Meet Tess Gordey, Executive Director of WIN House
WIN House is the recipient of the pad, tampon, and undie donations we’re collecting during this month’s All About Her. Period. campaign. Claire and Lindsey stopped by WIN’s offices to meet Tess Gordey, Executive Director, and learn more about WIN’s services and donation needs.
Tess has over 30 years of experience in education, development of policies, and ethical practices relating to domestic violence prevention. She is a Registered Social Worker who earned her Masters of Social Work in Leadership in Human Services from the University of Calgary. Along with her role of advocacy and leadership at WIN House, Tess is a member of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters and the Capital Region Housing Committee.
Claire: Tess, can you tell us a little about how you got started in your career?
Tess: I started out in 1996 as a counsellor in Second Stage Housing (SSH) at the Brenda Strafford Foundation. The foundation began in Calgary in the first three floors of a nine-storey building in the Kensington neighbourhood, and has since been replaced by a new mixed-housing project on 10th Street in Calgary.
It was about two years ago that I was 18 years into the same job and ready for a change. When I got the job at WIN House, my husband and I packed our van in about five days. We moved up to Edmonton with our three dogs, and I was here!
Claire: WIN House turns 50 next year. Can you tell us a little bit about the role you play in our community, and how the organization has developed over the years?
Tess: Women only gained personhood in Canada in 1929 - and fifty years ago, there were no places for women to go. Most of the ‘shelters’ fifty years ago were a bedroom in a friend’s house. Fifty years later, women’s shelters are still turning away twice as many people as they’re taking in.
WIN House provides a safe space, physically and emotionally. We invest in creating emotional and psychological security by providing clothing and some of the comforts of home. We have a part-time donations coordinator to help with this, and we run a “WIN House Boutique” where our clients can select free donated clothing. We’ve got some amazing donors - Central Sewing, for example, makes heirloom-quality quilts to go on all our beds; our clients can take them when they move on.
Lindsey: Have you noticed change in how we approach violence against women in the past 50 years? Has there been improvement?
Tess: Change has been slow. It’s mostly about collaboration and community development. There are so many complex pieces - the bottom line is, this is a gender issue.
When I was a teenager, I remember my father watching Question Period on TV, and almost every MP erupting in laughter when there was a question about domestic violence prevention. My mom had to have a note signed by my dad to get her tubes tied after giving birth to 7 kids. At 15, I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t right.’
However - there are a lot of changes we have been able to make in the past 15 years:
- The Child Welfare Act changed in 2003 to include “exposure to domestic violence” acknowledged as an issue.
- We have the Alberta Social Services Benefit - there’s a one-time, $1000 cheque issued for victims of domestic abuse, which really isn’t a lot. There are dollar costs associated with being an abuse victim. Losing student status, losing the abuser’s income, leaving property that’s half theirs, and legal costs.
- The Edmonton Women’s Shelter has created an excellent danger assessment tool.
- There is improved screening training for Emergency Medical Services workers, so that signs of domestic abuse can be better recognized in hospitals.
Claire: Do you think that progress is going to come from lots of small changes, or from a few big ones?
Tess: We’re hoping that the small changes add up to big change. Where marketing and community involvement is concerned, we can only do what I’m able to do off the side of my desk - which is why it’s so crucial for community to come to us. Your campaign and others, like November Family Violence Month, are great examples.
Claire: Can you tell us a little about your resources, and what WIN House needs to be able to continue providing its services?
Tess: 65 percent of our funding is from government, and 35 is from private donors and community fundraisers. We’re really lucky that funding’s been holding steady despite the financial downturn - the difference is that we’ve lost some of their big donors, but gained almost twice the third-party donors.
Funding is always a challenge, especially because the goal is always “sustainable” funding. Sometimes, we have to say, ‘It doesn’t matter if this funding might not existing 2 or 3 years - think of all the families we can help now who would otherwise be turned away at the door.’
A specific funding challenge right now is that WIN clients aren’t technically “chronically homeless,” and we can’t access some funding options because of that. We try to argue that our clients need temporary housing to prevent homelessness.
The frustrating thing is that we can only help about one-third of the women who come to us - and that means that, by the end of the triage process, most of the women we serve are the ones who have absolutely zero resources. Not the women who have some money squirrelled way just in case, or the women who have friends or family they can call. It’s important to remember how little these women have - not just when they come to us, but ever. Donations like fresh underwear, or little treats like bubble bath or even a blank journal - these are luxuries.
Claire: How does WIN House approach the conversation with women around menstruation supplies - especially with women from different backgrounds and levels of comfort in period-talk?
Tess: The experience of a well-off woman who’s had a good understanding and healthy body image is going to be very different from a woman who’s been sexually abused or traumatized. We see tampon ads on TV in a way that we may not have 15 years ago - but it’s still all about running through daisies. There are bins at the houses for pads and tampons, and it’s our job to learn what women need - and to do so in a culturally sensitive way.
You can read more about WIN House here and meet the rest of the team here. Through the end of March, we’ll be accepting in-person donations of undies, pads, tampons, and any other personal-care items at:
9909 72 Ave NW, Edmonton (Timbre Studios)
Monday - Friday, 9 - 5
Check out our All About Her. Period. Campaign-specific products here, including a $5 Period Pack that we’ll donate on your behalf.