Shepherds of Good Hope’s message for International Women’s Day

Deirdre Freiheit – President and CEO of Shepherds of Good Hope

I have a teenage daughter who was born on International Women’s Day. Since she was little, we’ve celebrated that it was a great day to be born – at least in Canada. My daughter knows how fortunate she is to have a family and community that supports her and encourages her to be whomever and whatever she wants to be in her life. She knows that not every female or gender diverse individual receives that same kind of support. She is grateful. She’s an amazing person who is kind, compassionate, thoughtful, resilient, smart and loved. She knows she has a voice and can use it. She knows we are all equal but she’s not naïve enough to think that we’re all treated equally.

On this International Women’s Day – #IWD2019 – we must talk about our most vulnerable women and non-gender conforming people, particularly those who are homeless and vulnerably housed. Many have not had the good fortune to share my daughter’s experiences.

At Shepherds of Good Hope (SGH) the fastest growing population in our shelter is aging, single women. The need for supportive housing, which we offer across the City of Ottawa, is crucial to the success of those struggling with mental health challenges, addictions and trauma.

At SGH, we welcome all without judgement. We believe it’s important to remember homeless women and gender diverse people need to be heard. If we want equity and/or equality for women everywhere, we have a responsibility to ensure that the voices of our most vulnerable women are heard. We must meet people wherever they are in their lives’ journeys and offer hope, end hate and judgment and make stigmatization a thing of the past.

Too often, women and gender diverse individuals are survivors who are forgotten or discarded by those who are negatively influencing their lives – or worse – those who can’t relate to their experiences. Far too often they’re judged rather than uplifted.

Ask yourself – have you stopped to consider the multiple reasons why women become homeless? Influencers include housing affordability, violence, poverty, lack of education, unemployment or under-employment, mental illnesses, addictions and more. When we address trauma, mental health and addictions through multiple approaches such as affordable housing, counselling, harm reduction and appropriate treatment services, people become stabilized. They become involved in their communities. They become healthier.

As a society, we know what to do. We don’t need more studies. We don’t need more hate. We don’t need more judgement. We need more housing. We need more health and wellness supports. We need communities to wrap their arms and resources around those who can’t speak up for themselves, so many of whom are women.

Let’s end condescension, criticism, judgement, hate and stigma. Let’s end homelessness and foster hope. Let’s give all women what my daughter, and many of the women in your lives have – hope, support, kindness and a home. Let’s do this every day until homelessness is ended and women not only have their voices but are empowered to use them to lift each other out of homelessness. International Women’s Day is a great time to talk about this. More importantly, we need to keep talking and keep acting every day.

When we lift up one woman, we lift all women.