"For marginalized women, finding stable housing is always hard," says Susan Keeping, regional manager of Housing First with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver (EFry). "With so few vacancies in the Lower Mainland, it’s even harder because landlords have so many applicants they usually don’t choose to rent to people who have struggled with homelessness."
Through a program called A Key of Her Own, EFry helps women who have been homeless for more than six months or who are repeat shelter users, to access housing. Part of a federal government initiative called Housing First, the program also supports women in becoming successful long term tenants and connecting to local community supports.
The program is making a significant difference in the lives of women struggling with homelessness.
“I would have been lost without this support,” one woman writes on her program evaluation form. “I now feel stable both in my housing and emotionally. It has improved my life dramatically. I now have hope that I can obtain my goals.”
A significant portion of A Key of Her Own clients are seniors or mothers with young children. The first step in supporting vulnerable women is getting to know them.
"During our intake process, we ask questions to prompt each woman to tell her story," says Susan. "When women have been traumatized, they have a hard time with trust so they might not openly say, “I have health issues” but based on their answers, we can usually figure out what struggles they’re facing.”
"A Key of Her Own is more than just finding a woman a place to live,” says Susan. “We provide ongoing support for up to two years that greatly improves a women’s ability to deal with common barriers such as hoarding, mental health issues, physical issues or addiction.
"For example, we have clients who, without help, wouldn't remember to pay their rent on time and find themselves being evicted as a result. We meet with women on an ongoing basis, once a week, twice a week, whenever they need support in their community or in their home. By doing this we can help deal with the issues as they come up rather than after they have become a crisis.”
Most women connect with A Key of Her Own through referrals from community agencies, EFry drop-in centres or EFry’s shelters.
“It is very rewarding speaking to women who now have a home of their own and a life they are proud of,” says Susan.