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Harm Reduction and Housing

YWCA Crabtree Corner

Wendy Lund

Reprinted from "Women's" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (4), p. 41-42

YWCA Crabtree Corner is located in Vancouver at 533 East Hastings Street

I was hired in 2003 by the YWCA of Vancouver as the evening housing support worker for the new YWCA Crabtree/Sheway Housing program. This program offers temporary harm-reduction housing for women who are pregnant or who have children younger than 18 months for whom they may or may not have custody. In most cases, the women have been referred by staff at Sheway, a program offering support services to women who have issues with substance abuse (see p. 22).

YWCA Crabtree Corner Housing, located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, is also home to the relocated YWCA Crabtree Corner and Sheway programs. The women are able to take advantage of a continuum of services, all within the building in which they live. They can start with a nutritious breakfast downstairs at YWCA Crabtree Corner. After breakfast they can settle their children into Crabtree Corner Child Care Centre on the second floor. In addition to the warm and caring staff, the child care centre has a beautiful, safe, clean outdoor play area.

Residents then have access to a number of services that provide the support they need to make changes in their lives: the FAS/NAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/ Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) Prevention Project, Nobody’s Perfect parenting groups, the Community Kitchen, food and nutrition programs, primary health care services, counselling services, healthy child development programs and advocacy services.

The evenings are busy on the fourth and fifth floors of the building where the 12 housing units are located. That is where the housing support workers can be found. The residents seek us out for a variety of reasons. They may need help accessing information about community programs, pregnancy, parenting, education or employment. They may ask for help in writing a letter, filling out a form, or may want to talk about what their goals are, and what support they need to achieve them. They may have had a bad day and need to talk about it. They may feel ready to go to detox and will ask us if there are beds available. They may want to tell us what they are planning to cook for the next resident meal, or what items they are putting on the agenda for the next meeting. They may ask to borrow a video, and we may just sit down and watch it together. Or, maybe we will go for a walk and show them the nearby community garden they never knew existed. Maybe one of us will take one of these women, who may not have been treated with dignity and respect for a large part of her life, to a gala dinner, giving her an experience unlike any she’d had before.

As staff we have deliberated about how we should measure the success of our program. Not all of the women without custody who move in will be reunited with their children, and those who are not will be traumatized by it. This trauma will be compounded by all the other traumas they have experienced in their lives and will likely push them further into substance abuse and risk-taking activities. These women are anaesthetizing themselves to avoid feeling the pain of all the grief and loss they have suffered. The anticipation of confronting this pain and sadness makes stopping their drug use a major challenge. We are there to support them and to assure them they are making the best choices they can. We do not judge them for the choices they make.

Other women in our program will give birth and return home to Crabtree Corner from the hospital with their babies, and those children will remain in their care. Some mothers will come home from the hospital alone; they require more time and support before being reunited with their children.

When the women leave Crabtree Corner Housing services, our relationship with them does not necessarily end. We may not hear from them for some time, but some return, either to say hello to the staff or to access the services downstairs at Crabtree Corner or Sheway. This continued relationship is an indication that we have gained a woman’s trust. This is the most important thing we can achieve and is a large measure of the success of our program.

Watching each of these women with their children is a privilege. The joy and beauty in these mothers’ faces when they see their children touches my heart beyond belief. Hearing from women that living in this housing has made a difference in their lives and seeing them create homes that speak of dignity and self-respect for them and their children—this is the best measure of the success of our program.

 
About the Author

Wendy has been employed as a housing support worker with YWCA Crabtree Corner Housing

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