Our Hopes for 2023

YWCA Cambridge is excited to kick off another year of working towards a mission to eliminate racism and empower women. We asked staff: What are your goals for your program or department in 2023? What are you striving for?

Trudy Bartlett, Director of Renae’s Place: I would like all programs to keep growing and excel with NEW collaborations and partnerships.

Michelle Howe, Case Manager, Renae’s Place: In 2023 my hopes are to equip our clients with tools to become the voice of their families by achieving safe, realistic, and reasonable goals that lead them to advocate their needs to succeed in continued permanent housing…. goals to enhance their self-worth and push them to higher levels of financial security.  

Puja Kranz Howe, Advocacy and Youth Leadership Manager: For 2023, I look forward to continuing to grow our Advocacy Department and center the needs of our residents, families, and youth through our legislative advocacy, community events, and local and state coalitions. 

For our youth leadership programs, I am excited to continue to build the world we want to see by questioning inequality and centering love and connection. There is an incredible need for more spaces for transgender and queer youth to connect, laugh, and celebrate each other’s identities. (Learn more about youth leadership programs here. 

Shamara Morris, Housing Stabilization Case Manager, Renae’s Place:  In 2023, I would like to see as many families as possible become stably housed and financially stable. In doing so they will be able to maintain their housing and gain financial freedom.  
Jessica Saravia, Resident Services Coordinator, Tanner Residence: What I am looking forward to accomplishing is to continue to create and lead community engagement efforts that will build a sense of community for the residents. Through activities such as providing support groups and social celebrations, we will continue to support a safe environment with an open dialogue providing inclusion and diversity for all women at the YWCA.

YWCA Cambridge Supports Ballot Question 4

By Haile Carrillo-Hayes, YWCA Cambridge Intern

What is Ballot Question #4? Ballot Question #4 is a new state law that would allow immigrants to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license regardless of whether they are living in the country legally. YWCA Cambridge supports Ballot Question #4 because we believe all humans deserve equal rights and opportunities. Voting yes to Question #4 actively fights against xenophobia and would make Massachusetts roads safer because this ensures that everybody has to pass a road test, a vision test, and get insurance to get a license. 

Voting yes to Ballot Question #4 is in your best interest to make driving safer for everyone. Public safety data shows hit-and-run accidents have decreased significantly in the dozens of other states that have adopted similar measures. This law also instructs the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to set up procedures so that immigrants without legal status who obtain a driver’s license are not automatically registered to vote. Question #4 is crucial to make driving in Massachusetts safer for all and in the fight to end xenophobia. 

YWCA Cambridge stands alongside the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition and many other organizations in support of Question #4. Make your voice heard on November 8th.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Take Action this October!

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), a time to acknowledge and advocate for domestic violence survivors. The YWCA USA is the largest network of domestic and sexual violence service providers in the nation. More than 150 YWCAs across 44 states provide gender-based violence services. Every year, in communities big and small, YWCAs get up and do the work of providing safe and secure housing, crisis hotlines, counseling, court assistance, and other community and safety programs to more than 535,000 women, children and families.

To benefit survivors of domestic violence at Transition House & YWCA Cambridge, we are collecting full size toiletry items by Monday, October 24, 2022 at 7 Temple St., 2nd Floor PH: 617-868-1650, Mon-Thurs 10AM-4PM (see flier for list of items).

“You have given me security. That is something I haven’t had much of in my life. My entire life has been full of tears and confusion. Every scar I carry, I wear as a badge. It gives me something to look at and tells me I can get through whatever comes my way. It is my strength! Every ounce of power and energy I gave to my husband I am now taking it all back! I can’t say thank you enough for the gifts you have given me. Don’t ever think you don’t make a difference in the lives of people that walk through your doors each day!”

—Survivor Statement from YWCA Pierce County, WA

Despite significant progress in reducing domestic violence, an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute. This equates to more than 10 million abuse victims annually. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner, and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been severely physically abused by an intimate partner. In addition, millions of children are exposed to domestic violence. Domestic violence incidents affect every person within a home and can have long-lasting negative consequences on children’s emotional well-being, and social and academic functioning (NCTSN). Anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual identity or orientation, or socio-economic status, can become a victim of domestic violence. This year’s campaign theme, #Every1KnowsSome1, aims to emphasize how common domestic violence is and that it is more than physical violence. The devastating effects of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime.

Having informed conversations about domestic violence requires understanding what it is—that it’s much more than physical abuse—and why ‘just leaving’ isn’t so simple for survivors. Supporters like you can help educate your friends, families, and communities, and get these conversations started!  

