Over 40 years ago, a group of women activists, one of whom was June Callwood, realized that in the city of Toronto there were only 40 beds available for homeless women and over 400 beds for homeless men. Moved to action by this inequity, Nellie’s shelter was founded in 1973 and 16 new beds became available for homeless women in the city of Toronto. The shelter was named after Nellie McClung, the pioneer feminist who challenged the Canadian Government in the Supreme Court of Canada to have women declared persons under the law.
Nellie’s Shelter, located in a beautiful historic residential building, was one of the first women’s shelters in Toronto. Nellie’s was initially established for young homeless women dealing with teenage pregnancy, suicide, self-harm, crime, prostitution, ill-health, and abuse. However, shelter staff began to notice that most of the women accessing Nellie’s were middle-aged and older women fleeing domestic violence. In response to the overwhelming needs of battered women, Nellie’s increased its occupancy rate to its present day capacity of 36 beds and made the main focus of the organization violence against women and children.
Nellie’s also operates a Community Support & Outreach Office to assist women in the community who are homeless and living in poverty with access to basic necessities like food, clothing, and toiletries, as well as to provide support in the areas of housing, immigration, legal issues, child welfare, education, and employment.
For almost 40 years Nellie’s has provided shelter, dignity and hope to over 15,000 women and their children. Last year we served 133 women and children at our shelter location and over 80 women per week through our drop-in and recreational programming at our outreach office. At Nellie’s we support all women and children, inspiring their believe in a better future, as they begin new lives free from violence and abuse.