WINning is the story of people – mostly women – whose courage, vision, and commitment provoked societal recognition of women’s realities and needs.
In 1968, a small group of women put a plan in motion that would change the lives of countless women facing desperate choices.
In WINning: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs of Opening a Women’s Shelter, Marsha Mildon traces the story back to its beginnings at the Greyhound bus station in downtown Edmonton. And to the dogged determination of a handful of women committed to helping the vulnerable young women arriving there. Friends recruited friends. Then, with the help of several organizations, they opened Edmonton’s first women’s drop-in emergency shelter – a ‘sit-up’, coffee, and referral service.
The shelter accepted any woman who sought help. This ‘low barrier’ approach to shelter was ahead of its time, even shocking. Most services required people to ‘qualify’ in some way. Mildon recounts the struggles of a motley assortment of unlikely ‘ordinary’ but extraordinary Edmontonians who launched a three-month pilot project in a church bell tower. Convinced of the need, they fought to secure a more suitable facility for providing housing and services to Women In Need and their children.
Incorporated in 1973 as the Edmonton Women’s Shelter Ltd., the organization now manages three emergency shelters. One of these is devoted to helping immigrant women. It also did the background work needed to launch WINGS (Women in Need Growing Stronger). WINGS was the first agency to provide second (and more recently, third) stage transitional housing and client-centered supportive programs that women need to heal from an abusive relationship.
But in WINning, Mildon does more than recount dry historical facts. She brings to life the grim stories of women who have few, if any, good choices in meeting their most basic needs. She also brings to life the hairy details of a successful, if still precarious, struggle for social change through ‘social innovation’. While that term has acquired a certain cache in recent times, it is a characteristic of all progressive developments. As Mildon demonstrates, social innovation does not occur in ‘labs’. It takes place in kitchens, church halls, coffee shops, playgrounds, and on the street. She also shows what having ‘collective impact’ looks like in real life.
WINning is the story of people – mostly women – whose courage, vision, and commitment provoked societal recognition of women’s realities and needs. It is also a story that documents the fragility of an organization’s successes and the need for vigilance in sustaining those accomplishments.
WINning should be read by those who continue the work of changing the lived experiences of people who experience domestic violence. It should be read by activists of all sorts for the lessons it provides in meeting the endless challenges they will face. It should be read by academics in a range of disciplines, including women’s studies, family studies, social movements, social history, politics, organizational behaviour, nonprofit studies, and more. It deserves to be read by all those who want to understand current social issues.
AUTHOR’S NOTE Marsha Mildon was the editor of LawNow from 1992 to 2006. She now lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
Looking for more information?
The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
Looking for articles like this one to be delivered right to your inbox?