As a society, we all have a role in changing the narrative about what domestic violence is, to whom it happens, and how we can support those who are experiencing it, and, ultimately, prevent it entirely. Every1KnowsSome1 who is affected by domestic violence, and Every1 has a part to play in supporting our work to end domestic violence. 

Week Without Violence

At YWCA, we are eliminating racism and empowering women. Since 1995, YWCAs across the country and their supporters assemble the third week of October (October 17 – 22, 2022) for a Week Without Violence, a global movement in partnership with WorldYWCA to end violence against women and girls.

Events range from engaging complex dialogues to workshops, community service opportunities, and public awareness exercises. All activities tackle a central theme, which is the pervasive and intersectional nature of gender-based violence and its impact on our communities.

Additionally, because some gender-based violence goes unacknowledged, underreported or does not receive the same sense of urgency, sensitive subjects such as intimate partner violence, sexual assault, trafficking, and harassment are addressed as well. Every year we ask survivors, partners and allies to mobilize with us during our Week Without Violence, as we raise our voices as a force for change. We hope you too will raise your voice with us in supporting the reduction of domestic violence.

P.S. Free and confidential help is available 24/7 for individuals experiencing domestic violence. Those seeking help may contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at TheHotline.org or 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).

Meet Our New Intern: Lily Gage (she/they)

1. Tell us about yourself (education, goals, favorite things).

I just finished my junior year at Dickinson College and I am majoring in both Political Science and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. I am also minoring in Ethics. I work for the Office of LGBTQ Services at Dickinson College as a Training and Education Pride Coordinator in which I facilitate RAISE (Red Devils Advocating for Inclusive Spaces Everywhere) which educates students, faculty, administration and staff on topics such as gender identity and sexuality, how to use and respect other people’s pronouns as well as exploring our own biases or biases we may have grown up with. One of my career goals is to attend law school and eventually become a lawyer specializing in humanitarian law. Some of my favorite things to do are hang out with my dogs and cats, read a good book on the beach and crochet gifts for my friends and family. 

2. What work have you done that aligns with our mission to empower women and eliminate racism? 

My sorority’s philanthropy is our town’s homeless shelter so I have had the opportunity to volunteer with the organization, such as babysitting the children in the facility while parents went to a support group. I also had the opportunity to clean and re-paint the children’s playroom and provide them a more cheerful environment to play in. Additionally, one of the focuses of the RAISE trainings is to emphasize how compounding minority identities result in marginalization and how we can be aware of our privilege and how our privilege plays out in the lives of marginalized folks. 

3. What do you hope to get out of this internship?

I am hoping to gain a better understanding of how a nonprofit organization operates as well as finding inspiration at the YWCA for what kind of law I would like to practice more specifically than just humanitarian law. I would like to broaden my knowledge and understanding of unhoused folks and the struggles they face, as well as collaborating with the Advocacy department and expand my knowledge of advocacy in order to bring a more expansive view of advocacy and allyship to both my work at Dickinson and my work after Dickinson. 

4. Why did you choose to apply to YWCA Cambridge?

I wanted to contribute and give back to the community that I grew up in, as I am a life-long Massachusetts resident. I was truly inspired by the work that YWCA Cambridge has done and I felt that I would feel right at home in this organization. I love that the work that the YWCA does is expansive, from providing housing for unhoused folks to promoting advocacy and allyship for Massachusetts’ youth, and that the organization truly cares about Cambridge’s community and creating a more supportive and intersectional environment.

What does Pride mean to you?

Puja Kranz-Howe, (he/him) YWCA Cambridge Advocacy and Youth Leadership Manager

Growing up, I remember going to Pride Marches every year with my parents. They always were fun and filled with rainbow flags and joyful people. We would walk past the State House and wave our pride flags. I felt safe and happy. I was surrounded by my two white lesbian parents and held by their able-bodied, cis, white privilege. I had no idea that the first Pride Marches were an act of defiance and a cry for survival. 

Puja walking in Boston Pride 2000 holding a sign saying “FIGHT THE RADICAL RIGHT”.

Last year, I went to my first Pride March that explicitly centered Black Trans Women, which was organized by Trans Resistance MA. It was the first time I was surrounded by so many Black and Brown trans folks. I had no idea how validating it would feel. Over the next few months, I started to think more about who I was and what my gender meant to me. Quarantine allowed me to stop my daily gender expression. Being at home gave me the chance to question if I enjoyed wearing dresses or if I wore them because that is what our society tells girls to wear. Throughout my life, I always felt as though there was a part of myself that was missing. Much of my work with youth and anti-oppression is grounded in self-authenticity. Before I came out as trans, I never felt as though I was able to be my authentic self. 

