These stories (from staff and a client at the Young Mothers Transition House) are part of the Good Neighbour series where we share the stories of individuals and agencies who are impacted by homelessness. The individuals at risk of homelessness, the souls who have experienced homelessness and are seeking a way forward, and those who are the “hidden homeless.”
No one chooses to be homeless. No one hopes to find themselves living on the edge – wondering if they can afford food or rent, searching for a safe place to sleep at night, finding somewhere to settle.
Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a story. Everyone matters.
At the Tillicum LeLum Young Mothers Transition House, success is a family reunited and a mother empowered to take care of herself and her children.
“Everybody who has moved through the house has gained a lot of skills; they’ve made a lot of accomplishments,” says Breeze, a coordinator with the program. Her colleague, Darlene, agrees: “And, I would say a high rate of our moms do get their kids returned to them because they are here.”
The location offers transitional housing for mothers 18-25 years old. While they are mostly Indigenous, the house is open to everyone in the community. Currently offering three rooms to accommodate three mothers and their children, the cozy house includes communal spaces for the families and staff to live together and bond.
In search of a home
As Breeze describes, “Lots of times when they move in, they are moving in so that they don’t lose guardianship of their children, or they want to have their children returned to their care but haven’t had stable housing. Usually, moms are coming to us from homelessness or overcrowded housing.”
Many of the young women are leaving abusive relationships, treatment centres, or other transition houses. Often, they’ve been “couch surfing” without the ability to care for themselves or their children. All are in need of a place to call their own, even if just for a while, so they can focus on raising their children and taking care of themselves.
Walking alongside clients
“We support the mothers with all activities of daily living: budgeting, cooking, grocery shopping, getting to appointments, parenting, housekeeping, doctor appointments, navigating the Ministry of Children & Family Development, you name it.”
With a hands-on, lead by example approach, staff become part of the mothers’ families. They play with the children to demonstrate positive parenting and show different ways to play with them and help regulate emotions. They help cook and clean, all while providing the mothers with a support network.
Where the staff at the house are unable to assist the mothers, they can connect them to a variety of resources and services, many offered by Tillicum Lelum. “They have wrap-around supports through Tillicum like a nurse practitioner, counsellors, and childcare,” says Breeze. Darlene adds, “They can also connect with their culture – there’s sweats on the property and Elders lunches that a lot of the moms take their kids to on Sundays.” It is this network of community that helps mothers move forwards.
When mothers are ready to move out of the transition house, they are still supported through outreach. Breeze mentions, “I think the outreach is really important. A lot of times our moms have said that they’re so glad that there’s someone who is there for them, and it’s not always family that they feel safe with.” Mothers are also invited to come back to the house to join their cooking and wellness group once a week.
Challenges along the road
The purpose of the program is to help mothers transition into independent housing with their children. Since the program started almost 10 years ago, the coordinators have seen different barriers and challenges.
“When I first started five years ago,” says Darlene, “the transition time was around 90 days, but we often had some moms find a place to live in 30 days. Now, it’s been three, four, five months.”
The change to transition times typically revolves around housing. From the increase in rental prices to simply not having enough rental stock, finding appropriate housing has been the biggest challenge. As Breeze states, “There’s just so much demand for the rentals there are that it just lowers the chances of our moms getting into rentals.”
While governments are implementing programs and funding to tackle the housing crisis, it will take time before it is resolved. In the meantime, young mothers do what they can to find suitable housing that allows them to keep and raise their children.
“We’ve had moms move all over the Island to find housing. One went to Port Alberni, another to Port Hardy, one even went to Vancouver. A lot that don’t really find anything have to move back in with their families or friends because there’s just no other option, and sometimes that environment might not be the best option for that mom and child,” says Breeze.
Despite the challenges, Young Mothers Transition House continues to provide a safe space for mothers to begin rebuilding their lives and developing the life skills to succeed down the road.
“I am a 21-year-old mother of a 2.5-year-old son, and an 8-month-old son. I was living in a small house with many relatives. There was a lot of drinking and fighting in the house, and many times, I was asked to leave with no notice.
My older son is already in foster care. Not having a safe environment for my baby and myself has put me at risk for being homeless and my baby at risk of going into foster care. I needed to be in safe housing where I had my own space, so my baby could stay with me, and I would get more visits with my eldest son.
I was able to move into Young Moms House in November 2022. I am very grateful for this opportunity to have a safe and supportive space. Since moving into Young Mom’s House, I have started to have more visits and overnights with my eldest son. Every two weeks my visits increase, and I should have a full return of my eldest by March. I feel supported with getting the return of my son, because Young Mom’s House helps me with healthy routines and parenting. I am learning to cook and look after my living space for my children and myself. I have been on the waitlist with BC housing for over two years.
My goal is to obtain Affordable Housing for my children and myself.”