Responding to women's homelessness during the winter
Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor
By Christina Reed, Contributor
Every winter, many women in Hamilton find themselves without a safe, warm place to sleep.
Without protection from the elements, these women struggle to survive. As affordable housing in Hamilton becomes increasingly inaccessible, the number of homeless women in Hamilton in need of emergency shelters rises each year. According to a 2018 community profile from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, 65 per cent of the 386 individuals identified as experiencing homelessness in Hamilton spent the night at a shelter.
In Hamilton, a number of non-profit organizations collectively work to address the needs of women vulnerable to homelessness. Mission Services of Hamilton, a Christian charity centred around eradicating poverty, runs Willow’s Place, a year-round drop-in hub that provides safety and amenities during daytime hours. This includes access to showers, harm reduction services, a secure place to rest and opportunities to engage in creative and social activities. In the winter, Willow's Place provides extended hours, given that they secure sufficient donor support.
Carole Anne’s Place is an overflow women’s shelter run during the winter months by the Young Women’s Christian Association of Hamilton, a women-led service organization that focuses on health and wellness programs. Women coming to Carole Anne’s place are greeted with a hot meal, a safe bed to sleep in and hot coffee the following morning. Bus tickets are provided so that women can travel between Willow’s Place and Carole Anne’s Place.
Violetta Nikolskaya, Senior Program Analyst at the YWCA Hamilton and co-founder of the Women and Gender Equity Network at McMaster, said that working around the clock was key to working together and providing essential services.
“Our relationship was built on the collaboration of women's services — no one organization can do this alone,” she added.
“Our relationship was built on the collaboration of women's services — no one organization can do this alone,” said Violetta Nikolskaya, Senior Program Analyst at the YWCA Hamilton and co-founder of the Women and Gender Equity Network at McMaster
This is the fourth winter that Carole Anne’s Place has supported homeless women in Hamilton. The program originated from another Hamilton non-profit, Out of the Cold, which offers hot meals to those in need over the winter months.
Previously, Carol Anne’s Place had been funded by Out of the Cold and Hamilton-Niagara’s Local Health Integration Network, one of the 14 provincial authorities that governed public healthcare administration in 2019. Ontario’s 14 LHINs were replaced by a 12-member Ontario health agency board; as a result, the YWCA has lost access to previous funding.
There would be no provincial support for Carole Anne’s Place to open on Dec. 1. Without funding, Carole Anne’s Place would be unable to open this winter, leaving many homeless women with nowhere to go during dangerously cold nights. Willow’s Place, which relies on donations, would also be unable to expand their winter hours without further funding this year.
On Nov. 6, in a last-minute push, City Hall approved $128,000 in emergency funding to keep Carole Anne’s Place and Willow’s Place available this winter.
This is not a sustainable solution. Sam Merulla, the Ward 4 councillor who moved to provide the donation, sided with this point.
"It's not good management to have someone all the sudden come in at the eleventh hour and say 'we need a quarter of a million dollars?' It's not good governance," said Merulla to CBC.
"It's not good management to have someone all the sudden come in at the eleventh hour and say 'we need a quarter of a million dollars?' It's not good governance," said Merulla.
According to Nikolskaya, it is not uncommon for initiatives such as Carole Anne’s Place and Willow’s Place to struggle with sustainable core funding. The need to maintain emergency shelters in Hamilton is becoming more urgent with the rising number of homeless women in the city. Nikolskaya reports that emergency women’s shelters have been over capacity for the last several years, and she has witnessed the amount of women seeking refuge at Carole Anne’s Place increasing with every year.
In the winter of 2014-2015, Nikolskaya reports that only about five women would access Carole Anne’s programming per night. In the winter of 2018-2019, this number jumped to an average of 14 women per night, with some nights seeing as many as 20.
Often reaching maximum capacity, Hamilton's shelters have been turning away women in recent years. This is likely linked to the rising prevalence of homelessness in Hamilton and a lack of affordable housing.
While monetary donations play a huge role in supporting the YWCA and Mission Services, there are other ways to contribute. For example, donations of socks and underwear are also valuable. According to Nikolskaya, any contribution can be an impactful one in ensuring that no woman is left in the cold this winter.