Sistering – a drop-in for homeless and marginalized women – has been a stalwart front-line facility in downtown Toronto since 1981.
Today, this busy place is located on Bloor West at Dovercourt and, for the past three years, it has expanded its services to be a “low-barrier” shelter. That means that they operate 24/7 and turn away no-one. With the homeless crisis reaching a peak this year and only getting worse, it’s a crowded spot.
I discovered Sistering 20 years ago at its location on College near Bathurst. It was open five days a week and operated as a drop -in. The place welcomed women with a hot lunch, coffee with snacks and counselling services.
Joanne Abbensetts, at that time Sistering’s director of resource development, told me for a 1998 column I wrote in the Toronto Star: “The number of homeless women has grown tremendously since government cutbacks. These women need greater access to affordable housing. Welfare cuts have done a lot of damage. If you take $20 a month away from a poor woman, she’s going to sink deeper and deeper into poverty and lose her dignity.”
Fast forward to today and Abbensett’s dire predictions have come true. Space, staff and funding are stretched to the max at Sistering where they serve 500 meals and snacks a day and accommodate 70 women each night on lazy-boy chairs plus mats on the floor.
Cathy Crowe, a street nurse who advocates tirelessly for the disenfranchised, along with a group of activists have declared a state of emergency in Toronto where at least 100 homeless people have died in the past year, 2018.
Facilities like Sistering, shelters and programs helping people without a roof over their heads, are only band-aids. What is needed is affordable housing. I repeat: affordable housing.
In 2011, an all-woman team – several high-profile chefs, the women who work in the kitchen at Sistering and people like Abbensett and I – organized three gala dinners as a fundraiser. The result: a whopping $60,000 that went to re-furbishing the kitchen at the increasingly busy drop-in/shelter.
Of late, I have encouraged Sistering to re-publish a cookbook called The Real Dish that they put out as a fundraiser in 1998. Here is a recipe that is downhome and delicious from it:
¼ cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
2 tsp grated lemon rind
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a medium loaf pan and dust with flour.
In small saucepan over medium heat, combine ¼ cup sugar and lemon juice until melted. Keep warm.
Cream butter and 1 cup of sugar in stand mixer or in bowl with hand beater or wooden spoon until soft and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine after each addition.
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Add to creamed mixture in batches, beating alternately with milk, until combined and ending with flour mixture. Stir lemon rind.
Bake in oven about 1 hour or until tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, prick top of loaf all over with fork or skewer while still warm and pour lemon syrup over.
Makes 1 loaf.