Health and home: “Where the magic happens”

WISH team
WISH team left to right: Dominique Shephard, Sara Wheler, Maya Fry and Krista Dunn

“What do you like to do? What are your hopes?” These are the types of questions Dominique Shepherd asks women who are part of the YWCA Halifax’s Women in Supportive Housing (WISH) program.

The WISH program’s primary focus is providing safe, affordable housing to women who are on income assistance. Sara Wheler, Program Coordinator, and Maya Fry, Housing Support Worker, both social workers, provide the bulk of this support. With the help of an NSHA Chronic Disease Innovation Fund (CDIF) grant, however, WISH has been able to expand its offerings this year by hiring Shepherd, an occupational therapist, to work part-time with program participants toward other life goals.

All of the women who access WISH have experienced trauma in some form; many have experienced homelessness and/or mental illness, addictions, incarceration or violence. As a result, they often have trouble accessing or navigating services, or even asking for help. Shepherd is working with women to help them identify and pursue personal goals related to health: reducing harmful use of alcohol, stopping smoking, increasing physical activity or eating healthier foods.

“I’m trying to help women invest time and care in themselves,” says Shepherd. It’s sometimes a slow process, as participants learn to trust Shepherd and realize that unlike some other relationships, she doesn’t want anything from them and she is genuinely there to support them. This support could mean attending medical appointments with participants, helping to connect them with resources and services in community, or talking through challenges that are standing in the way of participants achieving personal goals. In one case, it meant supporting a participant to meet her goal of joining a local gym.

Regardless of the participant’s goals, Shepherd’s role of building capacity and independence is founded on trust and dependability. “Sometimes, I’m the only person that a participant can feel comfortable enough to be irritable with,” says Shepherd. “When I come back, that means a lot.” She adds that her role is about “recognizing people and validating them.”

Like other WISH supports, Shepherd’s service is offered in participants’ homes so as to be completely accessible. “We know that supporting women in their homes works,” says Krista Dunn, Housing Manager, YWCA Halifax. “That’s where the magic happens.”

For more information about WISH, visit