Nellie's Women's Shelter (Women's Hostels Inc.)

Nellie's mission is to operate programs and services for women and children who have and are experiencing oppressions such as violence, poverty and homelessness.

Our Impact Why We Exist

Nellie's believes that every woman and child has the right to live a life free from violence and oppression.

But for the women and children who arrive at Nellie's doorsteps, this right has been violated.

Nellie’s is a community-based, feminist organization which operates within an anti-racism anti-oppression framework. Nellie's is committed to social change through education and advocacy, to achieve social justice for all women and children.

Shelter: Nellie's provides emergency shelter and protection for all women and children. At Nellie's, women are assisted in securing safe, long-term, independent and affordable homes

Education: Nellie's provides essential programs to inform all women and children of their rights and responsibilities, and the services to which they are entitled

Advocacy: Nellie's provides the resources for all women and children to have their voices heard. Nellie's is committed to effecting change, including removing barriers and improving the conditions that affect the lives of all women

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

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 compared with over 400 beds for homeless men. Moved to action by this inequity, Nellie’s shelter was established in 1973 with 16 beds as one of the first shelters in the city for homeless women. 

Nellie's is named after Nellie McClung, the pioneer feminist who challenged the Canadian Government in the Supreme Court of Canada to recognize women as persons under the law, thus enabling Canadian women the right to vote. 

Over the years, in response to the overwhelming needs of homeless battered women, Nellie's shelter increased its occupancy to 36 beds. 

Accolades and Accomplishments

Since 1973, Nellie’s has helped to rebuild the lives of over 15,000 women and their children away from violence, poverty, homelessness and despair. 

Last year:

  • Nellie’s provided services to a total of 700 women and children 
  • Responded to 2,025 crisis calls
  • Served over 40,000 meals to women and children at the shelter and in the community
  • Assisted 98 women to move into their own safe and affordable homes 
  • Renovated their Community Support & Outreach space to be accessible for disAbled women who use wheelchairs or motorized scooters. 

Our Programs How We Do It

36-Bed Emergency Shelter

Nellie's shelter operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to provide safety, shelter, food, clothing, and space for healing for women and their children who are fleeing violence, poverty and homelessness

Community Support & Outreach

A place for aftercare and follow-up support services for women and their children who have left the shelter, as well as social, recreational, and educational programs and crisis support for women and their children living in the community

Housing Support 

The Housing Support Program assists women in safety planning, crisis support, advocacy, and helps connect women to community resources to help them obtain safe and affordable homes so they do not remain homeless

Children First

At the shelter, a full-time Child Youth Advocate worker solely focuses on the needs of children transitioning with their moms. As well, recreational, social, and educational programs are held year-round, in addition to Nellie's Kids Camps conducted during school holidays

Food Access

Hunger relief is another priority at Nellie's. Many Food Access Programs including Nellie's Supper Surprise Drop-In, are held throughout the week for women and children in our community who are homeless and or living in poverty. Low income women access meals and food supplements that help them subsidize the costs of living for themselves and their families 

Nellie's Housing Support Program

"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."   - Maya Angelou

A shelter is never an easy place to live.  When women leave their homes to come to Nellie’s, they leave behind personal belongings, memories, and most of all the comfort of a place to call their own - all in search of a better life for themselves and their children. A life free from violence and abuse. 

When women arrive, Nellie’s works with them to access safe and affordable independent housing so that they do not become homeless or are forced to return to violent situations.  Through the Housing Support Program, women are assisted with safety planning, crisis support, advocacy, and connections to community resources.  

Nellie's Transitional Housing Workers work with women to secure housing and also connects them to community resources in their area so that they have the support and tools they need to establish themselves once they move in to their new homes. Women are assisted in finding furniture and other household items that make a house a home. 

Nellie's especially focuses on meeting the underserved needs of disAbled women in our community. The Community Support & Outreach Office was recently renovated and is now accessible to women who use wheelchairs or motorized vehicles to get around. 

Funding and Program Partners

Staffing for Nellie's Housing Support Program is funded through the City of Toronto and The Ministry of Community And Social Services.

Program Impact

Last year, over 115 women received assistance through Nellie's Housing Support Program and 98 women successfully moved into their own safe homes.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"The Federal government is shedding its affordable housing operating subsidies to the provinces over the next 10 years. By 2020, funding will be $1 billion lower than in 1996, even though housing stock is aging and increasingly in a state of disrepair." (Toronto's Vital Signs®, 2011)

"In May 2011, the number of households on the active waiting list for social housing (eligible candidates who are waiting for availability) stood at 66,460 (up 10.4% from May 2010 and a 34.3% increase since 2008). ! 43.5% of the total households waiting for housing in Ontario are in the city of Toronto (although it represents only 20.6% of the province’s population)." (Toronto's Vital Signs®, 2011)

Participant Vignette

"I was treated with respect. It was the first time I felt human in years, like I mattered." - Suzanne

Suzanne is a woman with a development disAbility who came to stay at Nellie’s Shelter after disclosing that she was being abused by her primary caregiver. 

