has supported me my entire life, and even during my most “irresponsible spending” years and a brief time where I was unemployed, they supported me and I never had to worry. I also have a wonderful boyfriend who has supported me through my time of unemployment and was able to pay for our rent and living expenses. I was very scared during that time, even though I had no immediate threat of homelessness, so I can only imagine how scary it must be when you are in that situation.dana

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?
I would want them to know that aside from the physical roof over their head and food in their bellies, there is a support system there that can help them through the roughest times. There is a support system, a team of caring, loving, and helpful people working and volunteering at the shelter who are there solely to help people who need it. They are there to help you get through this rough time, and build a better life. They are there for you.

As part of our hashtag campaign #RealityCheque – Can you share, how many missed pay cheques until you are homeless?
I am lucky enough to be sharing my expenses with a partner, and because of that, I could last a bit longer without my pay cheques. If my partner and I both missed more than two, then we wouldn’t be able to stay in our house.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.
I am very blessed to have two families who would let me stay with them if I became homeless. I am also very fortunate to have a number of close friends who live nearby who would also let me stay with them without question. If I were in a situation where I did not have such a fantastic support system, then yes, I would access an emergency shelter.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year?
I plan on volunteering!

 

Irene

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

Heart stopping fear.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others, have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.Irene2

Tragedy has no boundaries . It comes knocking on your door without warning , or discernment. It can strike anyone from all walks of life, male or female and at any age. Everything that was once  your home where your children and grandchildren laughed and had family dinners is gone in a storage unit, unrecognizable .

Your entire life becomes disjointed like a puzzle someone threw on the floor in anger. You are not able to find the pieces to put it all together again.

Imagine a 4′ by 4′ square. The space within not even enough room for your body to lie full length. Within that space you hold your precious belongings. No room to move , no room to sit, standing all alone and afraid to leave that one spot for fear of losing that as well. You become frozen with fear. Even breathing is hard . Standing perfectly still is the only way you will keep from losing that small ground completely . You  almost become invisible to the world.

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?

To reach out to someone they trust.  To never lose Hope.  Get up every day and do one thing that brings joy to your heart.

 

Allison

Sometimes it isn’t missed pay cheques, have you or someone you know had a life changing experience that has impacted their housing?  Please share. 

I have had two relatives lose the place they called home due to very similar circumstances – the death of a parent. As a result, they both experienced hidden homelessness, and were living out of their cars, motels, and with other relatives. These are situations that were difficult for me to emphasize with at first, because I knew very well that these people had the financial resources to secure a place to live. After getting involved in volunteering with the YW I came to recognize other factors that were involved in them becoming homeless, and that while it may seem to others that they actively chose that path for themselves, there are many factors in our society that have contributed to their situations, such as mental health issues, a lack of available support services, and stigma.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more. 

I’m very fortunate during this current period of my life in that I have a strong enough support network that I would feel confident in finding someone to stay with temporarily. Prior to this year however, I felt that I would have to uproot my entire life to live with distant relatives in a different city if this were to happen to me. Since then, many things have changed. I started volunteering for the YW, which has given me awareness of the resources I could use, but more importantly, I became employed. Although I make minimum wage, being employed has opened up many doors for me both financially and socially. I have coworkers that I know I could turn to for help should I need it, and for that I am immensely grateful. Also, I have enough money saved so that I could rent another place should I need to. Right now I have a lot of agency in my life that I did not feel that I had up until this year, and I am so thankful that I would not have to leave what I have to access a shelter, as many people must do in order to survive.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year? 

This will be my second year helping out with the event, and I have been looking forward to it for months! This year, I have been involved in the Volunteer Recruitment Subcommittee in which I have been assisting with getting people involved in helping both with the Cardboard House display as well as No Fixed Address, often by promoting them at community events throughout the summer. On the day of the event, I will be there to help ensure that we have volunteers where we need them to be, and if my work schedule will allow it, I hope to be participating by staying overnight in my friend’s car. Regardless of what my involvement looks like, No Fixed Address holds a special place in my heart and I consider being involved with it a great privilege!

 

Murray

While many dads all over the country are looking forward to celebrating Father’s Day this weekend, for Murray, today will be yet another reminder of what he doesn’t have: time with his daughter. Murray’s daughter was about a year old when the relationship between him and his partner dissolved. They had had a good, happy relationship, but financial troubles and irreparable issues slowly eroded what once had been love. Murray came home one day to his things packed up in boxes, and he was asked to leave. He found shelter with his parents for some time but that wasn’t a long-term solution. Murray reached a low point and finally decided to move the Niagara Falls Men’s Shelter run by the YW.

