North York Women’s Shelter’s new facilities bring opportunities

In spring of 2019, North York Women’s Shelter (NYWS) will open the doors to its newly renovated facilities that are set to be kid friendly, culturally competent, and include a community hub. NYWS is nestled in between Downsview Park and Sheppard West station – making it connected to a local scene and accessible to the rest of the city’s resources.

Established in 1984, NYWS continues to be a safe place for women and children impacted by violence. As research on how to best help survivors of gendered violence advanced, NYWS took federal funding opportunities to redesign and renovate the facility to better serve their residents.

Executive Director, Mohini Datta-Ray, described the new shelter as “future oriented” with a focus on providing survivors a holistic approach to healing and giving women the tools they need to take the next steps in their lives.

It will be a 24,000 square feet shelter with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms with 30 beds, with the capacity for an additional 10 beds if their operational budget targets are met. This is a huge improvement from the 3,000 square feet shelter with only six bedrooms and three bathrooms for 30 beds that left residents crowded and prevented necessary programming.

Traditionally, women’s shelters are at a confidential and discrete location. Shelters are usually intended to be outside the purview of the community and to exist in isolation of the neighbourhood.

“It’s a new model – we’re breaking the paradigm. The model is that we are both a shelter and a community service hub,” Datta-Ray explained. The community hub will service not only those in the shelter but women within the community who need a safe space and cannot leave their situations.

The shelter itself will be built to accommodate children, have a kennel for residents’ dogs, and a wood-burning oven for women of different cultures to bake bread. Its new community hub will have partnerships with different groups like the Black Creek Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Farm, and other service groups to ensure that clients can access the resources they need.

As Toronto becomes more expensive and funding for ending violence against women continues to be erratic and dependent on governments, it is important to not only give survivors the resources they need to survive but also to thrive.

The new NYWS has a large 1000 square-foot multipurpose room that can be a space where women can self-organize and be political. Alongside providing services, NYWS aims to foster a peer-support system so women can be politically active and demand more from their politicians to enact lasting change.

“We realized that you can build 40 thousand shelters but you will never address the issue because you are just continuing to address the symptom of the problem,” Datta-Ray explained. The new space will help empower residents to advocate for institutional changes to end violence against women.

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