Seeking solace at Velma’s House: a 24/7 safe space4 minute read Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022
Imagine moving from place to place with all your belongings, unsure of where your next meal will come from or where you can sleep, questioning whether any situation or person you encounter is safe, numbing yourself to deal with the uncertainty and despair. This is the daily reality for many people living on the street. It was the life C.H. was living, supporting herself through sex work, when she started coming to Velma's House on Sherbrook Street.
C.H. had trouble renting due a history of evictions, unaddressed mental health and addiction issues. She didn’t even have a phone, so it was tough to keep appointments with anyone who could help. C.H. says she began seeking solace at Velma's because of the welcoming environment, emotional support from staff and the patience, encouragement, understanding and love that they show women.
Velma’s House, a Ka Ni Kanichichk initiative, is the first 24/7, indigenous-led, low barrier safe space in Winnipeg specifically for women and gender diverse folks, funded in part by United Way Winnipeg. The space is named after Velma Orvis, an advocate in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit epidemic. Low barrier in this instance means that being sober is not a requirement for assistance. Women and members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community can visit Velma’s House on a drop-in basis, without the need for an appointment.
“Other safe spaces or shelters are co-ed, which isn’t always a truly safe option for women, they feel safe here and welcomed in a space where the staff look like them and understand them,” explains Candace Abdilla, Program Coordinator at Velma’s House. “A lot of our participants have been sexually exploited; we provide a welcoming environment, free of shame to ensure our participants are comfortable while they warm up and seek safety.” Many of the staff have lived experience, have been impacted by colonialism, racism, poverty, substance use and sexual exploitation themselves.
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