What Does it Mean to Center Survivors?: Trauma Informed Care Means Redesigning Space, Reimagining Services


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North York Women’s Shelter (NYWS) has been offering anti-violence support to individuals experiencing gender-based violence in the GTA since 1984. We provide shelter and programming for women, trans, and non-binary individuals who live under the threat of violence, including their children and their pets. In March 2020, we opened our new, secure, fully accessible 24,000 square foot complex consisting of two distinct but linked buildings: an emergency shelter space and the Anne Marie D’Amico Community Collective. Since opening and transforming our physical space and as we evolve as an organization, we have transformed how we think about our work and challenged ourselves to evolve in how we deliver services.

This new space allowed us to increase our shelter capacity by 33 percent and increase services, including Food Justice and Food Security program, Expressive Arts Therapy, Trauma Counselling services, and our kennel for pets. Due to the pandemic, our vision for the Anne Marie D’Amico Community Collective had to be adapted. The Community Collective was home to counselling sessions, onsite schooling during the pandemic, a site for vaccination clinics, children’s programming, and a necessary wellness space in the form of the gym and meditation space. It is also the home of our primary health clinic, Black Creek Community Health Centre, our partner and primary health care and vaccine education provider for residents.

We look forward to providing wrap-around services to individuals within the North York Community who are experiencing violence.

There has been a longstanding pattern of failure to understand the intersectionality of violence affecting women. This failure has not only affected funding structures and programming of organizations created to help these individuals, but has also perpetuated harm. Larger still, the non-profit sector as a whole was founded on oppressive structures of racism, colonialism, and exploitation. Here at NYWS, we continue to acknowledge this harm and are always looking for ways to address and reduce it.

Learning from our history, we have adopted Trauma-Informed principles rooted in Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression. We want to build relationships of trust with residents and participants, where we honour and respect their voices and choices. We understand that individuals who use our services have different needs based on their lived experience and that it is our job to do our best to meet them where they are. This means that, at our core, we operate with trauma awareness, safety, and harm reduction. NYWS recognizes the link between violence, trauma, mental health, and substance use and is committed to supporting survivors. Our central role in this healing process for our clients is to maintain dignity, privacy, and provide an environment conducive to healing.

Our new space requires more staff to keep up with the increased demand and more expertise to ensure that we remain rooted in our values. Since opening, we have expanded our staffing by 40 percent. We rely on financial support for our core mission funding, including staffing, building expenses and administrative costs. These costs are sometimes mistaken as not contributing directly to the fight against gender-based violence—but how do we fight gender-based violence without trained staff, without resources, without operating costs? As we fight gender-based violence every day, we want to ask you to rethink what shelter work means and, more importantly, what it means to support a shelter.

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NYWS provides a 17 bedrooms emergency shelter with the capacity to house up to 40 women and their children, plus – a first in the Toronto area – a kennel for their pets!


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