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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.

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