The International Women’s Day event in Yorkton gave a chance for the community to have a vital conversation. Hosted in partnership between SIGN Housing Support Program, Shelwin House and Canadian Federation of University of Women Yorkton Branch, the event brought out the community to talk about issues surrounding women in Yorkton, with a focus on homelessness and how it affects women and families.
Melissa Coomber-Bendsten, CEO of YWCA Regina, was the guest speaker at the event, with her talk focused on homelessness in Saskatchewan, and what communities need to do in order to respond.
“I think that one of the really important to recognize is that homelessness is not only a big city issue. It affect everyone and anyone, as it is a by-product of poverty, a by-product of violence, and for women, specifically... Saskatchewan has the highest rate of intimate partner violence of all the provinces, it’s double the national average. So when a woman flees a violent situation she becomes homeless. I think that we need to look at housing and homelessness different from a man living on the street in Toronto.”
The dangers of becoming homeless might also put women in dangerous situations.
“Sometimes women make decisions to stay with a partner because of the precarious nature of being homeless. That is when I fear the safety of women the most. Rural Saskatchewan has higher rates of domestic homicide than in big urban centres. The isolation around violence, the isolation often poverty, often lends itself to being in more dangerous situations or having to stay in more dangerous situations for yourself or your children,” said Coomber-Bendsten.
In speaking to the crowd in Yorkton, Coomber-Bendsten’s goal is to raise awareness, and she believes that it’s awareness that is going to allow people to find solutions.
“With awareness comes a charge to do something. I think that the solution around homelessness is around building community. If the community doesn’t understand that it exists, or acknowledge that it exists, it is pretty hard to be engaged in supporting folks or removing some of the barriers that exist.”
Some barriers are things that not everyone would think about.
“It’s international women’s day, there have been lots of conversations around the cost of menstrual hygiene products. So looking at how difficult is it for a woman, deciding between buying menstrual hygiene products for herself or food for her children. As a society, as a community, we can start making changes and making it easier for women to navigate and bring them out of poverty.”
Coomber-Bendsten is impressed with Yorkton, the strong community organizations in the city and how they work together on issues. She believes that the community can support people who encounter barriers, whether it’s dealing with the cost of housing, or helping people get new ID if they have lost everything, something that can be a challenge.
“It takes an entire community to do that kind of work.”