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  • Mar19Tue

    Finding Home

    The Salvation Army’s Belinda’s Place is the first shelter for women in York Region. March 19, 2019 by Giselle Randall
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    (Above) Cpt Sandra Ross, chaplain at Belinda’s Place, and Theresa McLeod-Treadwell, program services director (Photos: Giselle Randall)

    When Filomena was evicted from her apartment, she had nowhere to go. She spent the night at a Tim Hortons, too afraid to let herself fall asleep. In the morning, she called The Salvation Army’s Belinda’s Place, an emergency shelter for women in Newmarket, Ont. Although it was full, she was told to come in anyway.

    Photo of FilomenaFilomena is staying at Belinda’s Place, the first shelter for women in York Region, Ont., while she gets back on her feet
    “I had something to eat and was able to sleep for a few hours,” she says. “They offered me space in an overflow area for a week, until a room became available. It meant the world to me. I was safe. I’m 57. I’ve never had to worry about where I was going to sleep. It was scary.”

    Filomena had been paying $1,100 for a basement apartment. “By the time I paid my rent, I had maybe $250 to live on for the whole month,” she says. “You’re either paying rent or buying food—and either way, you’re going to be short. It’s tough.”

    Belinda’s Place is the first emergency housing facility in York Region for unaccompanied women who aren’t fleeing violence. “We’re meeting a significant need in the community,” says Theresa McLeod-Treadwell, program services director. “We want to see every woman connected to the supports she needs to find and keep permanent housing.”

    Since opening at the end of 2015, Belinda’s Place has helped close to 300 women find housing—well over 50 per cent of those who have needed emergency shelter.

    Hidden Homelessness

    In 2008, the York Region Alliance to End Homelessness began a documentary project, handing out cameras to people who identified as being homeless or at risk. The result was a visual exhibit called Hidden in Plain Sight: Living Homeless in York Region. The photos revealed that homelessness is not just an urban problem.

    “It also exposed hidden homelessness,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “Some people don’t show up in statistics because they are couch surfing—staying with others temporarily. Or they may have to trade sex for a place to sleep at night. It’s a precarious position.” The only shelters for women in the region were for those fleeing violence.

    When the community approached Belinda Stronach, a well-known businesswoman and philanthropist, she agreed to form a foundation and raise funds for a women’s shelter. The first clients arrived at Belinda’s Place in November 2015.

    “We knew the shelter system just wasn’t working—it was more warehousing than anything,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “With Belinda’s Place, we  had the opportunity to do things differently. We created a program plan that the region not only approved, but they asked us to share it with all the other service providers. It’s now the standard in this region.”


    Along with 28 single-occupancy rooms in the emergency shelter, there are nine self-contained transitional housing units, where women can stay
    Photo of EvelynEvelyn now lives in second-stage housing in the community, one of the ways Belinda’s Place is “thinking outside the box”
    for up to a year while they work on their goals.

    “It’s designed as an employment program,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “Whether they’re going to school, getting trades training, or going from no work to part-time work, or part-time to full-time work—they should have a higher earning capacity by the end.”

    A shelter was the last place Evelyn thought she’d end up. “I’ve always supported myself. I had my own business for 22 years,” she says. When circumstances changed, she found herself at Belinda’s Place. “I feared it—I pictured a big room of beds, people stealing. But it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

    After spending some time in the shelter, Evelyn moved into a transition unit, where she lived for 10 months. “My case worker saw what I was made of and encouraged me. She got me involved in workshops and introduced me to services I didn’t even know existed,” she says. “I’m in the driver’s seat now. And I wouldn’t have known about any of it if I hadn’t walked through the front door.”

    Evelyn is now sharing a home with two other women in second-stage housing—one of the ways that Belinda’s Place is doing things differently.

    Second-Stage Housing

    York Region is an affluent area, and affordable housing is hard to come by. “For the women we work with, a one-bedroom apartment is just not within the realm of possibility,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “At $700, even renting a room in someone’s house is out of range.”

    Subsidized housing has a 10-year wait list. And although there are two Housing First programs in the region, they are limited to those with high needs around mental health and addiction.

    “We knew we had to think outside the box, to be innovative,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “We partner with landlords in the community—especially those with three-bedroom homes, to keep costs down—who want to work with our clients, to help them have a better life.”

    Belinda’s Place then matches women together to share a home, and stays in touch to provide practical support for the next year.

    “We make sure there are roommate agreements in place. We talk about how to distribute housework equitably. We facilitate mediation, if necessary,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “We help people learn how to be a good roommate, a good tenant, a good neighbour.” Slowly, they introduce women to other community supports and services.

    At the same time, they maintain a relationship with the landlord. “We make sure we’re there for them, too,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “They need to know they have someone they can trust—someone they can call if they have a concern.”

    Of those they follow in the community through the after-care program, the housing retention rate is 85 per cent.

    “It’s not that people didn’t see the need for this before, but we never had the funding,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “With Belinda’s Place, we pitched it from the beginning—that when people moved into the community, we wanted to walk alongside them for a year, to make sure they were stabilized.

    “And what we’re experiencing is that it works. This model really works.”


    Along with providing emergency shelter, transitional housing and after care, Belinda’s Place also offers a drop-in program seven days a week.

    “Everything we do as staff has to relate to housing, but homelessness is a large issue,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “We recognize that we can’t do this work alone—it takes a community. So we partner with other agencies and provide space for them to deliver services.”

    As a community hub, close to 50 programs run at Belinda’s Place, from a tax clinic once a year to daily resource development workshops, from medical services to addiction and mental health resources. The number of women receiving support through the drop-in program has been steadily growing. “We’re trying to get the word out, so women know they can come to us before it becomes an emergency,” says McLeod-Treadwell. “If they know their housing is in jeopardy, then we can try to prevent an eviction, or get them rapidly rehoused.”

    In 2018, Belinda’s Place was able to prevent 200 evictions. “I don’t see a future where we won’t need emergency housing, because there are situations you can never predict,” says McLeodTreadwell. “But it shouldn’t be the first step. We want the bulk of our work to be in the community, preventing homelessness.”

    Building Bridges

    As the chaplain at Belinda’s Place, Captain Sandra Ross is intentional about building bridges with the nearest corps, The Salvation Army’s Northridge Community Church in Aurora, Ont.

    “That’s always my main goal, to connect people to the church,” Captain Ross says. Every Sunday, she takes women with her, and some have started to go on their own. She also takes them to special events, a seniors’ group and the Alpha course. “The church is so welcoming—they always come over to chat and encourage them.”

    Last September, Captain Ross took 25 women to a retreat at Fair Havens Conference and Retreat Centre in Beaverton, Ont. The theme of the retreat was Guard Your Heart.

    Photo of Jaime
    Jaime has found community at Belinda’s Place
    “At the end of the weekend, they were given a little lock and key,” says Captain Ross. “Seven women threw their key into a little bowl at the front, to symbolize that they were locking their heart for Christ.” Twelve women took Bibles provided by Northridge.

    When they got back, Captain Ross began meeting with the women, using a Salvation Army discipleship resource.

    “The main message I try to get across to those who come to me is that they’re never alone,” says Captain Ross. “We’re here for them, but God is always there for them. I want them to understand that they are a child of God, and he loves them.”

    A Good Place

    When Jaime moved from New Brunswick to Ontario, he didn’t know anyone. He had trouble finding a place to live, and was struggling with his mental health. After staying at Belinda’s Place a few times, he moved into second-stage housing, and then out on his own.

    Last year, Jaime came out as transgender. He was worried about how the staff would respond, but “they treated me the same,” he says. “They’re very caring.”

    Even though he now has stable housing, he still comes to Belinda’s Place as a drop-in client.

    “Being from the East Coast, I don’t have anybody here. So this is kind of like my little family,” Jaime says. “To be honest, if it wasn’t for Belinda’s Place, and all the help they’ve given me, I wouldn’t be in a very good place.”

    It Can Happen to Anyone

    I grew up in Detroit. My family was abusive. I left home at 17 and couch surfed, until the mom of one of my friends took me in. It was still a couch, but at least it was somewhere to lay my head.

    We lived in the projects. She was very poor, but she relied on God for everything. I used to think, You’re nuts! But every single time, no matter what it was she needed, it always came.

    Her patience and love were never-ending, and she never lost faith in people. She was a pivotal person in my life. Something ignited—I knew I wanted to help people, to serve.

    I joined the U.S. Army to get out of Detroit, and to get the money for college. I have family in Canada, so I came here to study. In my last year of university, I started working for a Violence Against Women shelter. I moved to The Salvation Army in 2007.

    I’ve never seen outcomes like this, in any other organization. There’s something different when you have faith, when you can be a vessel for God to work through.

    As I work with women, I have only one prayer—I don’t know what God’s plan is for you, but I do know that it’s perfect. I know you’re exactly where you need to be, no matter what’s happening. It might be really sad and hard right now, but you’re in front of me for a reason. And I ask God to speak through me.

    Seeing women move forward in their lives, seeing the changes that happen, is just so beautiful. It’s like a garden. And we have the Miracle-Gro!

    There is so much suffering, but if you focus on the suffering, that’s all you’ll see. So we have to celebrate the successes, wherever we find them. I’m always talking about outcomes, so that people remember that what we do is making a difference.

    I know that it can happen to anyone. You have no idea what a person’s going through, has lived through. You have no idea how much suffering or pain they’re in.

    Even though they can’t see them yet, my job is to help them see other options.

    –Theresa McLeod-Treadwell

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