From the Inside Out: A unified voice [poverty/abuse]

TheBarrieExaminer.com – article
Published Saturday, February 12, 2011.    By Lynda Muir, Special To The Examiner

The following is part of a profile series the Examiner is running regarding those who are linked to the David Busby Street Centre in Barrie.

I ‘m the executive director of the Women & Children’s Shelter of Barrie, a position I’ve held since 2008.

Our agency provides emergency shelter, counselling, advocacy, referrals, and information about gender-based violence to abused women and their children.

The agency has been a part of the social service community in Barrie for 30 years. Although I’m rather new to the shelter, I have worked in the violence against women sector for more than 12 years.

Violence against women is intimately linked to poverty.

In fact, systemic abuse is pervasive and a reality for many of our citizens, particularly if they are children or teens, seniors, people of colour, women, or not part of the dominant class.

The common denominator is often poverty and a lack of access to resources. Our agency works exclusively with women and children, but poverty is not selective.

How many of us can say that, if we lost our job, or had to take a leave because of health concerns, we would be able to survive as comfortably as we do without any financial worries? How many of us who are close to retirement are not apprehensive about what our future will be like once we are on a fixed income? How many of us are looking for work and finding the job market restrictive with few opportunities? Most of us are a paycheque or two away from poverty.

I have found that the issues women bring to the shelter have changed over the last 10-15 years.

They continue to be faced with reduced finances, lack of housing and fear of homelessness, lengthy and complicated court cases, and ongoing abuse from their partners or their partner’s friends and family.

However, they also may have substance use and mental health issues they are dealing with, either for themselves or their children.

We see more children with autism or autism spectrum disorders and serious behavioural issues. Although this may be a reflection of our society and impact a variety of people across the spectrum, traumatized women and children are more vulnerable and marginalized as a consequence of the abuse and violence they have experienced.

So, what do we and the Busby Center have in common? We both serve vulnerable and at-risk populations.

We both provide services and assist our clients with similar concerns, like social assistance, housing, food, counselling, and referrals to other community services.

Like the David Busby Street Centre, we are committed to and passionate about ensuring that the most marginalized members of our community are supported and have a voice. The poor and disenfranchised are not political heavyweights, so we need to strive to have their concerns, needs, and wishes brought before those in our community who can make a difference.

We cross-refer, which means that we refer our clients to their centre as needed and they do the same. Without the Busby Center, many of Barrie’s citizens would be without an essential and vital resource.

I belong to a committee, the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, which is comprised of a number of agencies, including the Busby Centre, who works with the homeless or those vulnerable to or at risk of homelessness.

We hosted an event at City Hall to roll out the committee’s 2009 Report Card on Homelessness.

Agencies collaborated to provide a hot lunch to those who attended, many of whom were homeless. I was ‘working’ dispensing hot food next to Paul King, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Simcoe County. At a bit of a break in the line, she leaned over to me and remarked about how polite everyone was.

That comment has stayed with me and surfaces when I hear complaints about how self-involved, rude, and ungracious people, particularly young people, are today.

Not everyone, I think, not everyone. Does poverty and need make us more grateful and appreciative or does affluence and excess lead us to think we’re more privileged and entitled?

I don’t have an answer, but I believe that working with people who face multiple societal barriers keeps me in check and unwilling to perceive myself as better than or more entitled to the rewards of society than anyone else.

The Busby Centre and the shelter are but two of the many agencies that provide essential services to those in our community who are vulnerable and marginalized as a result of poverty and abuse.

We are a unified voice that keeps the issues of poverty, homelessness and abuse on the political agenda.

We are committed to making a difference and strengthening social supports, as well as creating and sustaining lasting positive change in our community. We are vital members of the Barrie community.

Lynda Muir is the executive director of the Women & Children’s Shelter of Barrie.

For more information about the David Busby Street Centre, visit www.busbycentre.ca, or call 705-739-6916.

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