The St. Joe's Women's Centre, a City of Ottawa-funded day shelter program has reached an important milestone, having served economically disadvantaged women and their children for the past three decades. While the demographics of the Women's Centre have changed over the years — with a larger number of refugee and new immigrants now using the facility than before — the need to reach out to the urban poor and socially marginalized in the nation's capital city, as well as address the growing issue of human trafficking, remains as pressing as ever. (1)
A Non-Judgemental Outreach Service Aimed at Empowering Women
Established in 1984, the St. Joe's Women's Centre reaches out to both homeless women, as well as to those at risk of losing their home, or who must leave their partner or family due to physical or emotional abuse. (2) The municipally-funded Centre offers women clothing programs, laundry and shower facilities, a free breakfast and a complimentary hot lunch five days a week, as well as access to an emergency grocery pantry, in order to address issues of hunger, especially among mothers with young children. (3) Childhood hunger is a much larger problem in Canada than many would realize. According to 2013 statistics compiled by Food Banks Canada, nearly 834,000 people in Canada rely on food banks and half of all clients are either single mothers or single parents with children. (4) Additionally, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of Canada has researched Canadian food insecurity and has discovered that 35% of all single mothers struggle with food shortages and in nearly 6% of these households, children may experience a full day without any meal. (5)
While Ottawa is sometimes seen as an affluent city, due to the large number of federal civil service jobs, as well as the presence of foreign missions, poverty statistics, especially among women, tell a different story. According to the Social Planning Council, 40% of single parent families live in poverty in the nation's capital, most of which are female-led. (6)
Women, Poverty and Health Care
One out of five women in Canada live in poverty and this socio-economic vulnerability has been shown to have a profoundly negative impact on one's health. This is why Canadian shelter and day programs, such as the St. Joe's Women's Centre, have nurses available on-site to help address some of these health issues among the women and children being served and this is also why key preventative services, such as flu shots, are available during critical periods of the year. In Canada over 50% of women over 65 years of age and half of all single mothers live below the poverty line. (7) Equally troubling is the fact that 27% of women living with disabilities are poor, while 43% of First Nations women were also living significantly below the poverty line. In almost every demographic, poverty levels among women are higher than than those for men. Poverty-stricken women have less access to pre-natal health care, putting them and their children at risk before and during childbirth. Poverty among women is also closely linked to higher rates of untreated sexually transmitted infections, as a recent study focusing on Canada's Inuit populations has demonstrated. (8) When sexual transmitted diseases, especially HIV, remain untreated, patients have a far small chance of a full recovery. (9) Economically disadvantaged women, especially Aboriginals, have among the highest rates of HIV infection in Canada, with 29% of all new infections reported in this population group. (10)
What has become clear is that there remains a profound need for social solidarity programs, such as those offered through the St. Joe's Women's Centre. The poverty gap between women and men still exists and one of the most effective ways to empower women on the margins of society is to provide them with a non-judgmental environment and community.
1. "Address the Greatest Needs," Canadian Women's Foundation, Accessed on: June 30th, 2014.
2. St. Joe's Mission Statement, St. Joe's Women's Centre, Accessed on July 5th, 2014.
3. Services and Programs, St. Joe's Women's Centre, Accessed on July 5th, 2014.
4. "The Hunger Count – A Comprehensive Report on Food and Hunger in Canada", Food Banks Canada, Accessed on: July 5th, 2014.
5. "Food Insecurity, Poverty and Hunger in Canada," UFCW Canada, Accessed on: July 5th, 2014.
6. "Poverty Profile of the City of Ottawa, Social Planning Council of Ottawa", Accessed on: July 5th, 2014.
7. "Income and Women's Health," Canadian Women's Health Network, Accessed on: June 30th, 2014.
8. "Determinants of sexually transmitted infections among Canadian Inuit adolescent populations," U.S. National Library of Medicine, Accessed on: June 30th, 2014.
9. "Coping with HIV Diagnosis," STD Testing, Accessed on: June 30th, 2014.
10. HIV/AIDS Update, Public Health Canada, Accessed on: June 30th, 2014.