“When I do see her, she is shy and timid, like you would be with a stranger.”

Since then, he has seen his daughter once. She is almost three now. He keeps toys for her in his tidy shelter unit, but he doubts that she will ever get to play with them. “When I do see her, she is shy and timid, like you would be with a stranger. She shouldn’t have that with her own father,” he says, angry, disappointed. Murray and his daughter’s mom turned their lives around when they found out they were having a child. “We got off the drugs; we got clean together – it woke me up. She was a blessing.”

Today, almost three years later, he feels like a babysitter who only gets to see his daughter on rare occasions. “She’s a good mom, and I realize I still have things in my life to clean up, but I just want to see my daughter. Even just for a couple of hours a week; that is all I am asking for.” Going through the court system is simply not an option for Murray at this point and by the time it will be, it might be too late. “A daughter or a son need their father as much as their mother.”

His biggest worry is that by not being around her, he can’t teach her the many things that he has learned.

Murray knows that he has made mistakes in his life. “I was young; I was stupid,” but he is doing everything he can to get back on his own two feet:  he is trying to find secure housing, he is trying to find a job – and try is all he can do. The same goes for his daughter. He will not stop fighting for her and he won’t stop trying to be the dad his daughter’s mother needs him to be in order to let him see his child. His biggest worry is that by not being around her he can’t teach her the many things that he has learned. Murray is homeless. He has fought the excruciating battle that is substance addiction but here he is: 27 years old, sober and determined to get his life back. There are lessons he has to pass on, values that go beyond materialism, things he believes in, beliefs that have helped him to keep going and to never give up.

When he talks about the few memories that he has been able to share wiMurrayth her, a big smile washes over his face. “On my mom’s street, there is an owl that sits on a fence and as soon as we turn onto the street, she says to me: let’s go, see the owl, daddy! It’s moments like that, just getting to spend time with her, just hearing her say daddy, that are my favourite memories.”

No Fixed Address – A Humbling Ride

Well, what do I say about my first time being involved with No Fixed Address? When I came on as a summer student, I had no idea what I was really in for. I had done research into the YWCA and their signaturKids playing in lote event of course, before beginning, but nothing can really prepare you for actually living it.

Coming into work every day at one of the shelters the YW runs grounded me from day one.

Every morning I walk past the ladies standing outside, talking together and starting their day. I say good morning and smile, stop and chat if they show an interest, before heading up to the loft to start the day. Through the social media management, the meetings, the donor relations, the planning and running around, I always have these ladies in the back of my mind.Niagara Roller Girls Chalk drawing
The day of NFA brought them screaming to the front.

When the sky opened up and soaked me through, I thought of them, and wondered how many had been caught in weather with nowhere to go. Those moments when I felt a little lost because I was aimless, I thought of them and wondered what it must feel like to not belong anywhere. Finally, when it came time to sleep in my car I thought of them.
With the windows open, and loud people around me; with no sense of privacy or personal space, with cramps in my back I thought of them. Then I cried. I sat there in the front seat trying to get comfortable and thought of these women I talk to every day, and the journey that brought them to us.

Please don’t get me wrong, I had so much fun throughout the day. I made new friends, laughed, and danced (badly). I enjoyed the games and the feeling of working together to make a difference. I will absolutely be back next year to help in any way I can.

Ultimately though, this amazing experience humbled me, and I am just so grateful for it.
on stage amount raised

Living Wage

Written by Carli Taylor

I often dream about how relieving it would be to receive my telephone or hydro bill and be able to immediately log into my bank account and make that payment— instead of having to wait for my next paycheck.

And this is coming from someone who works full time and has a husband who works full time.

My husband earns a decent salary and carries the lions’ share of our expenses. While I may earn above minimum wage, it certainly doesn’t stretch very far—but as I’m often told, such is the life for those working in the social services sector. That’s my cross to bear (and unfortunately my husband’s too).

I consider us pretty lucky though. We own a beautiful home. Drive nice vehicles. We eat pretty well and can afford our insurance and monthly bills. We can afford some evenings out for some stress/work relief. However, at the end of the month, there is little to nothing left over for saving for the future. This is a constant worry for us—and we are among the lucky ones.
Throughout the Niagara Region homelessness and poverty continue to reach epidemic levels. Too many families are struggling just to get by. They work hard, but with ever increasing basic living expenses—groceries (not just food, nutritious food!), utilities, clothing, transportation, health care, childcare and hopefully education never mind the uncertainties we all face such as illness, caring for elderly parents and saving for retirement and the likelihood that you have debt to repay—How are we supposed to keep up?

