Neila Ben Ayed, Director of Women’s Services, Old Brewery Mission, Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion
On this International Women’s Day, we should think about homelessness among women and realize that it can be eradicated only with the full support of all levels of society and all players in our community, from the government down to the family.
Homelessness has exploded in Montreal since the pandemic broke out and 20% of the people without a home are women. They are at the lowest rung of the ladder, the rock-bottom stratum of society.
Typically, a woman will find herself without a home from one day to the next as a result of domestic violence, financial instability, excessive drug use or, in some cases, mental health problems, and will end up moving from house to house and finally wandering the streets of Montreal. Having fled family instability, severe physical abuse or a toxic relationship, she must now cope with exclusion and total destitution—until she arrives at the doors of an organization like the Old Brewery Mission.
Nathalie, a resident of the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion, knows what it’s like to be an outcast because she doesn’t fit social norms of working and having a home.
Nathalie is a 46-year-old divorced single mother with a 9-year-old daughter. Until a few months ago, she was studying, working and doing her best to take care of her daughter, all at the same time, while looking after ailing parents, with whom she had a rocky relationship. She struggled with depression for years, attempted suicide, was scammed by her lover, and then kicked out by a family member. Today, she has no fixed address and her daughter has been placed in a child protection centre at Nathalie’s request, because of her financial insecurity the emotional instability of her daughter. Nathalie is fighting to get better, deal with her mental health issues, get her life back on track and get her daughter back.
Nathalie’s story is the story of many women experiencing homelessness. The way to end homelessness among women is to prevent it by acting quickly and effectively to help women in marginalized situations. The Quebec government must make homeless women a priority in any new housing projects and rent supplement programs. Otherwise, they will remain trapped in the vicious cycle of homelessness.
Nathalie is disheartened by the social stigma of homelessness. She describes an episode at a local convenience store: the clerk was friendly until she mentioned she was staying at the Old Brewery Mission’s Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion; then his chattiness turned embarrassingly cold.
On this day, let’s shine a light on women experiencing homelessness and their efforts to get back to a stable life. We need to change the way society looks at these women who are struggling to escape from their nightmare in a society that marginalizes them.