The new GTA shelter is aimed at Muslim women and children with disabilities

Bins with sensory toys and tools for children are available in the apartment.  (Submitted by Sakeenah - photo credit)

Bins with sensory toys and tools for children are available in the apartment. (Submitted by Sakeenah – photo credit)

New transitional shelters for Muslim women and children have opened in Milton – a shelter tailored to the needs of people with disabilities.

“Even when we’ve had families with children who are either on the spectrum or with disabilities … sometimes they don’t feel comfortable living in shared accommodation with other strangers,” said Nazish Tayab, program director for national charity Sakeenah.

Based in Mississauga, Sakeenah has been providing transitional housing for Muslim women and children across Canada since 2018. However, the organization has identified an urgent need for spaces with better accessibility.

To this end, she has set up her own apartment, which is aimed specifically at women and children with disabilities.

“The fact that we can give them this private living space where they can receive their therapy and services was really appreciated,” Tayab said.

The shelter opened in late January with help from SMILE Canada, a nonprofit organization that supports racist youth with disabilities and their families.

SMILE will connect families who use the shelter with culturally relevant therapists and resources, while also covering the cost of those services when necessary to ease residents’ financial burden, said Nida Khan, director of education and research at the organization .

The space includes accessibility features such as lowered light switches, toilets, floor transition slides, moving shower heads, bed rails, and fire alarms that provide visual and audible warnings.

Submitted by Sakeenah

Submitted by Sakeenah

“It’s a really good move to show the public how important it is and the specific needs of these families,” Khan said.

“It’s easy to overlook those in your community who have children with disabilities and the support they need, so this is a great reminder for all of us that so much is being invested in caring for these children.”

“Lived experience” helps to get in touch with customers

Khan was diagnosed with a disorder while she was at university and developed disabilities through multiple surgeries. She is completely deaf in her left ear and struggles with balance.

She said these everyday experiences helped her in her work with SMILE.

“Having that extra layer of lived experience, whether you’re racist, have a disability, or both, or identify as the same belief, also creates more comfortable spaces for the families,” she said.

Submitted by Sakeenah

Submitted by Sakeenah

And creating a comfortable place for families is a focus of the new shelter.

SMILE’s culturally responsive approach means staff speak the same language as clients and services such as therapies are delivered without barriers. It’s critical to providing meaningful care to those who need it, Khan said.

“A family may not open up or communicate as much; there’s just so much misunderstanding happening. But then when you add this culturally appealing piece, those barriers start to disappear,” Khan said.

A look into the future

The Milton shelter is the seventh Sakeenah to open, but Tayab says it won’t be the last with a focus on accessibility.

She said Sakeenah hopes to make ramps and railings commonplace in new places. The addition of accessible shower facilities and beds to a shared Sakeenah facility may be possible if the living space layout permits.

And in the meantime, the partnership between SMILE and Sakeenah is off to a solid start.

“We’ve worked with SMILE Canada over the years to provide these customers with support services that we couldn’t really help them with,” Tayab said.

“But finally we had the opportunity to work with SMILE again and we opened an accessible apartment.”


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