Women's shelter can't explain sudden influx of children and babies

Women's shelter can't explain sudden influx of children and babies

- in Toronto
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The executive director of Nellie’s shelter says a sudden influx of young children and babies arriving with their moms has changed the organization’s focus “completely.”

In the last three months, the number of children at the Toronto women’s shelter has more than doubled — a change that came so fast, said executive director Margarita Mendez, that staff have not had time to look into what prompted it.

“We’re trying to set an emergency plan until we are clear if this is going to be ongoing, or just for a short period of time,” Mendez said Thursday during an interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.  

Nellie’s, a shelter for women who are fleeing violence, typically caters to single women, hosting fewer than 10 children a year. Now, almost half of the 34 beds are occupied by children and toddlers — and they’ve had to buy more cribs for the infants. 

Since the change, staff are hurrying to adjust their budget and programming to adapt to the needs of their new occupants by providing child care and support for mothers.

“We are still exploring different avenues of how we are going to be dealing with this,” she said. 

A call-out on social media helped fill one of their most pressing needs: diapers.

“Families with small children know how much a package of diapers can be. But this has been solved because of the response of the community,” said Mendez, who noted that the shelter has received an outpouring of support and offers to volunteer. 

Staff at Nellie’s haven’t met with staff from other Toronto women’s shelters recently because of the summer, but Mendez believes that sitting down with them might provide more clarity as to whether the trend extends elsewhere.

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