When I was young, I loved swimming shirtless and playing sports. I always thought of it as a tomboy phase. But looking back, I wanted to be a boy. I was a boy, but I was born with XX chromosomes and assigned female at birth. And the world’s societal norms declared that my sex and gender must match. 

Over the past year, I have had the honor and privilege to launch a new youth leadership program called Gender Expansive Youth (GEY) with Georgia Wyman (they/them). GEY welcomes and validates the experiences of trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming youth while having weekly discussions about queer history, representation, activism, racism, identity, intersectionality, and more. We have been meeting every week since October. We have had so many incredible conversations about our lives and experiences, coming out, supporting each other, and learning about history and the world. I have learned so much from the group and have had space to discover who I want to be. Do I want to be a man? A feminist man? A queer Indian transmasculine person? Is wearing makeup and blasting pop music too feminine? I realized that I don’t have to conform to society’s definition of masculinity or femininity. I can be both, either, or a mishmash of everything. 

I remember the first time someone used he/him pronouns for me, and I got so excited. It was like the tingly feeling of butterflies. I was so nervous about coming out to my parents. They always supported loving who you love and got married when same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in 2004. I knew they would be supportive, but I was so scared. Raised in a family of all girls, I had no idea what everyone’s reaction would be. I had never met any trans men and had never seen any trans-Indian men or non-binary people that I could relate to. I am so blessed and thankful to have a supportive family. I am committed to growing and holding space for trans, non-binary, and queer youth of color. I know many adults also need more spaces to be held and celebrated. We will continue to shine and thrive.

There is a lot of transphobia and racism within the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual communities, and we must undo the hate that we have learned. Dividing ourselves only fuels the power of capitalism, hatred, and violence. This does not mean that we should forgive each other, but hold each other accountable and grow together. There are so many spaces for women that exclude trans women, and spaces for queer folks that should include Brown and Black folks, etc. I want to encourage us to lean into our discomfort and acknowledge our privilege. There is so much work to be done, and we can all start by listening to our inner voices and leading with kindness. 

Upcoming Pride Events:
Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts will be hosting the TRANS PRIDE Celebration of Liberation on June 4th at 11am at Boston City Hall. Learn more here.
Rebel, Rebel & Wild Child will be hosting the Wild Child Wedding Extravaganza 2022 on June 11th. Learn more and register here.

A Family Shelter Journey

Good Day People,

I’d like to start by introducing myself. My name is Kyeka Volanda Porch. I am 38 years of age and a single parent of an 8-year-old child. We started our journey in the shelter system in 2014 when I initially found out I was pregnant. At the time I was in an abusive relationship and was in need of a fresh start. So I found myself in multiple shelters before I ended up at Bigelow Street {YWCA Cambridge’s Former Family Shelter location}. At this time I wasn’t up to date with my health, my financial situation, or even aware of what I needed. Luckily, I walked through the door and met Trudy and Michelle who I would forever be grateful for meeting and didn’t even know it. 

I’ll never forget walking in sitting uncomfortably at the desk being escorted to my room on the third floor walking past what felt like the whole world in one apartment. My son was about three or four months of age tops and them telling me the requirements necessary to live there and to be assisted with housing. Of course I smiled and okayed, but I was so scared to fail more than I had already done. I was also open-minded and open-hearted to the experience. It’s funny when we are children we complain of all that our parents lacked or could’ve done better, not realizing parenting is one of the hardest and most fulfilling things you’ll ever do in life!!! 

But back to the story… so now I am being shown how to navigate  [my son] starting daycare, as well as opening and maintaining a bank account as well as savings and credit, meeting deadlines as well as being held accountable for all needs as well as faults as well as growth. I can remember getting in trouble one day because I decided that I was going to chill with a few women in the house and party before curfew and oh boy!! Was I in trouble! See, what I was also taught was that when you know better, your expectations from others are different. So the trouble I was in wasn’t just with the staff, but with myself as well since I knew how important of a move this was for my son and I consider that the only support I’ve had was them, and I remember sitting down with Trudy and Michelle and them giving me the most honest assessment of my choices as a whole and me having to take inventory of the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t able to fix everything overnight. At one point I needed them after exited into my apartment and they helped me through it and critiqued me after. I say all that to say this: I am still on the journey to becoming my best self as well as being the best mom I can be, with the mindset of always wanting to give back what was given to me by [YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter staff] , so I just want to say thank you and I’d like to leave you with a few words:

Sometimes in life we feel all alone
When there isn’t and hasn’t ever been a place to truly call home
And sometimes it all seems like a waste 
Until you look up when you’re down and see a stretched-out hand and smiling face.
And sometimes the very rocks that were thrown at you will be needed to build a sturdy foundation
Because not everyone is meant for an easy situation 
At the time that I felt everyone of these ways  
I was blessed to be put at the YWCA. 

