A Women's Shelter Director Discusses Poverty In Montreal & How It Especially Affects Women
Prepare for some saddening statistics.
- November 25 is the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women, which is the inspiration behind this article.
- MTL Blog got the chance to speak with the Executive Director of the women's shelter Chez Doris, Marina Boulos-Winton, who shared her work experiences, misconceptions about women's shelters, and the hardships that many women in the city face that often go unnoticed.
- Read below to discover the upsetting statistics about homeless in Montreal and the realities attached to them.
Today, November 25, is the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women. While I usually don't follow along with the international days for everything, this one holds up high importance that I believe needs as much recognition as it can get.
This day was created by the United Nations in 1993. A quote that justifies the need for its existence says: "Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination. Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances." - UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
A dark truth that many of us fail to notice is the realness of domestic violence. While, of course, domestic violence does not solely happen to women. But, for the sake of this day, this article focuses on violence against women and the effects of such, in particular: homelessness.
I spoke with Executive Director of Chez Doris, Marina Boulos-Winton, who has been working for charitable organizations for the majority of her life. She discusses how women's shelters function, their necessity in Montreal, common misconceptions about them, and statistics of homelessness in our city. Statistics that demonstrate how the effects of Canada's dark past continue to affect people in the present.
A day like the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women is naturally important for me because I am a woman, but this is in no way is the only reason.
Seeing statistics such as "1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner," which was released by the UN, is why this day is important. Statistics this high need to be known and spoken about in order to produce change.
There are many problems in people’s lives that get swept under the rug, and violence, especially against women, is one of the biggest ones. It can be extremely difficult for people to speak up in the face of abuse, and often the victim is left with nowhere to go.
This is one of the reasons why women’s shelters exist, to give women facing any form of hardship a place to go. And, it was this reason that I reached out to the Executive Director of Chez Doris, Marina Boulos-Winton, who is someone that has dedicated her life to charitable organizations.
Chez Doris is a day shelter that caters to women who face any form of difficulty. Among there resources, they provide free breakfast and lunch, access to showers, hygiene products, clothing, activities, and much more. Beyond this, the organization also provides women with mental health services, including access to a psychologist, psychotherapist, and a GP doctor.
When I asked Marina to tell me more about Chez Doris, she responded, "we are open 7 days a week and are only closed for 10 statutory holidays per year, so for those who are homeless, we’ll give out gift cards for restaurants, so they have somewhere to stay warm during the day. There are a lot of reduced services out there during the holidays, which means more women turn to Chez Doris for help."
A reminder that while the holidays can be a joyful time for some, they can be the hardest of times for others.
While shelters are a necessity for any city, this doesn't mean they are easy to keep running. "Every year, we need to reapply for grants. It’s a constant treadmill of fundraising, that’s the reality of community organizations," Marina says.
This is why donations are so important for shelters - their livelihood relies on them.
When specifically discussing homelessness in Montreal, Marina told me statistics that shine a light on the realities of our city. "Very often there aren’t enough emergency beds for homeless women. In Montreal, there are, according to the last homelessness census, about 3,150 homeless people out on the streets."
"There are about 1,000 beds available, and depending on the time of the year, 100 to 144 of those beds are allotted to women, the rest are for men. Yet, women represent 25% of the homeless population." So yes, it's a gendered issue - among many other things.
In Canada, which populations get particularly affected by homelessness are often a result of bad moments in our country's history that continue to affect many today.
Marina told me, "The foster care system in Montreal has often proved to be a great disservice to Indigenous women. The cycle of residential schools, the act of children being taken from their mothers, continues. Many are living are in poverty, so they have their children removed from them. Consequently, their children end up living in foster care for a long time and they don’t fully develop roots, an appreciation for their culture, nor life skills when they’re living in institutionalized environments."
"Chez Doris has many clients who grew up in residential schools, whose children were taken away from them and put in foster care. There’s a lot of trauma there." Recognizing this problem, Chez Doris organizes numerous Indigenous events and activities for the women.
One of the powerful quotes that Marina left me with about women's shelters was, "a common misconception is that if there were no women’s shelters, there’d be no homelessness among the female population or that homeless women would move to another area. Homelessness does not go away."
"Overall, women’s homelessness is arguably less visible as women often hide their vulnerability. Many homeless women have experienced violence, and/or continue to face dangerous situations on an ongoing basis and there are many reasons for their precarious living situations," she continued.
I hope this article and Marina's words shine a light on the importance of a day like International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women.
But it cannot simply be a day, it is a movement that is necessary. Although many may not believe so, I think a homeless-free and a violence-free future are both possible, but it requires work - both big and small. So remember, no effort is too little!
If ever you're looking to volunteer at a shelter, you can go on Chez Doris' website to get all the information about how to become one. Other women's shelters in Montreal include Auberge Shalom, Auberge Transition, La Dauphinelle, Native Women's Centre Montreal, Le Chaînon, and the Women's YMCA. Each of them is always searching for volunteers and donations. And if you can't volunteer your time or money, you can always donate old or unused clothing!