Yellow Brick House set to return to “new normal” after being upended by pandemic

·4 min read

The last 18 months of living with COVID-19 has been hard on all of us, but consider for a moment what it would mean if you were having to shelter in place with another danger under the same roof.

This is a reality that has been faced by women and children across the country and, close to home, Yellow Brick House has moved fast to provide safe secure accommodation for women and children fleeing violence and abuse when they are unable to welcome them to their two residential shelters.

This month, they are glad to be able to re-open one of their two shelters for families thanks to help from community partners.

“During the pandemic, we had to relocate our families residing to the shelter to alternative housing because we weren’t able to ensure physical distancing in our shelters,” says Lorris Herenda, Executive Director of Yellow Brick House. “We were quite fortunate to be able to secure funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to renovate one of our shelters to create family zones where families could stay safe with us and COVID-free without interacting or having families mingle – and we’re pleased to say we’re now re-opening one of our shelters in September.

“We are happy to have families move into the shelter, but we will maintain alternative housing for all new intakes, as well as the isolation site we have open in collaboration with Sandgate Women’s Shelter where women and children are isolated for 14 days until their COVID-19 test is negative.”

Between their two shelters, Yellow Brick House operates 41 beds and 10 cribs for women and children, only 25 of which receive government funding.

She estimates it costs $150 to house a women or child for one night in a shelter and, to cover the gap between provincial dollars and money out-of-pocket, they rely on fundraising dollars to maintain service.

These fundraising dollars, however, have been difficult to come by during the global pandemic where large-scale in-person fundraising events simply have not been possible.

But this summer, Yellow Brick House received the welcome news they had been selected as one of 30 community-based non-profits to benefit from the Hoedown Community Foundation, a pot of money established by Magna International to ensure charities that would normally partner on the annual Wild West Hoedown would not be at the receiving end of another financial hit.

“The Hoedown Funds will help us with sponsoring space in our shelters,” says Ms. Herenda, noting that if their share of the Foundation’s grant amounted to $10,000, it would provide 66 nights of safety for women and their kids.

“Having a shelter bed available for women and her children who are escaping violence is a life-saving service,” she says. “We can’t afford not to have shelter beds available and any dollar we are able to fundraise or we seek from the community keeps women and children safe. Any individual or corporation that is considering supporting Yellow Brick House emergency shelter beds can certainly sign up for direct support and contributing 5 or 10 nights of safety for women at $150 per night – whatever is in their individual or corporate group ability to contribute to our agency.

“At the end of the day, the financial support to keep the shelter beds open is a life-saving essential service. We know that domestic violence is experienced by one in three women in Canada. During the pandemic, we have seen nationally a 30 per cent increase in the incidents of domestic violence against women and their children where they are basically isolating at home with their abusers and unable to escape. When a women is finally able to escape that dangerous situation, we must be able to offer her a shelter bed. It is essential because it is life-saving.”

For their efforts in continuing to provide this essential service during very difficult times, Yellow Brick House was recently recognized by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce with the Resilience Award, an honour shared with the popular local restaurant Tina’s Grill.

For Ms. Herenda, the Chamber’s recognition meant a great deal as they take pride in “conducting our work with high-quality service delivery, high transparency and accountability with our financial situation, high accountability with fundraising dollars being used up to 92 per cent going to direct services” and focusing on just 8 per cent administration costs.

“We are always striving to improve outcomes for women and children we serve,” she says. “Being recognized for those abilities and really staying on top of the operational perspective to ensure the best outcome for women and children really speaks to the fact the community has recognized our commitment to the cause and recognizes our resiliency that despite the world of uncertainty during the pandemic we never slowed down, we never shut down, and we remained COVID-free.”

For more on Yellow Brick House, including a list of current needs, visit

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

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