When you drive by the modern structure standing three stories high at the corner of Yonge and Savage Road in Newmarket, you probably wouldn’t guess it’s a shelter for homeless women.
In fact, the building’s façade serves as another reminder that the stereotypes portraying what homelessness looks like in York Region are much different from the reality.
“Homelessness is very hidden, especially for the female population,” says Theresa McLeod-Treadwell, Program Services Director at Belinda’s Place. “A lot of women stay in very precarious situations in order to avoid homelessness.”
Belinda’s Place, which is funded by the Regional Municipality of York and operated by The Salvation Army, serves women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by providing temporary housing and client-focused services. The ultimate goal is to help every woman connect to the supports she needs to find and keep permanent housing.
The building, which is owned by Housing York Inc., features 28 single occupancy bedrooms, 9 transitional single occupancy apartments, a commercial kitchen, a computer lab with the latest technology, spacious lounges decorated with soft, cushioned seating, a spiritual room, a “quiet” room, key/card access control and security, and bright corridors with large glass windows. Everything looks and feels brand new—which makes sense given the building is barely one year old. Staff and volunteers began making beds available on an emergency basis in November of last year, and by December 9th, 2015, all 28 rooms were full.
The shelter offers 42 different programs, many of which are only made possible through partnerships The Salvation Army has formed with various service agencies in the area. The programming features a comprehensive medical services component—with amenities provided by a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant, a pharmacist, a volunteer chiropractor, a trauma counsellor and more—ensuring every woman has access to optimal healthcare. Much of the programming is also therapeutic in nature—such as life skills and bodywork classes, even yoga and knitting. “It enhances that mindfulness practice,” says McLeod-Treadwell, “which can be very difficult to maintain when you’re not sure where you’re going to get your next meal from.”
The women who walk in the doors at Belinda’s Place come from many different life circumstances. “There is no cookie cutter solution for homelessness,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “It’s really a case-by-case basis, because the reasons for homelessness are so complex and varied.”
According to a joint report recently released by York Region and United Way, one of the top reported factors contributing to homelessness in York Region is difficulty finding affordable housing. As of January 2016, a total of 263 people in York Region were experiencing homelessness. Within the last year, 160 women have come through emergency housing at Belinda’s Place.
Belinda’s Place works one-on-one with each client, creating an individualized case plan to meet her specific needs and help her leverage supports in the area. Understanding how to navigate the support system is challenging for the public user to do on her own, due to a wide-range of agencies sporting different mandates and eligibility spectrums. “I’ve been working in this field for close to 20 years and the most common sentence I hear is, ‘If I had only known you were here,’” she says.
This is why the case conferences at Belinda’s Place always involve the woman. “We work from a ‘nothing about me without me’ philosophy,” she explains. “That’s our goal over the long haul – to help a woman become her own advocate, her own case manager.”
Community members who want to offer their support this holiday season can contribute new toiletries, dishes, and bedding directly through Belinda’s Place. You can also donate a purse with personal hygiene products to the Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign, taking place here in Newmarket. Clients of Belinda’s Place also receive shopping vouchers to the Thrift Store in Newmarket, which accepts donations of used clothing. And if you are a landlord with a rental space available, Belinda’s Place is always looking for appropriate housing options; the shelter offers After Care support to ensure a positive outcome for both parties.
At the end of the day, it’s about being a good neighbour – something we can all make an effort to improve upon. “The homeless women who we work with are our mothers, our daughters, our aunts, our sisters, our cousins,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “We are the people that we serve.”
by Charlotte Ottaway
The Salvation Army