London

New shelter for Muslim women and children opening in London

Mississauga-based Sakeenah Homes plans to open the doors to its newest shelter in London, Ont., in March. The organization already operates transitional homes in Ottawa, Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton.

Shelter will house up to 14 women, children in the Western University neighbourhood

A playroom at a Sakeenah Homes shelter in Toronto. (Submitted by Zena Chaudhry)

Mississauga-based Sakeenah Homes has offered support to Muslim women in London, Ont., for two years through its virtual counselling services, but in recent days, CEO and founder Zena Chaudhry said the nonprofit began receiving calls from women in need of shelter.

Chaudhry said the calls now are coming from women who have said "'I'm being abused. I have nowhere to go. I don't feel comfortable in this shelter. I can't pray here. When I fast in Ramadan, I can't get food before sunrise or after sunset.'"

"So there [were] a lot of different things that were coming up," said Chaudhry. And that prompted Sakeenah Homes to secure a large detached house in London's Western University neighbourhood, with plans to house up to 14 women and their children by March.

Sakeenah Homes, founded in 2018, already operates transitional housing and supports geared toward Muslim women and their children in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Ottawa.

"Our expertise is in providing services that are religiously and culturally sensitive to Muslim women and children," Chaudhry said. The organization also helps women with job applications, securing legal aid and reconciliation services, and securing spousal and child support.

Zena Chaudhry is the founder and CEO of Sakeenah Homes, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing transitional housing for Muslim women and children in crisis. (Submitted by: Zena Chaudhry)

"We understand those cultural and religious nuances. And we were founded because there was a lack of services when it came to domestic violence and social services for these women," said Chaudhry, who added most of the women the organization assists are facing domestic violence at the hands of a spouse or family member.

Other women arrive at their doors because they can't make ends meet or before the pandemic, because they just arrived in Canada and have nowhere to go.

Waitlist already growing

Sakeenah Homes, which operates almost entirely on donations from the general public and other Muslim organizations, hopes to begin in-take at the London shelter by mid-February, but Chaudhry said an informal waitlist is already growing.

Chaudhry said during the beginning of the pandemic, Sakeenah Homes received a number of emergency federal grants, but is not receiving any government funding for the London shelter, though it has received a $50,000 grant from the charity, Penny Appeal Canada.

The London home will be staffed by two case workers, a house manager and a counsellor. Interviews for those positions continue this week, said Chaudhry.

The specific location of the shelter in London will not be revealed to the public for safety reasons, Chaudhry said, but it's close to grocery stores, schools and bus routes since most of the organization's clientele don't have vehicles.

Though the shelter is designed for Muslim women, it will serve any woman who needs help. 

"Our goal is always that once these women leave our home, they don't need to come back to us or go to any other social service organization," said Chaudhry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 15 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.

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