Y’all stay awesome sincerely, 
Kyeka Porch

Mental Health and the Need For Safe, Secure Housing

Stability and consistent care are impossible to achieve if you are homeless. Then add the mental Illness component, and it becomes a vicious circle. Numerous studies report that 1/3 of homeless persons struggle with serious mental illness, which is also one of the top 3 causes of homelessness (via the National Coalition on Homelessness). Some people who suffer from poor mental health lack the ability to sustain employment leaving them with little to no income. It impairs their resourcefulness and resiliency to cope with traumas. Additionally, serious mental illness can also cause self-isolation from friends, family, and other support, putting them at greater risk of becoming homeless.

Even for people without mental health illnesses, living in shelters and on the streets can be challenging and traumatizing.  

Living in overcrowded, noisy, unsafe housing leads to stress, anxiety, social phobia, sleep issues, depression, and loneliness, which then heightens mental health problems and/or substance use, further exacerbating housing struggles.  The increase of mental health problems creates difficulties in keeping on top of bills, housekeeping, working, staying on tasks and routines. Stress can break down relationships with family, landlords, housing authorities, and friends. All of these factors make individuals with serious mental illness extremely vulnerable to homelessness and make it harder to support them once they become homeless.   Without mental health treatment and related support services, mentally-ill homeless persons face additional challenges gaining access to stable permanent housing.

“In general, 30-35% of those experiencing homelessness, and up to 75% of women experiencing homelessness, have mental illnesses. 20-25% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from concurrent disorders (severe mental illness and addictions).”

The needs of people experiencing homelessness with mental illnesses are similar to those without mental illnesses: physical safety, education, transportation, affordable housing, and affordable medical/dental treatment.

When providing care to those experiencing homelessness, it is essential to create a non-threatening and supportive atmosphere, address basic needs (e.g. food and shelter), and provide accessible care.  With access to connected services, it’s hopeful those suffering from a mental health disorder can live as independently as possible.

Good, quality, affordable and safe housing is vital for our mental health.  Feeling happy and safe in the place you live is HOME

Source:
SAMSHA Homelessness and Mental Health
Homeless Hub
New Horizon’s Behavioral Health
policyadvice.net
ighhub.org/understandinghomelessness
lifebridgenorthshore.org/

Where We Are & Where We Go From Here: A Fair Housing Month Spotlight on YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter

Kavi Kaushik, YWCA Cambridge Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator

April is Fair Housing Month, and this year was the 54th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. This legislation prevents discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. Although it is illegal in Massachusetts to discriminate against someone based on their source of income (e.g. a housing voucher), 90% of people in Greater Boston who indicated they were using a voucher reported facing discriminatory behavior from a rental agent(1). Fair Housing can look like more than just solving voucher-based discrimination, it is at its core about all people having their own keys to a place they call home. There is no one policy change or attitude change that will achieve this, but listening to folks dealing with housing insecurity and to those who work directly with clients is a starting place. What is working? What isn’t? Where do we go from here?

Kavi (they/them), our Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator, sat down with three folks working with unhoused parents & children at YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter, Renae’s Place.

One huge theme that came up multiple times is that the folks coming into shelter often are dealing with a lack of social support in addition to mistreatment at other organizations or social service hubs. Before folks are able to work closely with advocates and case managers, trust needs to be built. “Especially when you are dealing with those who have been consistently beaten down by laws around immigration,” Family Shelter Case Manager and HMIS Coordinator Michelle Howe highlights, “long wait times, dealing with people who do not take the time to build that trust before demanding personal information for legal reasons, etc. [are just a few of the challenges].”  

Trudy Bartlett, Manager of the Family Shelter, discussed how long this process can be.

“By the time we get to them, nobody’s going to tell you the truth until they trust you… and in the first couple of months, you are figuring it out. Clients will say different things to different staff, and we all have to come together and figure out what’s going on. And little by little they get to trust us. But it takes time to get across “we’re not there to harass you.” They’re being watched 24/7 on how they treat their kids. They’re under a microscope. And so it can be a process to get them to trust us.”

The history that some folks in shelter have with being mistreated, ignored, or just not supported often collides with the potential embarrassment of living in a shelter, where their kids can’t invite their friends over and can’t do things other kids can. Trying to live a “normal” life while in shelter is hard!

