All Our Sisters

In advance of the "All Our Sisters" National Conference on Women and Homelessness, to be held May 9-12 in London, Ontario, we asked author Susan Scott to provide a few words on how her book helped to inspire this important event.

Seven years ago in frigid winter wind I stood shivering on the doorstep of a Winnipeg shelter waiting to be admitted; little did I know what was in store. My thoughts were racing along the lines of, "Go home to Calgary. It's too cold and what's the point anyway?" The point, as I saw it in sterner moments, was to write a book based on the stories of homeless women in Canada because there seemed to be a lot of services for men, but relatively few for women. I carried some Joan of Arc idea of drawing attention to the inequities and women's special problems, ranging from "how do you ask a male shelter worker for a tampon?" to "what happens to the children?"

Armed with a bunch of empty notebooks, my favourite brand of pens, and a small grant, I was about to embark on my first set of interviews. I had no publisher, no title, and little more than a belief that this needed to be done. I was in for a huge education and the recipient of incredible generosity. Women who had nothing shared their stories, their feelings and perceptions; they gave me their pictures, their poetry, and the title of the book, All Our Sisters, which reflects that we are all related, that the women are not "them" or "the other": they are us.

In Toronto I was lucky enough to have an introduction to Anne Brackenbury, then of Broadview Press and now University of Toronto Press. To my astonishment, a few weeks later we had a deal. After the book was written, All Our Sisters crested a wave of interest in and concern about the homeless. Suddenly, I was being asked to talk about the women—why we don't see them, why they don't use shelters the way men do, and the role of poverty, violence, and politics in homelessness. People were interested, but it appeared that they were more comfortable making charitable donations—the soup and socks routine—than in changing the status quo to prevent homelessness in the first place.

However, a group in London, Ontario, picked up on the message and quietly started focus groups for women of lived experience as part of the planning for Canada's first national conference on women and security of housing. Again, people have rallied around and the conference, All Our Sisters, takes place May 9-12 with a strong contingent of women who know the tears and the pain of the door slamming behind them for good.

As a journalist, I just wanted to make a difference. When I stand outside the door of my room in London and behold women from every corner of the country congregating, I will probably want to go home just as I did in Winnipeg. But this time, oddly enough, it will be because I'm so relieved that other people, stronger people than I, are carrying the torch. As in Winnipeg, I won't go home until it's all over, but will hang in to make sure this conference is the real beginning, and not the end of All Our Sisters.

For more information on the national conference, visit www.alloursisters.ca.

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