Open Doors Project

Many shelters and transition houses have felt overwhelmed by the increase over the past decade or so in women residents who use substances such as alcohol or drugs, or who have mental health concerns. Their difficult decisions on whether to turn these women away are often based on in-house policies or linked to the fact that they feel they do not have the capacity to deal with these issues.

The Open Doors Project seeks to respond to the needs identified by shelters and transition houses for training to help them feel better equipped and empowered to be more inclusive and trauma-informed when serving women escaping abuse. Training is provided to shelter workers on how to better understand the physiological changes that trauma may cause, which can trigger substance use and mental health concerns. They learn practical approaches to offering more inclusive and constructive practices and advocacy to help support women with combinations of trauma from abuse, mental health issues, and substance use. Many also become advocates for trauma-informed, evidence-based, and feminist-aligned approaches for an abuse-free future.

Open Doors is a three-year YWCA project, with the Network playing the role of connecting with shelters, selecting participants, and providing implementation follow-up through Regional Support Networks and the Open Doors website. Training is delivered by the BC Society of Transition Houses, inspired by their Reducing Barriers project.

There has been tremendous demand for capacity building around supporting women with mental health and substance use concerns who need safe shelter from abuse, with twice as many shelters applying as could be accommodated. In its first year, the Open Doors Project has delivered the first two of six trainings (Ontario in Spring 2016 and the Prairies in Fall 2016). Through the post-training Regional Support follow-up, participating shelters have shared how they are reducing barriers to women with moderate substance use issues, whereas before these women may have been turned away or had their health choices determined by shelter staff.

Regional Training:

  • Ontario – Spring 2016
  • Prairies – Fall 2016
  • Atlantic – Spring 2017
  • Northwest Territories – Fall 2017
  • Quebec – Spring 2018
  • Nunavut – Fall 2018

Open Doors continuously adapted materials and training in response to participant feedback on creating a series of smaller training modules to make it easier for participants to share their knowledge with their home organizations, to better reflect the needs of Indigenous women, and to translate the materials into French. Pre-workshop conference calls were added to assess and share existing knowledge and identify areas of focus for the workshops.

The entire curriculum is available for download on the www.opendoorsproject.ca website at no cost.

Open Doors webinars on themes of inclusion for women with trauma-related mental health and substance use concerns are available on our Youtube channel and on www.opendoorsproject.ca


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Trauma-Informed Boards for Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses

Pets and Mental Health in Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses

A Model for Exchange and Implementation of Feminist Inclusive Service Practices