The second big theme brought up in these conversations was the overwhelming nature of some rules and regulations, as well as contradictions in rules between certain programs. Some residents in shelter are limited in the number of evenings they can be outside of the shelter, which impacts their ability to build support outside of their immediate family. Research has found that having meaningful social ties contributes to a reduction in mortality risk and improves overall mental and physical health(2). Regardless of housing status, everyone deserves the opportunity to foster social ties, and furthermore, allowing for improvements in social well-being can even be seen as working towards health equity.

So where do we go from here? How do we advance the mission of “fair housing”? Shamara Morris, our Housing and Stabilization Case Manager, brings us back to the main thing that can get overshadowed by rules, regulations, and time crunches: respect. 

She reminded us that so many individuals in our community are one paycheck away from housing instability and that everyone, regardless of their status in life, deserves respect and autonomy. Legislative and policy suggestions to support those individuals include: the need for more affordable units, the need for rents and subsidies to be based on a single-parent income, the need for more explicit supports in all social services for undocumented folks navigating housing insecurity, and the need for accessible childcare regardless of income.

Children and parents who come through the doors of our family shelter, like many other unhoused folks finding temporary shelter, can be embarrassed, disappointed, and insecure, especially when dealing with the hoops one has to jump through to access many services and basic needs. Michelle comments, 

“That generation needs to be changed. And they need to know they’re worth it. The parents are often already feeling horrible but I tell them, “right when you walk through the door… you are making it better and you are worth it”.”

This is an attitude I believe we should all carry as we work in client-facing professions, especially with unhoused and unstably housed folks, and as we work towards equitable, truly fair housing practices.

Thank you to Trudy Bartlett, Michelle Howe, and Shamara Morris for their time and words!
Trudy Bartlett is YWCA Cambridge’s Manager of Renae’s Place Family Shelter, Michelle Howe is YWCA Cambridge’s Renae’s Place Family Shelter Case Manager & HMIS Coordinator. Shamara Morris is YWCA Cambridge’s Renae’s Place Family Shelter Housing and Stabilization Case Manager. Collectively they have been serving families at Renae’s Place for over 40 years.

1.https://www.masslive.com/boston/2020/07/study-shows-high-level-of-housing-discrimination-against-black-renters-people-with-section-8-vouchers-in-greater-boston.html

2. Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501

A Short History of Cambridge Women

Throughout Cambridge’s history, women have led the charge in creating change, progress, and growth for the city. Their contributions have inspired individuals and moved Cambridge forward. YWCA Cambridge had the chance to sit down with History Cambridge’s Communications Manager, Talia Franks for a conversation on Women’s History Month: 

Whitney Mooney: Are there any “firsts” in Cambridge? 

Talia Franks:
Councilor E. Denise Simmons:
In 2001, Simmons successfully ran and gained a seat on the Cambridge City Council, and by 2008, she was unanimously elected Mayor by fellow Council members. She made national headlines as the first African American openly lesbian mayor in the country and the first African American female mayor in Massachusetts. Simmons is currently serving her 10th term as a City Councilor. Read more here.

Lois Lilley Howe:
In 1888, Howe entered MIT’s School of Architecture and took the two-year “Partial Architecture” course. During this time, she was a founding member of MIT’s first woman student’s group, Eta Sigma Mu. In 1894, she received her first commission to build a house. In 1901, she established her own firm and became the second woman elected to the American Institute of Architects. She was the first woman elected to the Boston Society of Architects. Read about her life here.

Maria Louise Baldwin:
Born and educated in Cambridge, Baldwin graduated from the Cambridge Teachers Training School in 1875. In 1882, she was appointed principal of Agassiz School, the first black woman to be appointed as a principal in Massachusetts. In 1916, she was appointed master of the school. Learn more. 

Whitney: Have you found any barriers in trying to tell women’s stories, particularly for women of color? How do you find missing pieces of history? 

Talia: We haven’t found any barriers. The issue was that it wasn’t always made a priority. General issues include mistakenly thinking that we should only celebrate people after they die (or only honor older folks), defining “woman” a certain way, or not creating enough trust with different communities to gain access to people. The information exists; we just haven’t done a great job of asking.

Whitney: How do we help continue to tell stories about the important work of women in Cambridge’s history? 

Talia:  We need to-
1. Say it is a priority (and then follow through with it) 
2. Ask people to share names of people they think should be honored (we’ve done this before and it has worked out well)
3. Have people who have the time and inclination to write. We, as a small staff, simply don’t have the capacity. 

There are countless women in Cambridge who have opened doors and inspired future women to push for more, break barriers, and lead in our community. Thank you to the many women who continue to make history. We are because of you.

Thank you to History Cambridge’s Talia Franks for their help on this project.