Gender-Based Violence is a Preventable Epidemic

‘I’m lucky I made it out the other side’: A story of resilience enduring gender-based violence, family loss and homelessness

During the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence, we want to share stories of incredible resilience.

Many of the women and gender-diverse people that we serve continue to survive despite perpetual violence and many bouts of hopelessness.

This is Jackie's Story

Ian M. Stewart Photo

Violence has permeated parts of Jackie’s life and left marks that may never be erased.

Jackie was just 17 and raising her own son, living with her mother in the United Kingdom when her 14-year-old brother died in Toronto in 1986.

Darren was viciously sexually assaulted by a man who would later be convicted of the harrowing crime and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Twenty-five years later, Jackie would experience the agonizing pain of losing a loved one to violence again. Her son, Cory, 27, was fatally stabbed by an unknown assailant in Fort McMurray, AB days after Christmas in 2011.

Cory, who had moved out West to take advantage of the economic boom, was trying to stop a man from assaulting two others, said his uncle at the time.

Jackie recalls how Cory wanted to come home for Christmas but money was tight and most of her extra money had been spent on Christmas. She told him she would get him back home in a few months.

“I beat myself up forever,” she said. “If I had the money to bring him home, he would be alive today.”

Five years before Cory’s death, Jackie lost her three-month-old daughter, Savannah, to leukemia.

“I got into cocaine then. I was spiralling,” Jackie said. “No one should have to bury their children.”

"I wasn't healed from one, and then it happened again."

Jackie attended grief counselling and coped as best as she could. She worked at various jobs, including Swiss Chalet, NOMA light company, landscaping and as a drywall taper for a union.

She fell off scaffolding while at work and waited three years before having hip surgery. Jackie relied heavily on prescription medications for the pain associated with the fall and with osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease.

Jackie moved to Cambridge to join her partner who had previously left Toronto with their daughter to be closer to family in the Galt area. Jackie and Beau were both receiving disability benefits.

Beau was struggling with Cory’s unexpected death and using alcohol to cope, Jackie said. He would later die of alcohol-related issues.

Jackie knew she couldn’t pay the rent on disability benefits and had to give up her home. Her daughter, who had graduated from Glenview Park Secondary School, went to live with an aunt.

That’s when Jackie began living in a tent off Highway 24 in Cambridge. For about four years, she experienced chronic homelessness and was introduced to illicit drugs.

“It was very scary at first. It was traumatic,” recalls Jackie, who often went to The Bridges shelter for meals.

Despite living outdoors with strangers, Jackie said she met many people who helped her along the way, some even calling her ‘Mom.’

“I have met a lot of good people, people who lost their families, and people who lost their way. There are so many stories out there,” she said.

She would come to Kitchener and stay at the YW Kitchener-Waterloo emergency shelter for women on Frederick Street. Jackie recalls feeling terrified because she had never been at a shelter.

Jackie, 54, uses a walker and now has her own apartment at the YW Block Line housing development which opened in Kitchener in April, 2022. It is home to 41 women who have experienced chronic homelessness.

“It’s a good feeling to make my own spot. I’m safe and free from the elements,” she said. “It’s nice to have a kitchen and sit at a table and eat a meal.”

Jackie said she is grateful to be safe, warm and living with other women.

“I still have bad days, days where I break down. I’m lucky I made it out the other side.”

Jackie lights up when she talks about her daughter, who lives in Kitchener and is now raising three children with her partner. They see each other often and Jackie is proud of the woman her daughter has become. Her three grandchildren make her want to keep on living.

Her daughter often tells her mom that she is the strongest woman she knows.

“I’m glad she looks at me in that light. There were many times I thought ‘How am I going to make it through this day?’”

“At least I did something right,” she chuckles.

The housing development operated by the YW on Block Line Road is home to 40 other women, each with their own story when it comes to gender-based violence.

During the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence which began on Nov. 25, the YW Kitchener-Waterloo, and other YW’s across the country, call on governments to work with us to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.

Jackie’s story is one of the many stories that highlights the struggles that are faced by many women, gender-diverse people and Two Spirit individuals, and how ending gender-based violence is linked to safe, affordable and reliable housing.

Action: sign the petition

We are calling on the provincial government to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic. Sign the petition today! 

Liz Monteiro

Liz Monteiro


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