Diane was a widower, had lost both her parents and was estranged from her daughter and extended family members. She had a house that required too much upkeep, and a small circle of friends who were difficult to keep in touch with. She started to feel down, depressed, and lonely. That’s when someone from her church asked her if she had heard about Willow’s Place, and suggested she go.
She decided to come and see what Willow’s Place was. “I wish I had learned about it years ago!” she said. Women from all walks of life come to Willow’s Place. When asked what her first thoughts were, Diane said “It was very different for me, getting used to all the different people that come here. But I see the other side of it now. We’re all human beings, everyone has their own “glitch”, but everyone deserves help and love. They are all good, strong, good-willed people.”
Diane’s sentiment reflects the heart of Willow’s Place. The name “Willow’s Place” was chosen by the first women who came to the drop-in. It refers to the qualities of the willow tree that make it one of the strongest and most resilient trees. Its branches can bend the farthest of any tree without breaking. It serves as a metaphor for women who may have experienced oppression, violence, isolation, and discrimination yet remain strong and continue to grow and thrive.
Diane has been coming to Willow’s Place for two years, and feels at home when she’s in the space. “My feet just seem to know where they’re going every day,” she laughed. “I love to come here instead of staying at home. The people here are family like I’ve never had. Everyone is friends with everyone, we all get along well. They take me the way I am, and I really can be myself here because Willow’s is my family.” Diane’s daughter also comes to Willow’s Place. They have been able to reconnect with one another, and spend time together at the drop-in.
While talking to Diane, it was clear how much Willow’s Place means to her. The relationships she has with everyone are truly special. Even when she’s home, she cherishes the bonds she has, and they comfort her. “I’m not a good sleeper. I have a lot of fears….When I can’t sleep, I turn on the radio to CHML, and I’ll hear Sue’s (Willow’s Place volunteer) voice during the Mission Services of Hamilton ad. It is comforting when I get nervous or scared at night. I feel like she’s with me.”
“It is a place to keep grounded and sane,” she responded when asked what family, and Willow’s Place, means to her. “If I have a bad day, I come here and feel better. I hope this program is around for a long time – it is needed…Willow’s Place is my family. If I lost them, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
Willow’s Place is the only women-exclusive safe drop-in with the services we offer in Hamilton. It is also the only community that some women who are otherwise socially-isolated have. Many of the women, we believe, echo Diane’s statement: “Surviving is [what I do] here. I do everything here, except sleeping overnight.”
Diane’s story is touching, and full of hope. However, the majority of women who access Willow’s are in significant crisis – facing homelessness, abuse, and hopelessness.
Willow’s Place offers hope to these women in addition to critical supports and services. All women are welcome to come eat breakfast and lunch – which may be their only meals of the day, sleep safely with a roof over their head during the day, and access shower and laundry facilities to stay healthy. For many, it is the only safe space they have. Staff and volunteers focus a lot of energy to referring women to other community services so they can receive the mental, emotional, and physical support they need.
It offers a start, but in Hamilton we have much more to do. Even with the identified need, and increased community supports, critical gaps remain in women’s homelessness support systems. In addition to more emergency beds, we need longer-term solutions, such as homelessness prevention programs, and increased supports and services for women who are homeless or precariously-housed.
Most of all, we need you.