- All Our Sisters: Stories of Homeless Women in Canada
Canada is one of the few countries of the Western world without a social housing policy (16) and this book is about the effect such an omission has on some Canadian women. This is a heartbreaking book, not for the lighthearted, and it is not an easy read. It is mostly stories from the lives of women living on the margins of Canadian society. Most importantly, this is a book about the failure of our social services and shelters to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Canadian women; it is an indictment of homeless policies.
Two women, Doreen and Sheila, were Scott's "immediate catalysts" for the book. Knowing these women, Scott maintains, made her think about "what it means to be female and homeless in Canada"(11). The book is a venue for women to tell their stories. It is based on interviews with "sixty or so" women from Vancouver to as far east as Ottawa, and the work was financed by a grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Women from Quebec and the Maritimes were not included, Scott tells [End Page 211] us apologetically, because "the money ran out" in Ottawa (13). Rather than approaching women on the street for interviews, Scott made her connections with women through shelters, drop-ins, and organizations where she volunteered. Scott preferred this method because she wanted an introduction, a way to provide women an opportunity to get to know who she was before making a decision to talk to her. Where possible, the women were contacted again for feedback on their stories.
There are ten substantive chapters in the book and each lays out common problems experienced by homeless women. Each chapter begins with a general discussion of an issue with sources for further information. This is then followed by four or five stories from women telling how they have experienced these issues. Chapter topics include housing policy, violence, poor health and addictions, FASD, parenting, and prostitution. Two chapters are devoted to groups particularly affected by a number of these issues, Aboriginal women and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans community.
Beyond the women's stories, the Introduction and Conclusions are important chapters because the former provides a conceptual framework for interpreting and understanding the stories and the latter offers a discussion of solutions, albeit far too brief. In the Introduction, Scott provides an important conceptual refinement to notions of "homeless" by separating it conceptually from "living on the street." She explains that the women she talked to do not necessarily live on the streets, rather they are homeless because they are without a place to live that is secure "where they can sleep unmolested, where their children are safe and their treasures secure" (21). Many women are homeless in that they live with violent partners whom they can not afford to leave, some are trapped by a pimp or a dealer, some couch-surf from one relative or friend to another, while others live in unsafe unhygienic buildings or abandoned cars (15). Scott's telling of the women's stories is designed to dispel three myths: that many women are on the streets by choice; that there are very few homeless women in Canada; and that with the help of social services, getting back on their feet is a fairly straightforward matter. The stories in this book are from women fleeing abuse and depredation that often began in their childhood, and they are women who have lost everything, their possessions, their self-esteem, and their children. For the most part they are invisible, hidden away from public view. While official statistics indicate that 100,000 Canadians are without homes and 1.7 million live in inadequate living conditions, we actually have no way of knowing how many women are living with abusive partners, sleeping with landlords, or living in condemned houses (23). Furthermore, once women are homeless, social services often work against them as exemplified by the voice message of one...