voices from the shadows

The plight of homeless women in the Yukon is difficult to pin down. We all know the problem exists, but society’s understanding is largely an…

The plight of homeless women in the Yukon is difficult to pin down.

We all know the problem exists, but society’s understanding is largely an intellectual exercise.

Few of us have experienced life without shelter.

In 2005, the Yukon Status of Women Council set out to study the lives of homeless women in the territory.

It wasn’t easy.

The Yukon does not keep statistics on the extent of the problem, according to the council’s report, A little Kindness Would Go A Long Way: A Study of Women’s Homelessness in the Yukon, which was published in March 2007.

It had to rely on anecdotal evidence gathered from agencies that work with homeless populations.

That information suggested there are between 50 absolutely homeless women to 1,000 relatively homeless women living in the territory.

Add dependent children, and the problem grows substantially.

The report found that every woman is vulnerable.

The line between a woman having a stable home and finding herself on the street is thin indeed.

A couple of bad decisions, a little hard luck and any woman can find herself without shelter.

As part of its study, the council interviewed 66 homeless women in the Yukon.

They had a range of educational backgrounds. Some were young, some old. Some were married, some not.

Their stories show how easy it is to find yourself homeless, how hard such a life can be and how difficult it is to reclaim stability once shelter is lost.

Every Friday, the Yukon News will run one of their stories. Sometimes we’ll include notes from the service providers who help them.

We hope this will foster public understanding of the extent of the Yukon’s homeless problem, and lead to imaginative solutions.

Because you never know when luck will turn against you. (RM)

Everyone is

potentially at risk

 “You just blink, and it can happen.”

Voices of homeless women:

“I was in a car accident and am on disability.

“There was no one to help me find a place to live. Social assistance wasn’t enough to get by.

“When I was looking for a place, people would ask if I was on social assistance and they wouldn’t rent to anyone on social assistance.

“I could never imagine anything like this before my accident. I was very independent.”

“Someone stole my rent money and I ended up living in my truck camper.

“The truck broke down and I couldn’t get to work.

“It was winter and too cold to be living in the camper. I went to the shelter, but they only let you stay there a month. I was lucky and found a house sit until the weather warmed up.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“I’m doing good now. I have a job and a nice place to live.

“But I worry about what I’m going to do if something happens again, if I lose my job.

“The first time being homeless is unbelievable. How did this happen to me?

“But after that, I made plans. I need to get a tent and a stove and could set it up out of town.”

“When women are abused, they often leave with nothing except their kids.

“They may have a job, but it’s hard to find an apartment that’s affordable.

“It’s worse if you are from another country.

“There is no family here to help and it’s hard to know where to go or what to do.

“It was a shock being an educated person coming from a developing country to Canada and finding myself moving into crowded conditions I would never have had in my country.

“I had a good career.

“When I came to Canada, the abuse got worse and I had to leave with my children. I thought it would be different here.”

Notes from the service providers:

Homelessness as a major issue in the Yukon:

Service providers believe it’s a problem for all women, young, old, First Nations, and non-First Nations.

Any woman growing up in an abusive and violent home is vulnerable to homelessness.

“I just see all of the women facing homelessness across the board,” said one worker. “Someone once said to me, ‘We’re all just one paycheque away from homelessness.’  I believe that’s right.”

Summary:

The stories of homeless Yukon women describe the vulnerability and insecurity of women, of how easy it can be to slide into homelessness.

The unexpected looms large and can be the final straw for women in precarious situations.

Sudden illness, job loss, loss or thefts of rent money, immigration, addiction or injury are unexpected hardships in women’s lives, throwing them off balance and into homelessness.

These events trigger a domino effect, one loss leading to many.

Loss of a job can lead to loss of a vehicle, which limits job search or access to town, which leads to loss of other possessions and any savings, which leads to loss of their home.

Many women work and continued to work while they are homeless, trying to keep it together but finding it difficult, especially if they have children.

Abuse complicates the picture by taking away self-esteem as well as financial support.

Women who have immigrated to find a better life in a country with a shining image find themselves homeless without resources.

They find that Canada is not living up to its reputation or commitments to the United Nations on economic and social rights as well as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.

Women who had previously led comfortable lives here and abroad and thought themselves safe in their homes say, “we are all hanging on the line.”

Excerpted from A Little Kindness Would Go a Long Way: A Study of Women’s Homelessness in the Yukon, a report by the Yukon Status of Women Council.