Sandy Merriman House held an open house recently, to celebrate twenty years of helping Victoria’s most vulnerable women.
“Sandy Merriman House is a 25 bed emergency shelter for homeless women, women at risk,” House coordinator Christine O’Brien explains.
“We have four emergency beds overtop of those twenty-five beds in case the police or the hospital call us to say there’s someone in need access to safe shelter.”
The women can stay at Sandy Merriman House for up to thirty days. The House also offers a daily drop-in program, serving more than eight-hundred hot, nutritious meals every month.
“It’s open to everyone to come in, have something to eat, access to showers, staff support, referrals, advocacy…we try to be whatever people need.” adds O’Brien.
It was only twenty years ago that there was no shelter in Victoria just for women “unless they were staying in a 15-bed shelter, with 100 men, and they didn’t feel so safe.” says Karen Dennis, who works at Sandy Merriman house.
At the same time, back in 1995, through a government program, vulnerable women on welfare were offered a chance to re-train in the trades.
So why not have those same women learn on the job – building their own safe house?
“And actually be a part of the crew to renovate what was the bed-and-breakfast, into Sandy Merriman House” says Dennis.
“Which was very unique, first time it’s ever been done, don’t know if it’s ever been done in Canada again…”
Karen Dennis was there two decades ago, helping to build Sandy Merriman House.
“I was actually the Construction Manager’s Assistant, so they started mentoring me…’cause I knew I wanted to work here.”
The house is named to honour the memory of Sandy Merriman, one of other women who helped build the shelter.
“Very gifted in construction, she would have made a great carpenter” explains Dennis.
“She was the epitome of who this house was envisioned for…somebody working in the sex trade with addiction issues, housing issues…she accidentally died of a heroin overdose during the project.”
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