A place called "Nellie's"
I love this image, it captures and evokes a sense of childhood wonder – a treasure found (and of all things) in the shape of a heart- the very thing that represent human love.
You can see and imagine so many things from a photo and its subject and yet I don’t know the whole story of this child. I know only one tiny sliver – she spent time at a place called “Nellie’s”.
Nellie’s core operation is their 40-bed emergency shelter for women and their children who are homeless or escaping violent situations. At Nellie’s, the women are provided a (short term) home where they feel safe and a community where they are supported. Many women and their children arrive with only the clothes on their backs; Nellie’s gives them food, clothing, protection and the support they need, including crisis counselling, to reclaim control of their lives.
I had a conversation with Senior Development Officer Wendy Bray recently about the shelter, its mission and those it serves. This conversation made me emotional, it brought back memories, it made me question my own choices and it also provided an outlet for hope and possibility.
Wendy instantly struck me as an incredibly passionate woman both in her advocacy and in her unwavering care of those she meets in and outside the shelter’s walls.
She told me about the home as well as the extensive support system they offer, things like:
· Children’s programs using art and creative interventions to provide a safe space for children to express their thoughts and feelings about the trauma they experienced
· Shelter, Education & Advocacy which connects every woman with a Transitional Housing Support worker who is focused on helping them find and maintain safe and affordable housing.
· Workshop series, which helps women enhance their knowledge on a variety of educational topics, safety and life skills. It also includes Peer Support Groups, which brings together women who have had similar experiences to talk, listen and share strategies for coping and overcoming violence and oppression.
· Community Support and Outreach (CSO) program including:
o Weekly food program, which provides both fresh and non-perishable foods to about 80 low income families in the community.
o Women with Disability Support Group, which is designed specifically for women with physical disabilities who had, or are experiencing abuse and violence.
o Workshop series which gives women an opportunity to come together to learn about important legal and educational topics as well as gain helpful everyday life skills.
I was in awe of the work Nellie’s is doing to surround women and their children with support mechanisms, and at the same time so sad that we still need places like Nellie’s. Wendy shared that they are always at capacity, and that larger issues like the housing crisis, and the growing number of women experiencing mental health illnesses and substance use as a result of the violence they have known or witnessed, makes their day to day work even more demanding and their role as advocates on a larger scale all the more pressing.
Although Nellie’s is moving to new site next year (allowing all their work to happen in a more centralized location) it doesn’t alleviate the pressing needs and the bigger social and economic issues that face these brave women, children and those that stand by them to fight against injustice, violence against women and for affordable housing.
So, what if anything can we do to support Nellie’s and other shelters like it? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Voice your concerns with politicians about the housing crisis, and mental health/addictions and demand action. The crisis affects people – families, children and women – No one dreams of being homeless, or being addicted to substances or being in a relationship that turns violent.
2. Consider supporting – this can be through regular donations (as little as $10/month) or even as event based fundraising (have a girls night out – do a potluck and have the remainder of the money that would have gone to a restaurant and entertainment donated). You can also purchase gift cards such as grocery or drug store, for those leaving the shelter trying to set up a new life.
3. Consider something practical- like new underwear – yes you heard me correctly. Women and their children often flee in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs – things like new underwear, toiletries, and small comforts can make a big impact on an otherwise chaotic transition.
Want more information on Nellie’s – visit their website https://www.nellies.org/ and consider the little girl in the picture – sometimes a small gift of generosity can help a person in need reclaim their life, their humanity and their dignity and allow them another chance at innocence to believe that people are good and that love is the ultimate unifier.