Cornerstone hopes to grow Indigenous program, Minwaashin Lodge partnership

All smiles at the Meet and Greet that was held at Fratelli in July. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Housing for Women.

By Maureen McEwan

As Cornerstone Housing for Women looks towards the future, the local non-profit is hoping to expand one of its central partnerships and programs. 

The Indigenous and Cultural Services Program, which calls Cornerstone’s residence on Princeton Street in Westboro home, is facilitated through a partnership with the Minwaashin Lodge. 

A few days a week, staff from Minwaashin Lodge work in the Princeton space running different activities and providing referrals to residents. The program has been in operation since the Princeton residence opened its doors in 2018, according to Cornerstone’s Executive Director Sarah Davis, and it welcomes everyone. 

“It’s for the entire population of Princeton, whether you identify as Indigenous or not. They do a lot of artwork, a lot of cultural ceremonies, a lot of teachings and learnings,” Davis said. “It has been quite grounding and supportive for the residents at Cornerstone and, just recognizing the impact that it has, we want to offer that across the organization.”

“We have a really lovely relationship with Minwaashin and really respect the work that they do and, I have to say, we are very lucky to have that partnership and really hopeful that we can expand it across to reach more of our residents,” she added.

Minwaashin Lodge is an Indigenous Women’s Support Centre, located at 2323 St. Laurent Blvd., that provides services and programs to First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and children experiencing domestic or other forms of violence and who may be experiencing the harmful effects of the residential school system, according to its website.

Cornerstone provides shelter and supportive housing to hundreds of women across Ottawa. At the Princeton housing community, which provides up to 42 women a permanent home, Davis said around 40 per cent of the residents identify as Indigenous. 

“The last numbers I saw [were] 35-40 per cent of the residents at Princeton are Indigenous, which is wonderful and it just speaks to the partnership,” she said.

The Indigenous and Cultural Services Program has been running since the Westboro location opened. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Housing for Women.

In June, Cornerstone announced that it was developing its fifth supportive housing community on Eccles Street in Centretown. The residence will have 46 units for women and gender-diverse individuals facing homelessness. 

“That’s 46 more homes for folks that are experiencing homelessness: 46 spaces that are inclusive and supportive, and that will have the supports on site that might not be available elsewhere,” Davis said. “So I’m really excited to see the program come to life.”

According to Cornerstone’s website, approximately 30 per cent of the units at Eccles residence will be “dedicated to Indigenous Peoples,” and the organization will continue to work with Minwaashin Lodge through the Indigenous and Cultural Services Program. Funding for the new residence is being provided through the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) 2 Stream and the provincial and municipal governments, and Davis said they expect the space to open by the end of 2023 or early 2024.

Cornerstone has been active in the Kitchissippi community this summer, which included a recent Meet and Greet event with Davis hosted at Fratelli restaurant, a longtime supporter of the non-profit. 

“Westboro has quickly become one of our biggest supporters and communities.  We work quite closely with Judy (Lincoln) and the BIA and a lot of the local businesses and have just received an outpouring of support,” Davis said. 

“It’s been a wonderful experience for us and [we] just wanted to meet those people that have allowed us to make it happen,” she added.

Over two dozen people attended the Meet and Greet in mid-July, the first event of its kind since Davis started as executive director 18 months ago.  

“My time here at Cornerstone has been behind my laptop: I joined among the dark days of COVID when we were all working remotely, so I haven’t had a chance to meet our Cornerstone community outside of our staff teams,” Davis said.

“We thought it was about time that we got out and celebrated all the great things that we’ve done over the last few years, and for me to meet some of our donors and our supporters and those that are interested in learning about Cornerstone,” she added.

Earlier this season, Thyme & Again, another regular supporter, hosted a Boutique Cornerstone Pop-Up Sale that raised over $10,000 for the emergency shelter. Davis said it was great to be supported by the Kitchissippi business and to be there to help promote the local business as well. 

The Cornerstone Housing for Women team will be spending the rest of the summer “taking a deep breath, trying to catch our footing a little bit,” Davis said.

“We’re really focussing on recovery and repair from the pandemic. I know we keep moving through phases of it, but it has been a tiring couple of years, so [we’re] really looking towards bringing our staff team together, re-engaging with [the] community—like the meet and greet—and really getting excited about this new project (Eccles).” 

Davis said they will be enjoying the warm weather by hosting barbecues for staff and residents at each of their locations and enjoying the many programs and events that have resumed in person the last months. 

“It’s the simple things that make Cornerstone so very special and it’s really the people. So it’s really lovely just to have our teams—whether it’s volunteers, or sponsors, donors, community partners, supportive businesses—back in the space and all together and doing such great work.”

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