The Vancouver Sun by Janet Austin 9 May 2013
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we recognize the wonderful women who are the backbone of our communities that have sacrificed so much for their children and families. However, we must also pay homage to those who arguably have the toughest job of all — single mothers.
Given Vancouver has been named the most expensive city to live in North American by The Economist earlier this year, single mothers across Metro Vancouver are faced with unique and significant challenges when trying to care for their children and manage work and life conflicts.
As a single mother, Sarah spends more than three hours on the road with her five-month-old son, Solomon, to attend a YWCA Single Mothers’ Support Group in Vancouver. When she joined the group, she was living downtown and holding down a good job.
But 12 days before her child was born, everything changed.
Sarah’s father passed away and she moved back to the family home in Aldergrove to be with her mother. Despite living with her mother, she felt isolated. Dealing with the loss of her father and the arrival of her first child, she was overwhelmed, unsure of her financial security and had a bleak outlook for the future for herself and for her son.
Sarah is not alone in her struggles. More Canadians than ever are confronting the challenges of single parenthood in this age of economic uncertainty and growing income inequality.
New data released by Statistics Canada last month shows an eight-per-cent increase in single-parent families between 2006 and 2011. Single mothers, who comprise 80 per cent of lone-parent families in Canada, increased by six per cent. Consider, as well, that 20 per cent of single parents live below the poverty line and are twice as likely to live in poverty as two-parent families.
Sadly, circumstances force many low-income single mothers to make choices between shelter, food, education and child care. They stay in situations that do not meet their basic needs — perhaps couch-surfing or even staying in abusive relationships — because they believe they lack the support and help they need to build independent lives.
This is a challenge that YWCA Metro Vancouver has long been committed to addressing by providing critical services such as affordable housing, quality child care and many related programs. For more than 33 years, we have also assisted 2,500 women in Vancouver to shape and execute plans for their futures through YWCA Single Moms’ Support Groups. These groups met weekly in a structured and facilitated setting to connect women with affordable housing opportunities, parenting resources, legal and financial support, as well as education and employment programs.
But we know that the need for these services is growing at an acute rate in Metro Vancouver’s new and developing communities. Recent research conducted by the YWCA shows that 13 per cent of families in the Fraser Valley, the Tri-Cities and Maple Ridge are led by single moms who are isolated by a lack of transportation options and overwhelmed by the financial and emotional challenges of single parenthood. They need services that address their specific needs so that women like Sarah can get the help they need in their own communities.
Thanks to a three-year funding collaboration by Coast Capital Savings, Vancity and Envision Financial, the YWCA has brought six new Single Mothers’ Support Groups to Surrey, Port Coquitlam, Aldergrove, Langley, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford — adding to the nine we currently operate and dramatically increasing the reach of YWCA services in communities that need it most.
This initiative will empower many single mothers to gain knowledge, build confidence and make connections through group and one-on-one meetings, charting a successful path to personal and economic independence.
We are truly inspired by the generosity of the three credit unions and the exceptional women who lead them — Tracy Redies, Tamara Vrooman and Launi Skinner. They show us the true meaning of cooperation and demonstrate that it is possible for competitors to collaborate in order to drive positive social change. With their support, the YWCA can create the conditions for many single mothers to build better futures for themselves and their children