In fact— over 1.6 million Canadian households (1 in 8 families) struggle to put enough food on the table every day and over 12% of Canadian households are in core housing need. There are over 5700 families in the Niagara Region alone that are currently on the Niagara Regional Housing affordable housing waiting list.

Everyone who works in this country earns at least a minimum wage- a legislated minimum amount that employers must pay. This wage does not reflect rising costs of basic needs or basic quality of life. And this is why those who earn only the minimum wage are considered the working poor.

This is why the call for a Living Wage has begun to be heard around the world, and now specifically in Ontario and other areas of Canada.

A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their needs that are considered to be basic. It’s the possibility of an hourly wage that affords a person to pay their expenses and help lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a wage that would reflect the cost of living in a specific region and would differ from city to city.

The idea of a living wage is not to suddenly afford a person to run out and purchase a home or pay off credit or student debt— it’s only meant to ensure basic living expenses can be met. And while there are many factors and agreements to be made regarding what would actually define basic needs, I truly believe this is a necessity in our community. During our last No Fixed Address event the YWCA was actively asking members of the community to sign the petition to call upon all candidates and parties running for municipal and regional councils in 2014 to commit, that if elected, to initiate a study to cost and consider the implications of a living wage policy in our community. The Niagara Poverty Reduction Network recently reported that the living wage for Niagara is currently being calculated.

There are many arguments for and against this idea, all of them to be considered before
something of this kind of impact can be put into place. But I think it’s only fair to the thousands of working poor in our community to give them a chance— a chance at eventually rising out of poverty and in turn giving them an opportunity to change the cycle of poverty. As I for one know, I would still be considered the working poor had I not married the man I did—even though I earn above minimum wage.

For more information on what the Niagara Region is doing about poverty please visit http://www.wipeoutpoverty.ca/ and for more information on the living wage policy please go to http://livingwagecanada.ca/

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”.

 

Question of the Month – Privilege

We had a really great and thought provoking bloggers meeting for August. We were talking about homelessness and poverty, and how hard it is for some people to understand and grasp why this happens to people. We also discussed how anyone can suddenly find themselves laid off, struggling to pay the bills, and ultimately, homeless. This lead us to our August theme of privilege. What is privilege and how does it impact homelessness and poverty? These are hard questions to answer and opinions differ from person to person.

Our question of the month for our bloggers is: “What does privilege mean to you?” and Marilyn and Ellen have shared their answers with us.

Marilyn:

mar

The word “privilege” means many different things to me. But the first thought that comes to mind, is that privilege is usually reserved for Very Important People. VIP usually descends from wealthy families that make sure their legacy lives on, in style. A lot of VIP is born into a world of extravagance and connections with other VIP. They grow up with  a feeling of entitlement because they’ve lived in a world of luxury or prominence. They live in a world where having everything is normal, not a miracle. They are guaranteed a life of security and high-placed positions in society while still in the womb. It’s a world of excess and good times. It’s a world where money is the answer to every problem. Sometimes regular working-class people are given privileges by VIP because they have curried their favour somehow. If you are a good, loyal worker sometimes VIP will bestow gifts or perks upon their employees as a token of their appreciation. Privilege to me means never having to count out change to buy milk for your kids. Privilege to me means always having more than enough to make it in this world. It means having all the advantages in life that this world has to offer.

Ellen:

I know I’m getting all “pop culture” here, but did anybody follow the Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift Twitter exchange a few weeks ago? It started when Minaj noted that the MTV Video Music Awards nominations video of the year didn’t include her video Anaconda but perhaps would have if Minaj were a different “kind” of artist. What she meant is that her video celebrates “thicker” bodies, black bodies, and an overt female sexuality—and giving that a nod would play with the established standards of what is acceptable, lovely, and therefore “normal”. The tweet wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular (beyond those who enforce and reward normative standards), but Minaj’s friend and fellow musician, Taylor Swift, whose video Bad Blood was nominated, took it as a personal insult. Swift tweeted: “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” Minaj was taken aback, but responded thusly: “Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this.” The “u should speak on this” is an equivalent to “check your privilege.” In turn, Swift responded, in a sweet (if unknowingly condescending manner): “If I win, please come up with me!! You’re invited to any stage I’m ever on.” This is where Swift missed the boat, because she didn’t see her privilege and particularly didn’t see it fitting her systematically.

