Out of the Shadows and Out of Homelessness

All across the world today, voices will be raised in recognition of International Women’s Day. For several decades, movements lobbying for women’s rights have been speaking out and standing on the frontline in addressing important issues.

Now more than ever, the Old Brewery Mission is supporting their efforts.

Women’s services at the Mission are committed to being part of the conversation and providing a forum for the voices of the women in highly vulnerable situations we have been welcoming for the last 20 years. Every year, we help more than 600 women from all walks of life who are experiencing a diverse and complex range of problems.

While each is unique, one thing unites them all: the need to be supported and heard without judgment at a difficult time in their life.

Serving homeless women involves many challenges, but most of all requires a thorough understanding of the issues facing women in the current social context.

Suffering in secret

Have you ever stopped to think where homeless women can be found? Do we recognize them in the street, at the local café or at the library? In some cases, perhaps—but many homeless women go to great lengths to hide their situation. They may admit to having problems but only rarely to being homeless.

Some women are affected by a unique phenomenon known as “hidden homelessness.” As the term would suggest, such cases are invisible or at least very difficult to detect. A number of studies by different researchers conclude that women are more inclined to endure unacceptable situations, such as abusive relationships and sexual or psychological violence, in order to hold on to residential and financial stability.

Furthermore, we often witness cases of women who “couch surf” for an extended period of time without ever really receiving the help they need.

Developing survival strategies

We know that living on the street is fraught with risk, and the situation is even worse for women. We understand that some women choose to live in unacceptable circumstances as a survival strategy because they are afraid and don’t know where to turn. When we reach out and offer them a place to rebuild their lives, we frequently discover remarkable resilience and a determination to quickly find the path to independence.

Mental health challenges on the rise

For others dealing with issues of mental health or addiction, the road is longer. Nonetheless, our partnerships with other community organizations and para-public institutions allow us to offer a unique support environment and personalized help to meet the specific needs of each woman who comes to us, so that they too can overcome their problems.

Indigenous and immigrant women

In addition, a significant increase in the number of immigrant women using our services and those of similar organizations concerns us greatly, as does the situation of Indigenous women.

Our inclusive feminist approach takes into account the intersectionality of their situations and the specific realities they face. This requires a dedicated and adapted methodology.


This year, the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion at the Old Mission Brewery is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Follow the movement and join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #missionforher as we provide visibility for these women and an opportunity for them to rediscover dignity and take control of their lives.

In 2018, we should and we can do better. On the eve of a provincial election, we need to make the fight for homeless women a key campaign issue.

The Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion offers an inclusive environment where anyone identifying as a woman and requiring safe refuge is welcome. You can reach the Pavilion directly by calling 514‑526-6446.