Catherine always described herself as a “self-supporting” woman; she worked full-time for over 40 years. After a series of difficult circumstances, Catherine experienced homelessness for the first time as a senior. “I was scared. I had nobody. I had no job. I was losing my apartment. I couldn’t afford to eat. It was a very scary thing for me. So, of course this leads to depression and a breakdown.”
Her struggle with the resulting depression from losing her home and her income stability led Catherine to shut down and spiral inward. “I might have been embarrassed to ask for something in the beginning because I was the giver, I was the person that people came to and then to have to be on the other side of that it’s very difficult to learn to ask for help.”
Catherine also had a limited support system. Since she was independent she had lived alone for quite some time. Single women in Alberta are particularly vulnerable. While 1 in 12 women aged 18-64 experience poverty, women who live alone are three times more likely to do so: 1 in 4 women aged 18-64 lived in poverty in 2017 (compared to 1 in 5 single men in that age group) (Source: https://www.womenscentrecalgary.org/fast-facts/).
The challenge for Catherine was to first discover and locate resources available to her, and then to apply, or inquire about her eligibility. Of her experience with this process she says, “When I had my mental breakdown, I couldn’t look you in the eye, or look at you without completely breaking down. I certainly could not make a phone call to an agency and ask them if I qualified for this or that. That was way beyond my capacity. What happens to all the people who’ve not got the mental-health capacity or the physical capacity to do this? This is not an easy thing. Dealing with [certain agencies] is not an easy thing, and when I look at what I went through, and how I got through it, I cannot imagine somebody with some restricted capacities trying to navigate these systems.”
She moved into a shelter, and started to build community with the women there and soon discovered the Women’s Centre was a valuable resource available to her. “[O]nce I found out that this program offers this, and this program offers this, and I can go here if I’m lonely and just go down and sit and have a coffee and talk to a few girls, this is the kind of thing that there’s no stress involved. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to ‘meet qualifications’ and the Women’s Centre doesn’t have that. I think that’s a better thing and people have less anxiety over coming in here and once we’re in here and get introduced to different programs that the Centre offers and things we can participate in like talks or an art night or whatever, if it’s a walk for women’s rights, you get a feeling of belonging.”
Because of her experience, Catherine has chosen to help connect other women to resources in the community and hopes her story will help others to feel they are not alone. “Being able to ask the right people or go to the right place to ask your questions where you’re not going to be put down and it’s not going to be a problem for you to ask and even if they don’t have the answer they have the capability of re-directing you to maybe a place that could answer your question. But those are the kinds of things that a place like the Women’s Centre offers. Coming in the door there’s no judgement. There’s no reason to be embarrassed, although sometimes we’re embarrassed until we’re more comfortable. It doesn’t take long to walk into a place like this and immediately see the gamut of women in different positions and to have the non-judgemental attitude prevailing.”
The Women’s Centre operates on a Community Capacity Building Peer Model, which encourages a woman to get support and give back as she is able. This allows her opportunities to feel valued and to maintain the sense of dignity and belonging that Catherine speaks about. The Women’s Centre also works to decrease barriers for women who visit us as we operate on a walk-in basis. We do not have an intake process and women are not required to make appointments. We do not ask for identification unless another agency referral requires it. We are open to every woman, regardless of her situation: any woman, any age, any question.
Of her progress over the last few years and support from the Women’s Centre community, Catherine says, “It’s just so inclusive that you can get over some of those fears. I can get it together to go down to the Women’s Centre once a month and pretend I’ve got it together and be encouraging of the other girls. This is where I see that I am improving because I am able to build those days up [and stay longer at the Centre].”
Catherine’s story is just one of many similar situations impacting Calgary women. But these narratives can improve through the generosity of our community. We offer a variety of ways in which you can support women like Catherine; such as monetary donations, gifts in-kind, or volunteering at and for the Centre. For full details on how you can give back to women in Calgary please visit our online donation page: https://www.womenscentrecalgary.org/top-ways-to-donate/
On her outlook for the future Catherine says, “Things are just becoming more clear. I have so much gratitude.”