BY MARK LORENTZ
It looks like Christmas
morning; decorations, presents and a turkey in the oven. Yet for 10 young mothers with their newborn children, weighing heavily on their mind is the fact they are in a homeless shelter. They realize that “looks” and “feels” are two completely different things.
Marillac Place, located within walking distance of Kitchener City Hall, opened its doors in 1987 as a safe haven for women looking to escape abusive relationships. In 1992, there was a shift in direction. Instead of catering to women from abusive relationships, they began focusing on pregnant or young mothers. Today Marillac Place has 10 private bedrooms for both newborn baby and mother, with shared living quarters.
“I just remember thinking –she’s homeless? I mean, you just assume that someone would be looking after a pregnant woman. Sadly that isn’t always the case,” said Julie Hause, business manager at Marillac Place.
At any given time the shelter can hold up to 10 women and 11 infants. They can stay for a year, or until the baby is two years old. For liability and safety reasons Marillac Place cannot house toddlers.
Women come to the shelter for various reasons, from court orders to having no other place to stay while pregnant. Regardless of religious affiliation, culture or background no women is rejected provided rooms are available and they are 16 to 25 years of age.
“As soon as the mom comes in, our first priority is to get them on the housing list,” said Karen Gilmet, residential director of Marillac Place.
When asked about what makes a woman succeed there, and what makes her job rewarding Gilmet said, “Success for me is different for everyone; a mom comes in who struggles with addiction, and her first week here she’s completely clean, that’s a success, compared to a mom who comes in, completes high school and goes on to post-secondary. Success to me is so broad.”
There are approximately 2,700 affordable rental units in Waterloo Region, with most of those already having tenants in them.
There is at minimum a two-year waiting list to get into one of those units, something Gilmet said is “grossly long.”
It’s hard to imagine living in a homeless shelter, even more so during the holiday season. Some of the women do have family they visit during that time, for others the staff at Marillac Place try and make it as festive as possible.
“It’s focused on what they want to do for the holidays. We present them with the ideas that have worked in the past; letters to Santa, decorating a tree and kind of go from there,” Gilmet said. She added over the years she has even adopted some of the women’s traditions into her own home. “They go out to the mall with their babies, taking them to see Santa for the first time, and they come back and just want to spend 10 minutes talking about it,” Hause said.
During the holidays, people and businesses from around the community come together and donate toys, food and other supplies for the shelter, babies and mothers. Some families even go so far as to get specifics for each woman staying at the shelter, finding out her clothing size and personal wish list.
Marillac Place accepts donations of money and gently used goods. The only item which they cannot accept is used baby seats because of safety concerns.
There is a basic needs list provided on their website, from diapers to bus passes.
Their biggest fundraiser of the year starts on Mother’s Day, and is known as the “baby bottle campaign.” It involves collecting loose change and filling a baby bottle with it. Volunteers will then collect and count the spare change when the fundraiser ends on Father’s Day. This past year, Marilllac Place raised almost $60,000.
To find out how you can make a donation or volunteer, go to www.marillacplace.ca or phone 519-571-0722.