North York Women's shelter is now closed until 2019 in order to build a new, innovative, facility for service delivery, programming, and offices to support women and children in the community. While this closure has unfortunate consequences as staff were laid off, the closure and rebuild are necessary steps in providing better services to women and children who've faced violence.
As a recent resident of NYWS, I want to share my experience. My husband's relationship and mine had been in turmoil for quite some time. For years I endured abuse but I had the misguided notion that I needed to stick around, especially for the sake of my daughter. Finally, I hit my breaking point when my husband threatened to take my daughter away from me.
I packed my bags, took everything to the Barbra Schlifer office and asked the social worker there to help me find a shelter. This is how I ended up at North York Women's Shelter. While I was relieved to finally have a safe place to stay, I had reservations when I was told I had to share my room with a stranger. At the time, I was pregnant and had very little clue what a shelter was. When you don't have anybody to support you or clarify misconceptions, it's really difficult. I was crying, I was begging, I was worried I wouldn't be able to sleep at all because I had to protect my child.
I came with nothing, and by the time the place closed down it was my home.
However, once I arrived, I was almost instantly comforted. I'm so happy I took this step. The shelter was my support system that allowed me to grow and be independent again. The shelter helped me establish goals and introduced me to various resources. And, most importantly, I finally had the reassurance that nobody would take away my children.
Hearing about the shelter closure, I was sad at first. I still frequently stopped by and this place meant so much for me. Over the months that I stayed there I had grown as a person. After arriving as a complete wreck, I picked up the pieces and I haven't felt this happy in a long time. I was smiling, I was laughing and my daughter was happy there, too. Both of us found friends and, most importantly, people who cared about us. I came with nothing, and by the time the place closed down it was my home.
While I felt bad about it, the truth is that the shelter was very run down. It was inaccessible, old, crowded and it needed some obvious attention. So I feel happy knowing that when it is re-built both the shelter and its services will be better for all the residents. I heard it is designed to be seven times its former size and specifically with accessibility and survivors of trauma in mind.
During the shelter shutdown, although there are no residential services, North York Women's Shelter continues to work with and offer services to former residents and other women in North York. I hope the public continues to support the shelter and its future by donating, volunteering or attending the Shine Charity Gala.
I'm so thankful for the path I'm on now and am hopeful for a continuously improving life for myself and my kids. I have many dreams for the future, but am taking it one step at a time. Within a year's time I should have status in Canada and a work permit, so I can work and contribute to society, repaying for the help I received.
In the words of Lau Tzu, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
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