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Peeking Under the Labels

Most women turn to substance abuse to ease the emotional pain of parental neglect and abusive relationships. When cries for help are met with silence, women turn to pain-killers close at hand.  We all turn to medication to ease pain. Unfortunately, the substances that ease emotional pain are all addictive. No one wants to become addicted to cocaine or heroin or oxycontin, it just happens to be the cruel side effect of a universal desire to be free of pain.


When the addicted woman sees a glimmer of hope, and decides she is ready to stop using, she may find her way to Grant House. We see some very strong women in our program. Women who are true survivors – who have experienced horrendous abuse, and yet have still managed  to complete their schooling, run a business, start a home and raise a family.


They are survivors of terrible circumstances, yet society labels them addicts and alcoholics and turns its back on them.  As staff, we often talk about how privileged we feel to have the opportunity to see underneath the label. Take away the substances and our women are talented, lively, caring, helpful, motivated, and creative.


Consider the accomplishments of a small selection of our clients, included below:

  • Maisie has a gorgeous, powerful well-trained soprano voice, as good as any you’d hear on American Idol.
  • Esther is a chef and has made restaurant-worthy meals on many occasions.
  • Karen was discovered in Toronto by the Hugo Boss agency and has modeled in New York City and Miami.
  • Hannah was a producer for the CBC documentary show W5. She flew all over North and South America working on films.
  • Vivian studied medicine at the American University in the Caribbean.
  • Laura does professional fundraising for organizations.
  • Ruth is a registered nurse, specializing in emergency.
  • Anna is a professional figure-skating coach.
  • Gabriela is bilingual, and trained as an animal care technician.
  • Joni worked for the Canadian Armed Forces, loading Hercules aircraft at the base in Germany.
  • Dora worked as a law clerk in a high-profile Toronto law firm.


After graduation, our clients go on to pursue many accomplishments:

  • Julie is a criminal lawyer.
  • Tamara graduated from Ryerson in Social Work.
  • Tina is employed by the City of Toronto.
  • Tonya won her case in Superior Court and now owns her own home.
  • Hallie works in security and is going back to school.
  • Margie has full custody of her three young children.
  • Darlene is employed full-time in the field of addiction support.
  • Nan was on a CTV reality TV show produced by Kevin O’Leary.

Meet Sari - A Woman’s Strength


Sari, 50 years old, grew up in Iran, in a traditional Muslim family. She was 15 years old when she first began to hear the voices in her head, but she could not talk about it because everybody was telling her she was “crazy”. Sari is well educated, obtaining two Master’s Degree; one in education and psychology, and the other in languages, enabling her to work as an interpreter (Persian & English).


Sari married and had a son who was raised by her mother. “Thank God” Sari told us, because “my husband was crazier than me”.  Sari experienced a lot of abuse and her husband attempted to kill her with a knife, telling her that no one else could have her. After 10 years of marriage she left him and went to Jordan, where she became passionate about Christian faith. “I love Jesus” she said, “and I have him in my heart. I have sinned, I was a mistress of a man with three wives in Jordan and my family loved me, I embraced Jesus and my family banned me for life”.


Sari moved to Toronto from Jordan in July 2005, and started working as a cleaner for a cleaning company. During her psychotic episodes the voices were becoming intense and more aggressive, so one of her co-workers recommended she drink alcohol as a remedy.  Sari started drinking in 2007.


Sari came to Street Haven for the first time in February 2010, being referred from St. Michaels’s Hospital. While staying at Street Haven, she connected with Dr. Heyding, who is now her family doctor. Dr. Heyding comes to Street Haven once a week to see women at the Shelter. She had surgery in February 2010 for a herniated abdomen and was back at Street Haven in March.


During this time Sari experienced stress, depression, and physical pain as well, so a connection to Dr. Goodwin was made.  Dr. Goodwin is a psychiatrist who visited Street Haven to see women at the Shelter. Sari began taking medication.


Not long after the surgery Sari was referred to a Hostel Outreach Worker in order to help her overcome difficulties in her day-to-day living due to severe and persistent mental health concerns. In May 2011, Sari successfully completed the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Psychosis, a 16 week group program.


Also that May, a nurse (through the Diabetes Clinic) began coming to Street Haven to help Sari start her insulin shots and educate and help her check her sugar levels.  Nurses began coming to Street Haven on a daily basis to help Sari. 


Next was housing. Once Sari’s immediate medical needs were looked after an application was made for Supportive Housing with the help of Kathy, our Housing Worker at the Shelter. Sari also works with one of our Addiction Case Managers.

Today, Sari, has been sober for over one year. She attends an addictions program at CAMH, double recovery meetings, AA meetings as well as accessing other supports in the community. Sari volunteers weekly at Progress Place. She eats a healthy diet and now understands that the voices she hears are not real nor are they a reflection of the good person she is.


Sari moved into Street Haven Supportive Housing Program in August 2011 and expresses gratitude daily for her new home.