Suzanne lives with an acquired brain injury and along with the abuse she was experiencing, she was also very isolated from the outside community.  

Upon coming to Nellie’s, Suzanne began to attend regular outings and programs with the other shelter residents and this helped her break the social isolation she was feeling. 

When she was ready to apply for housing, Suzanne met with Nellie's Housing Support Workers with wishes to live in a setting with other people who have needs similar to hers, and with regular staff support.

After endless phone calls and many hours spent researching on Suzanne's behalf, Housing Support workers were able to find the right place. Suzanne was supported throughout the entire referral and application process and was placed on a waitlist.

Eventually Suzanne was accepted into the apartment where she now lives independently free from the violence. 

This living arrangement ensures that Suzanne’s day-to-day living needs are met, while also allowing her the freedom to participate in community activities, including Nellie’s community programs.


Nellie's Kids Camp

Marginalized and vulnerable children who live in poverty or who are survivors or witnesses of violence experience anxiety caused by fears including the fear of the next experience of violence, the fear of abandonment; guilt for not being able to stop the violence or guilt for loving the abuser, social isolation and difficulty interacting with peers and adults and low self-esteem.

Nellie's Kids Camp gives children living in poverty or violence with an opportunity to experience fun, and explore activities in a safe environment that embraces and accepts them.

Afternoon soccer games, trips to the beach, making arts & crafts, or baking goodies for a storefront bakesale are just some of the activities that children can look forward to at Nellie’s Kids Camp! 

Nellie's Kids Camp provides children who are homeless, survivors of violence or living in poverty with fun and memorable holiday camp activities that they otherwise would not be able to experience.

Kids Camp Activities aim to help develop children and youth skills, talents, and interests. The camp runs three times a year during the summer, winter holidays, and March Break.  Activities include:

Music: Children are given the opportunity to learn a musical instrument such as the drums, guitar, violin, piano, or flute and all practice the same song in preparation for a performance at the end of the session 

Arts & Crafts: Through painting, drawing, and craft making, children are given the opportunity to express themselves through various styles of art. When possible, art instructors are brought in to teach the children

Cooking: Children at Nellie’s Kid Camp are given the opportunity to participate in a fundraising bake sale. Under the supervision of staff, camp participants bake muffins, cookies, and cakes and then host an afternoon or weekend bake sale to raise funds to support Children’s Programming 

Outings: Children at Nellie’s Kids Camp enjoy special outings to various locations around Toronto such as Ontario Place, Allan Gardens, The Metro Toronto Zoo, and the farm

Funding and Program Partners

Nellie's Kids Camp activities rely solely on donations from the community.

Program Impact

The GTA is now the child poverty capital of Ontario with 50% of Ontario's children living in poverty. In the City of Toronto, over 50,000 children depend on food banks each year, and single mother families with children make up the fastest growing group experiencing homelessness. 

Last year, Nellie's Kids camp helped dozens of marginalised children enjoy their school holidays and helped to nurture and build on their artistic creativity, promote personal expression and facilitate self-discovery of talents increasing their self-esteem and experience a broader base of social, recreational and educational activities through peer and community based activities.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"3,269 children stayed in Toronto’s shelters in 2009, 550 more than a year before (a 20% increase). The numbers have been growing since 2005.”

“The percentage of children living in poverty in female lone-parent families was 23.4% in 2008.

(Toronto's Vital Signs®, 2010)

Participant Vignette

"It was lots of fun and laughing!" - Diana (8 years old)

Diana lives with her mother Rosa in a small one-bedroom apartment downtown. Rosa brought Diana to Canada from Mexico 2 years ago to escape the abuse she was experiencing from Diana’s father. Rosa doesn’t make a lot of money therefore Diana’s summers never included field trips or sports. Every September when all the children returned to school and shared stories about their summer adventures, Diana was often quiet.

When her mother first suggested she attend Nellie’s Summer Camp Program, Diana was a bit hesitant, but she quickly made friends and soon began what she describes as her “best summer ever!” From swimming, to sports, to arts & crafts, Diana is occupied for 4 weeks in the summer, interacting with other children her age and learning new things! Going to the zoo provided Diana with her first opportunity to see a bear, something that she recalls with vivid detail and excitement. Diana also got to experience one of her favourite activities, flying a kite, and wowed all the other kids with her ability to keep her kite so high up in the air!

Diana has been attending Nellie’s Summer Camp Program for two years now, and when she returns to school in September she always has lots to talk about! She speaks proudly about the experiences she’s had at Nellie’s and many of the skills she’s had the opportunity to develop over the summer, such as sports, arts, and social interaction, have helped her excel in school.

Nellie's Supper Surprise Drop-In

Every Wednesday night, Nellie's Community Support & Outreach space fills with the smell of delicious food, music, and laughter as women drop-in to meet and enjoy a home-cooked meal at our Supper Surprise Drop-In Program. 

Open to women and children in the community who are homeless or living in poverty, this weekly program provides women an opportunity to enjoy good food andgood company!Dinner is prepared each week by staff and volunteers with fresh ingredients. Volunteers assist with preparing the meal, setting up the space, serving food, and clean-up. 

