Friday mornings are always busy at Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke’s Community Outreach Centre. The program doesn’t start until 9:30 am, but by 8:30 women have already gathered in the lobby as workers put on coffee and set up the space. It’s Friday Flicks, a popular drop in program Women’s Habitat has been hosting for the past decade. The movies are older and the selection is a bit limited, but the breakfast is always hot, the coffee strong and the company kind and welcoming.
Women’s Habitat opened as an emergency shelter in November 1978, providing support for women identified individuals and their dependents fleeing violence.
Within two weeks of opening, our 25 beds were full and since then we’ve been forced to turn away thousands of families due to lack of space. Desperate for a way to meet the need, we opened our community outreach centre in 2006, a space for women and children to receive individual and group counselling, housing assistance and referral services. We knew that for women experiencing violence, a flexible drop-in program model designed to meet their diverse needs was essential. Some required parenting support, others housing and for many, a safe space where they could connect with their community was a crucial to breaking the social isolation many survivors experience.
Each drop-in is unique; the housing drop in provides information on tenant rights and how to navigate the complex social housing system. The women’s drop-in facilitates conversations on creating healthy boundaries and coping with trauma and the parent child drop-in offer moms a wealth of support and resources. Every program offers women the opportunity to connect with a counsellor for individual support. Last year the centre hosted 86 drop-in sessions with a total of 1,051 participants.
For the past decade we have been providing drop-in programs and, from day one, securing funding has been a challenge. Every year we face a budget that leaves little room to provide the essentials such as meals and transportation. 2018 was looking like another year of cuts to the programs, until we received a call from our long-time, dedicated supporter, The Modern Mystery School.
The Modern Mystery School connected with us in 2015 when they donated Halloween costumes for the kids at our shelter. Since then they have been a passionate partner, providing a wide variety of supports, from providing beauty products to sponsoring a holiday party for our teen girl after-school program.
This year, The Modern Mystery School celebrated 40 years of teaching and 20 years of being open to the public. As a collective effort of their members and founders, Women’s Habitat was honoured to receive a $12,000 donation to fund our drop-in programs.
Women’s Habitat and The Mystery School share a tradition of service, compassion and empowerment. Our partnership has been founded on the mutual understanding that women are the experts of their own lives and we as community play a vital role in creating a society where women and children can achieve independence and live free from violence. We are truly grateful for their generosity and we look forward to future opportunities to continue to create a wave of change together.
Sojie Tate is the Human Resource and Communications Manager for Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke.