Imagine trying to find a safe place to sleep during the cold nights in Calgary when the temperature dips down so low you feel the chill spreading through your bones. Your gloves are full of holes. The people who pass by ignore you.

All you want is a warm place to sleep so you do not freeze. You hope that shelters aren’t full and you’ll have a mat or cot to sleep on. Your worst fear is “sleeping rough” – sleeping in an alleyway or c-train station or parkade – where you are in danger.

Your passions, goals and dreams have been reduced to immediate survival.

This is a reality each night for many of the women who come to the doors of the YWCA Winter Emergency Response (WER) program, a temporary program offered in a portion of our former gymnasium. The WER program first opened in 2012, in collaboration with the Calgary Homeless Foundation, to offer homeless women a warm, safe place to sleep during the coldest months of the year when shelters are at capacity.

Moving homeless women from vulnerability to resilience

“When I arrived at the YWCA, I was at my absolute bottom,” said Coreen*, a WER program client who has since transitioned into supportive housing. “At the time, I had been living between the streets and the Drop-In Centre.”

“When I came to the YWCA I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. The accommodations were clean. Each lady had their own personal space with clean linen, including a pillow. There were hot showers and healthy food was provided. The staff would listen to me for as long as I needed them to, no matter how long it took.”

Coreen is one of those lucky enough to find a space in the YWCA’s transitional housing facility. She now receives the support and case management she needs in order to move from a place of vulnerability to one of resilience.

“As I struggle everyday to overcome my challenges, I know I have a wonderful community of women to help in any way necessary,” Coreen said. “There are really no places for women during winter months like this one.”

*Name has been changed

WER program statistics

From November 12, 2013 to January 31, 2014, the WER program provided:

  • 2,929 bed nights for women
  • Supported 398 unique women
  • One woman stayed 75 nights
  • 65 women stayed two nights
  • 10 women accessing the WER program have been able to find more consistent housing and counselling support at the YWCA Mary Dover House transitional housing program

This year, we served more homeless women in the first 3 months of the program than we did in the full 6 months of the WER program in the winter of 2012/2013.

There is a desperate need in the community not only for shelter for homeless women, but also access to supports – whether it’s supportive housing, language training or counselling – to help women break through isolation and enable them to reconnect to the community. By removing barriers that keep women struggling, we can provide hope-filled opportunities that bring safer futures.