When women arrive they are served dinner, which always includes freshly prepared foods that day.  With the rising cost of food, many of the participants cannot afford to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, so it is important that Supper Surprise provides this. Nellie's serves a culturally diverse population, so each week a menu that includes different types of foods and flavours are created.

The Supper Surprise Drop-In Program is so popular that two sittings are held in order to accommodate everyone. Nellie's Supper Drop-In Program provides women and children in our community a space to meet, socialize, and enjoy good food.  We know the women look forward to this program each week and we do too!

Funding and Program Partners

Nellie's Supper Surprise Drop-In relies solely on donations and support from the community.

Program Impact

Nellie’s is struggling to meet demand for food. In 2008, the year the recession hit, Nellie's delivered 1,331 meals through Supper Surprise Drop-In Program. Last year, that number reached 1,810 – a 26 per cent increase. Supper Surprise meals currently support an average of 71 families every week.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Social assistance does not cover even the basic cost of nutritious food and shelter for families and single households in the city, forcing many to rely on food banks." (Toronto's Vital Signs®, 2011)

"The average cost of basic nutritious food for a family of four in the City of Toronto rose by 0.6% over 2009 to $715/month in May 2010" (Toronto's Vital Signs®, 2011)

"The poor still pay more for food in Ontario" (Toronto's Vital Signs®, 2011)

Participant Vignette

Michelle is a woman from the community who starting accessing Nellie’s services two years ago. After countless abusive relationships, and struggles with mental health, Michelle was living on her own and came to us looking for help for basic necessities including food and clothing.

After speaking to the Outreach worker and revealing that she was feeling isolated and having trouble affording food, Michelle agreed to attend the Supper Surprise Drop-In.

Michelle immediately enjoyed attending the program. She says, “It is a very welcoming environment and the volunteers are very kind.” Attending Nellie’s Supper Surprise Drop-In has given Michelle the opportunity to enjoy healthy, home-cooked meals while discovering the foods and flavours of different cultures. One night Michelle enjoyed a particularly delicious Middle Eastern lentil soup that she really liked. She asked staff for the recipe, and now Michelle enjoys the soup at home.

Along with enjoying the food, Michelle has made many friends at the drop-in. The social aspect of attending the Program is what keeps participants like Michelle looking forward to Wednesday evenings.

Doreen, another woman who attends the program lives in the same neighbourhood as Michelle. Through talking they realized that they had a lot in common and now attend the supper program together. Michelle tells us that she and Doreen see each other once a week outside of Nellie’s as well, getting together for “tea and a talk” at their homes.

When we asked Michelle why she enjoys coming to the Supper Drop-In Program, this is what she had to say: “The program gets better every week and the food is always healthy and tasty. Food and friendship – what more could you want?”

What You Can Do

Nellie's Housing Support Program

Activities a donation will support

Many women arrive at Nellie's shelter with little more than the clothes they're wearing.

Funds donated help improve the quality of life for women and their children in many ways. For example:

$25 allows for a cultural interpreter to ensure that a woman's voice is heard

$35 will help a woman and her children get to and from appointments

$50 gives a mom much needed childcare/parenting relief during an appointment

Gifts towards this program will allow Nellie's to: 

  • Help women and their children purchase necessities for their new home
  • Help women and their children move into her new home
  • Provide emergency rent relief or special needs support to ensure that women will not be forced to lose their housing when facing difficult decisions such as feeding the kids, or paying the rent

Donation impact

With the generous support from our community, Nellie is able to help the voices of women be heard to help end the cycle of violence, poverty and homelessness in the lives of all women and children.

Nellie's Kids Camp

Activities a donation will support

Support to Nellie's Kids Camp will help increase the amount of programs and activities for children.

Activities can include arts workshops, group learning experiences and field trips and outings to fun events including sports events, theatre and other arts experiences, interacting with nature and exploring the neighbourhood.

Donation impact

Through the support of the community who like us, recognize that children thrive when they have a solid support system, Nellie's Kids Programs assist women in their efforts to rebuild strong, safe, and proud families where children can learn, grow and become the best they can be, leaving the cycle of violence and poverty behind.

Nellie's Supper Surprise Drop-In

Activities a donation will support

Grants to the Supper Surprise Drop-In program will enable Nellie's to:


  • Supplement a broader range of healthy food options, and contributing to the health and wellness of the women and children who come to Nellie’s. With the rising cost of food, help women afford fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Purchase cultural specific foods, ensuring that accommodation of the diverse population of women served
  • Increase capacity to provide for an ever-growing number of women who come to Nellie’s for food relief 

Donation impact

During these precarious financial times, low-income women are most at-risk in making difficult decisions regarding their limited budgets, decisions including, paying the rent or feeding their kids. Nellie's Supper Surprise Drop-In and food access programs greatly helps to provide basic relief so women do not end up homeless.


Julia Robinson
Development Manager
Charitable Number: 119302727RR0001

Finance & Governance


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