She arrives via taxi at the door of “The Inn”* in the early morning hours. Her two year old in tow, another child due in six months. One hand grips her child’s hand. In the other she carries a few plastic bags of belongings. That’s all she has.
She came to Canada a couple of years ago when she married her husband. His brother knew her father. It was all arranged. He came to her village to make her his bride. He’d been in Canada for several years and wanted a wife from his country of origin.
She didn’t know him. She didn’t know what the future held. But she knew that to stay in the famine and discord of her homeland would mean an uncertain and terrifying future.
Since being here she has barely been let out of their home. She cannot speak English. She has no friends. No family. No support.
At first, she takes the beatings her husband regularly doles out as part of being here. But then, he threatens her child. She cannot stay and does what women the world over do, every day, every night. She flees to save her child.
At ‘The Inn”, staff quickly kick into gear to find a translator. To create a safety barrier between this woman and child and her husband who has arrived to take them home. Though she cannot speak English, her desires are clear. She will not go.
A translator is found via a phone service. Staff work with other agencies, government reps and the translator to build a path to safety for the woman.
The Inn is a family emergency shelter. It does not have the same level of security as a domestic violence shelter and staff are concerned the husband will return. The woman, through the translator, is adamant. She wants to stay.
A plan is created and space is found for her on the second floor with the 7 other women and their children who are already staying there.
For now, she is safe.
Unless, the government steps in. Because that’s her new challenge.
When she fled her abusive husband she also left the man who was her immigration sponsor. Without him, her immigration status is in jeopardy.
Again, staff work with the translation service to find help. Legal Guidance is called in. The lawyers go to work.
For now, she is safe. From abuse. From deportation.
For now, she is receiving support. Her child is being provided early childhood development coaching to mitigate against the effects of so much uncertainty, so much fear, and the abuse he witnessed in his father’s home.
It is imperative, this work. To ensure his young mind is not permanently scarred, that his healthy development from childhood to adulthood is not impaired by the trauma, he must be given tools and opportunities to find healthy ways to express his emotions and grow into a loving man.
His mother still lives in fear and uncertainty. Will she and her child be allowed to stay in Canada? Will she be forced to leave her Canadian born son behind with his father? What is the future?
Stories like this unfold many times a month at Inn from the Cold. Families arrive seeking shelter, sanctuary, healing. They come with their children clutching a toy, their hands full of their few belongings, sometimes several suitcases. They have run out of places to go that will let them stay for a night or two. They have run out of options. They need support. Help. Guidance.
Family homelessness is not a choice. It is an outcome of diverse and challenging circumstances that lead children and their parent, or parents, to the Inn’s door. They don’t want to be there but once there, they quickly discover a place where they can sit with their children at a dinner table and feed them healthy meals. They find a place where help for their children is readily available. Where they can obtain parenting and vital life skills that will help them navigate their current uncertain times into a more sustainable, livable future.
The goal is to move children and their families out of shelter into housing as quickly as possible. When the stars align, when the right housing, the right job, income and other supports can be put in place, it can happen quickly.
Sometimes, not being able to find the right housing or lack of access to income lengthens the journey.
At the Inn, family advocates and case managers work as a team to pave the way to all the pieces falling into place so that children can grow beyond the trauma of homelessness in a family space where love, kindness, caring and support create the pathway they deserve to a brighter future.
I am in my second month of being at Inn from the Cold.
I am blessed to be surrounded by so many passionate and committed people who see a future where family homelessness is no longer the reality for children and their families.
*To protect identity, this woman’s story is a combination of several stories.