To me, this pop culture exchange, carried out on the public gossip arena of social media, is a perfect example of how privilege is intersectional but yet too often, that intersectionality is contested or ignored (as in it is a personal issue and not a systemic or societal issue). Swift is a young, talented, successful, wealthy, white, heterosexual musician. As a woman, she has had to work hard to earn respect in her industry. She understands that sexism and oppression affect her directly. What she doesn’t get is that in other areas of her life, she sits in a place of great privilege and her privileges (white, heterosexual, wealthy, etc.) trump others. It may not trump male privilege, but it does give her power. For the most part, she uses that power to support other women. So yeah, good for her. But the internalized domination is still there. When you assume others share your reality, you act as if your perspective is universal. It makes it difficult to see what someone who does not share your reality sees (or not entirely anyway, Minaj for example, is talented, wealthy successful, heterosexual, and black—her race lens is going to be different than Swift’s). Minaj is rejecting the internalized oppression of pop culture and society that says thin white bodies are lovely and should be seen and admired in music videos. And she’s asking Swift, who like her, has economic privilege and the ability to say what she wants without being sanctioned, to speak to this—to say there is room for more than one or two standards in video awards nominations. For Swift, like most of us, it is easier to notice the oppression she has personally experienced (“maybe one of the men took your slot”) than the privileges she experiences. Often, those privileges are not recognized as such and are attributed to “hard work”, or talent and perseverance alone.

It is hard to acknowledge privilege. In my own life, I can recognize many of my privileges but it is difficult to see how they shift and how my history plays into a system that isn’t quite monolithic. That’s where intersectionality comes in. I’m a woman. But I am more than that. I am white, heterosexual, gender conforming, and able bodied. I grew up within (and ultimately rejected) an all-encompassing religious structure. That too influences and plays with my privilege. I’m not poor, although I have at various times in my life, struggled with income variances, and this has given me palpable understanding of the fear and anxiety of an insufficient income. I am healthy both physically and mentally but I am aware that these are variables that can and do change privilege—and quickly. I’ve never been a target of racism. I can go out in the street and talk to a stranger and not worry about them judging my sexuality (or fear a possible violent reaction to it). My privilege—my unearned advantages in life, even those that aren’t discriminatory, are many. I hope however, they don’t entirely prevent me from trying to understand power, how I benefit from it, where I have an easier ride. The tricky part is determining what I can do to erase the systems of oppression that back privilege.

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We’d like to know, what does privilege mean to YOU?

Federal Leadership Needed on Poverty

Canada is a wealthy country with a strong economy and many social support programs, yet over four million Canadians regularly struggle to make ends meet, maintain affordable and adequate housing, feed their families, and address basic needs.  In Niagara region alone, our food banks have difficulty meeting demand and over 4500 households are on the centralized wait list for affordable housing. We can and must do better.

There are many important roles for the federal government to play to help reduce poverty across Canada, as outlined on the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network website www.wipeoutpoverty.ca.  One of these roles is the creation of a national plan of action on poverty.  Despite multiple calls by the United Nations, a Senate committee, and a House of Commons committee for Canada to create a plan, one has not been developed.

Having a national plan would raise the profile of poverty, its many causes and solutions, and its stigma, amongst Canadians, as well as demonstrate that addressing it is a national priority.  Canada’s Mental Health Strategy has significantly raised awareness of mental health issues and has mobilized leadership and collaboration across the country to address stigma, discrimination, and access to services.  A national strategy on poverty has the potential to do the same.

Poverty is not solely the responsibility of any one level of government nor any single sector.  Therefore, an organized and collective effort from all levels of government and stakeholders is required to ensure progress is being made.  Poverty reduction strategies have been shown to deliver results in many of our provinces, as well as other countries, through increased communication and common understanding of the issues between all stakeholders and improved coordination of public policies and services. A national action plan on poverty would be developed in partnership with the provinces, territories and other key sectors, and include defined goals, timelines, targets, and evaluation.  Such a plan must be comprehensive in order to address all aspects of poverty, including income security, employment, housing and homelessness, health, food security, transportation, and early childhood development and care.  A model of what a national plan of action on poverty could look like is available through the Dignity for All website www.dignityforall.ca.

So what can ordinary Canadian citizens do? In the lead up to the federal election this fall, take the time to let your Member of Parliament and federal election candidates know that you support the creation of a national plan of action on poverty for Canada – send them an email, letter, phone call, or visit their office. Write a letter to the editor. Spread the message through social media. Inform your own circle of contacts of the need for a national action plan and encourage them to reach out to MPs and candidates, as well. Many of us support charities that work hard to mitigate the effects of poverty. Let’s also show support for tackling poverty’s root causes through wider public policy solutions. Learn more by visiting www.wipeoutpoverty.ca

Lori Kleinsmith, YWCA Niagara Board Member