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Michael House fosters community and builds life skills for new moms

“I didn’t really think I needed any help back then, but I really see now that the support they gave me has really shaped who I am today”

When Sharelle Scullion first moved into Michael House in 2017, she didn’t really want to be there.

But newly pregnant and living with her grandparents “too old” to care for a newborn, she didn’t have many other places to go.

“I didn’t want anything to do with it at first. Going through the lifestyle I’m used to, having to live in a shelter was a huge change for me,” she said.

Once she started working with the staff, however, her reluctance began to change.

“I didn’t really think I needed any help then, but I see now looking back that the support they gave me has really shaped who I am today.”

For the past 20 years, Michael House has provided shelter and support to new mothers in need with subsidized and supportive short-term housing.

“Becoming a new mother can be completely overwhelming,” said Executive Director Karen Kamphuis, and Michael House is here to help.

They have three programs: residential, supportive housing, and follow-up.

Their residential home has eight two-bedroom units, with an average length of stay of nine months. They offer 24/7 support for pregnant women and new mums, as well as counseling and life skills training.

“So they can eventually move into the community,” Kamphuis said. However, she added that “too often young families leaving Michael House struggle to find safe, secure and affordable housing in the community”, which is why they also offer a supportive housing program. .

Their supportive housing program is less intensive and more self-contained, but they have support during business hours Monday through Friday and on-call support as needed. The building can accommodate up to five women and their children.

The women have their own apartment with their children which includes a kitchen and living room, as well as a common living space where they can relax and have meals together.

There are also “intended neighbours”, usually university students, who live in subsidized apartments across the hall to provide support.

For example, if a mother wakes up in the middle of the night and her baby has a fever, she can call the neighbor to help her figure out what to do.

All women leaving the programs also have the opportunity to participate in their follow-up program, which involves regular check-ups and support from the follow-up manager.

“A lot of times our tracker just gets in touch with them, how are things, what do you do? Sometimes she has to plead, sometimes that means helping fill out the paperwork with them for housing. So she does a whole range of things whenever the need arises.

Through these programs, she said they help create a sense of community around women, supporting them on their personal and parenting journeys.

“By living with other women in situations similar to theirs, they also become a real support for each other,” she said.

Michael House isn’t for everyone, however. There are stipulations involved. For example, you must participate in the programs they offer, including group counseling. They have a zero drug and alcohol policy, and visitors must be approved by staff.

All because they “want to make sure everyone is safe.”

With an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic coupled with the housing crisis, she said the demand for their services has remained high and the waiting list is long.

Currently for their residential program, Kamphuis said they are looking into the new year for spaces to open. In their assisted living program, the waiting list is even longer, at almost six to eight months.

Their two residential programs are continuously at capacity, and there are approximately 60 women in the aftercare program.

As a non-profit organization, they depend on both government and community donations to operate. Right now they are in desperate need of baby wipes and diapers for size 5 and up.

“People often don’t realize that we have toddlers and older children,” so they need bigger diapers and pull-ups. “People just associate Michael House with newborns, but newborns grow up,” she said. Some women already have young children when they move in.

“It really takes a whole village,” Kamphuis said.

Although it is a Christian organization that uses the common vernacular with militant pro-life organizations, Scullion said their views were never communicated to him during his time there.

All she knows is that they are “great people who genuinely care about you and want you to succeed, want to see you be the best parent you can be.”

“It’s the best place to go if you’re pregnant and have nothing or no one else.”