It takes an average of half a dozen attempts for a women or gender-diverse person fleeing an abusive living situation to get secure housing. Imagine adding language and cultural barriers on top of that.
Nisa Homes, a Mississauga-based not-for-profit that offers haven and support services for women, including those with children, who are fleeing domestic violence, poverty or seeking asylum, is a space in Hamilton. Nisa already has a countdown clock on its website for Hamilton, indicating it is less than three weeks away from opening.
Nisa has provided shelter to over more than 1,000 vulnerable women and children since 2015 and processes thousands of remote queries annally. Lately, more women from Hamilton have been going to their Greater Toronto Area homes in Mississauga and Scarborough.
“We’re already seeing in those homes in the GTA, a large number of women staying with us who are coming from Hamilton,” says Yasmine Youssef, a program director at Nisa Homes. “We have also seen a lot of women who have stayed with us going to Hamilton. Just from January to March of this year, we had 40 women from Hamilton reaching out to us for shelter space.
“A lot of women who comes to us have said ‘I wasn’t comfortable reaching out until I saw someone who looked like me,” Youssef adds. “It’s just that feeling. Practically, if you don’t speak English or are just learning it, access to supports might not readily available to women who are newcomers, who are refugees.
“We have that problem generally with system navigation — I struggle with that and I’m a social worker. So there is that level of practicality. And for these women, you are already leaving behind your family, your home, maybe your kids. You want to go somewhere where you’re understood and still feel part of a collective, because that’s valuable to you.”
Services at Nisa are available in Arabic, Urdu, Somali and Gugurati. The Hamilton home will have shelter for 16 women and children.
Police-reported family violence in Canada has increased for five years in a row, according to StatCan. An estimated 600 women and children are turned away from shelters on any given night in Canada due to the shelter system being underresourced.
The Hamilton Interval House women’s shelter has been as much as 44 per cent above capacity recently, with people sleeping in boardrooms instead of a bed. Staff of YWCA Hamilton also recently joined a Parliament Hill rally to call on the federal Liberal government to create policy initatives that link creating affordable housing with helping abuse survivors heal.
Staff from SACHA, the sexual-assault crisis centre, also recently told the city it has a nine-month waitlist for counselling. It prevailed upon the city to ask the PC Party of Ontario government to increase funding to crisis centres, which has been frozen since 2019.
Sabreina Dahab, a social justice activist in Hamilton who works in diverse communities outreach with SACHA, says she often finds shelters in Hamilton are full when she tries to find space for a vulnerable person. An estimated 3.7 per cent of Hamilton residents identify as Muslim, which works out to a community of over 21,000.
“I think that this important, as a community we take care of each other,” says Dahab, who is also a Ward 2 candidate for the Hamilton-Wentworth public school board. “I think one of the ways as a community we can do that is show up for a really needed service in this city, that is really going to show up for a lot of Muslims in this city who would not have access to other supports and institutions that the city has. I think this is going to be really transformative for a lot of people in our community.”
Nisa has a total of four homes in Ontario, plus one in Montréal and three in western Canada. Dahab emphasizes that culturally responsive relevant spaces, where dietary needs and a place for players are accommodated, is also part of healing.
“That need is crucial in Hamilton and in cities across this country,” Dahab says.
Nisa also offers art therapy, cooking, English classes and support with immigration applications. Spiritual supports are also offered.
A physical space for the home (which is kept confidential) has been secured. Youssef says Nisa’s Hamilton home is about “50 per cent” toward having all necessary resources. It currently has a fundraiser where donors can buy items from the home compiled on an Amazon.ca wishlist and receive a tax receipt. Youssef says a donation drive will also be held in Hamilton in a couple of weeks.
For social service agencies, obtaining government funding can be a painstaking piecework process.
“The reality with grants is you have to have something to show before you apply,” Youssef says. “So we do a lot of community-based fundraising, got enough to get the home started and keep going for a couple years, then we get the grants.”
Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that police-reported family violence increased in 2021, with women and girls accounting for two-thirds (69 per cent) of victims. The federal agency says that “is likely a reflection of people spending more time at home, often isolating from others, during the (COVID-19) pandemic.”
Nisa Homes says that 63 per cent of the women it aids are domestic violence survivors. Others are housing-deprived, impoverished or need help navigating refugee and immigrant system.
More information about the charity, including how to donate and reach out in non-emergency situations, is available at nisahomes.com/hamilton.
(Cover photo courtesy of Nisa Homes.)