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Emma House expanding to help expectant moms at risk of homelessness

Calgary shelter allows women to leave the cycle of homelessness after becoming pregnant

Isabella Pacchiano works with Emma House to help pregnant women in Calgary who are facing homelessness.

Elizabeth Cameron/For Metro

Isabella Pacchiano works with Emma House to help pregnant women in Calgary who are facing homelessness.

Kayla was 21, drinking heavily, and living on her sister’s couch when she got the news. She was pregnant.

“It made me stop in my tracks,” she said.

She was scared. She had no idea what would happen to her, or her baby.

Kayla, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, spent much of her teenage years at youth shelters. 

“Those years were pretty rocky,” she recalled.

A young woman with no fixed address, Kayla knew she was not prepared to raise a child. She was surrounded by alcohol and substance abuse. Her sister’s couch was not a crib. 

She decided to leave her turbulent situation behind, before the baby arrived. 

Searching for support 

Kayla started looking for a way out, but knew she couldn’t escape on her own. She wondered where she would live, and how she would provide for the child growing inside her.

Enter Emma House, a safe house in Calgary for pregnant women who are facing homelessness. Kayla reached out to the shelter and told them she needed help.

“We work with at-risk pregnant women to break the cycle of homelessness,” said Isabella Pacchiano, with Emma House.

Women’s shelters don’t typically take children, except on an emergency or temporary basis. This leaves pregnant women in a difficult position. 

After giving birth, many seek stability in what are often unhealthy relationships, according to Pacchiano.

Women facing things like violence, poverty, or addictions who become pregnant will often get stuck in this cycle.

“It’s important to provide at-risk pregnant women with some stability. Many of them have been through foster care most of their lives, or come from an unstable family situation,” Pacchiano said. 

Emma House is currently expanding, and being renovated to accommodate more women and their newborns.

“Each year, we see over 60 women turned away from our facility because of our limitations. We’re hoping with this expansion we can see more women housed,” Pacchiano said. 

The new facility will be able to house eight women at a time. 

“I know that we’re making a change and will be able help more women than we ever thought possible,” said Pacchiano.

Room to breathe 

Within two weeks of reaching out to Emma House, Kayla’s life was turned upside-down in the best way.

She moved into her own room at the shelter. She felt like she could breathe again.

“I’m not sure what I would have done, if I didn’t get in there when I did,” Kayla said.

Over the next few months, the staff at Emma House helped Kayla find income support, attend prenatal classes, and get into counselling. She even joined a group for new moms.

The women staying at Emma House must be in school, working, or participate in regular volunteer work while living at the confidential address.

A live-in supervisor stays with the women to help cook, provide emotional support, and drive them to doctor’s appointments.

Kayla lived at the facility until her child was around 9 months old. Emma House helped her transition into her own home, with her healthy and happy son. It was a huge step towards independence.

A year and a half later, she was financially independent too.

“(Emma House) gave me the support I needed, to become the mother I am today,” she said. 

Kayla has come a long way from the 21-year-old girl seeking solace in a bottle.

She is currently engaged to be married, and expecting her second child in May. 

“The nature of our work is quite heavy, but there is so much hope,” said Pacchiano.

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