by Sue Garvey

Cornerstone Housing for Women is comprised of four unique women’s residences; an emergency shelter and three bustling, supportive housing communities. Cornerstone provides shelter for 62 women every night and safe, affordable, permanent housing for an additional 68 women. The organization has evolved to meet the emerging needs and aspirations of the women who choose to share their lives with it.

While we, at Cornerstone, firmly believe that there will always be a need for safe emergency shelters for women in crisis, we know that affordable housing with the right supports is the most important solution to chronic homelessness. We share the ambitious goal to end chronic homelessness in our city and are convinced that it is achievable in our lifetime. Here’s the formula for success that we want to demonstrate:

“Safe, affordable housing + the right supports+ innovative partnerships = end to chronic homelessness”.

Cornerstone is focused on creating a supportive and affordable housing model that works specifically for women. It is our experience that there are certain features can make all the difference in easing a woman’s pathway from homelessness and crisis to sustainable housing outcomes:

Safety is the condition that women most often articulate as necessary to enable them to recover from a crisis and begin to rebuild their lives in a new home.  At Cornerstone, we make conscious choices to enhance safety for tenants. These include well-lit inside and outside spaces, a 24/7 on-call service accessible to tenants, attention to minimizing crowding as much as possible, conflict resolution training, and lots of dialogue about the kind of places women want to live in.

Affordability in housing is the feature which enables a woman to move from living in “survival mode” to developing the capacity to rebuild and make plans for a stable future. There are many women in Ottawa who are choosing daily between paying the rent and feeding the kids, buying medication and meeting their basic needs. This often results with women getting caught in dangerous relationships and places, and contributes to the cycle of mental illness, addictions, and generational poverty.

Choice in selecting the services and programs that women will access is important to their sense of empowerment and self-determination. Tenants are provided with the supports to identify their own goal plans and the paths they will take to achieve them.

A key focus of the Cornerstone housing model is its broad Community of Care.  This is expressed in a number of educational, recreational and social activities to build a strong sense of belonging and community and encouragement to seek involvement in community programs available to the general public as a way of strengthening individual networks and connections.

Safe, affordable housing and supports for tenants are incomplete without active engagement in Action for Social Change to address systems which perpetuate homelessness and poverty.  It is this concerted action at both the personal and societal levels that will lead to better outcomes for individuals and communities across our country. Affordable and supportive housing for women will continue to evolve as an intricate part of a healthy and vibrant housing system.

More information on Cornerstone Housing for Women is available at: http://www.ottawa.anglican.ca/cornerstone/index.html