Safe Haven: An ethnography about a women’s homeless shelter in Toronto,

The ethnography Safe Haven, by Rae Bridgman is about homeless women in Toronto. It focus’ on the women’s homeless shelter Savard’s , and how it became into a different homeless shelter than others in Toronto. The ethnography goes into great detail of how the staff came up with certain rules, like if the women need to take their medication, whither or not a women should be barred, and also how long they can stay at the shelter. Unlike other shelters in Toronto Safe Haven is like a home for homeless women, they have their own nooks they stay in, throughout the day they allowed to leave and come back whenever they please, they don’t have a set amount time they are allowed to stay in the shelter, however they have to follow rules and take medication in order to stay. Bridgman focus on a group of women that live in Savard’s, she uses staff notes from a couple days, and describe what each individual women does. Most women have some form of mental illness, but each women is different and has their own struggles. Most of these women have severe mental disorders; they scream, pee them myself, smear feces on the walls, and don’t shower often. She talks about how each women interact with each other, the relations between the staff and women, and also how other people like police, doctors or social workers deal with the women. These women have been kicked out of other homeless shelters, because of their actions, but Savard’s is designed to fit the needs for marginalized women. . Bridgman also talks about the facility layout and even includes pictures; this helps you picture the facility when talking about the women. There is also an issue with the facility being too small for the amount of women and staff in Savard’s. At the end of the ethnography Bridgman includes what happened to Savard, which is very important. In the end they moved to a bigger facility where they could accommodate more women, and were staff and the women had more privacy.

Safe Haven has all the characteristics that make it a good student ethnography. To start off the ethnography is broken down into chapters that as easy to read because they each focus on a specific idea. The chapters aren’t very long, which makes it an easy read as well, mainly for busy students. Bridgman makes it clear to read as she sticks to the main points, and doesn’t use many professional jargon. She makes to easy to understand the culture of homeless women, by including interviews/personal stories of everyday life, having statics, and including pictures of Savard’s. Even though Bridgman does not exactly follow Marcus and Cushman’s characteristics, she was still able to make an engaging ethnography that captured the homeless women population in Toronto, and the homeless shelter Savard.

Safe Haven is a good ethnography for other social sciences, student, action orientated, and popular audience. The social science readership could use Safe Haven because sociologist can see how homeless population can affect the rest of society, and psychologist can look at the mental illness that most homeless women have in safe haven. It’s a good readership for students, because it is an easy read and its very educational about the homeless shelters and population in Toronto. Action orientated readership like the government, and program administrations could use Safe Haven to make better programs and funding for homeless population, get a better understanding of homeless women in Toronto, and finally create more homeless shelters like Savard’s throughout the country. Lastly Safe Haven is a good read for the popular audience/general population, anyone who is interested in the homeless population, or wants to make a difference with the homeless should read this ethnography. It would also be good for anyone that lives in or by Toronto to read Safe Haven to get a better understanding of what’s going on in their city. Safe Haven looks at the boarder issues in Toronto than if the Leafs won, trains being delayed, or how many condos are being built. This is looking at homeless women who have mental illness; it looks at how the city needs to better and more homeless shelters to fit the needs for women and men.

There is two reviews I found that are similar to how I portrayed the ethnography Safe Haven. The first review was about how Bridgman’s ethnography was not just about homeless women, but rather the most marginalized women with mental illness, and how Savard’s was a place that would fit their needs (Spain, Daphne. 2005). I agree with this review, Bridgman was looking at how Savards was a different homeless shelter than others in Toronto, it was a shelter that the women could feel comfortable in and receive the help that they needed. Savards was not like any other women’s shelter in Toronto, it was designed to be a flexible and compassionate facility. The second review looks at what readership Safe Haven is good for, which were students, and other social sciences (Brown, Karin Elliott. 2004). This was similar to what I said about the readership, the ethnography has different components that sociologist, psychologist, and social workers could use. The review looks at how engaging Bridgman made her ethnography, “The author successfully captures ‘‘ethnography in action’’ as she describes the process of discovery in the field and creatively reports what happens when fieldwork is done” (Brown, Karin Elliott. 2004, pg. 267). I agree with this statement Bridgman was able to get her point across of Savard’s culture, but she was able to do it in a way that engaged the reader through interviews, pictures, and statistics. Both reviews portrayed Safe Haven as an interesting ethnography that many different audiences would enjoy. It also not only focus’ on homeless women in Toronto, but the most marginalized homeless women, and looks at an environment that would best suite them.

Safe Haven, was a very good ethnography, unlike other class reading I found Bridgman’s work to be engaging. It was an easy read, she didn’t use too much jargon, she focused on the main points, she used descriptive words that made you feel like right were she was describing, the use of interviews/ personal stories, and pictures also made the culture better to understand. I live near Toronto, and frequently roam around the city, so this ethnography was more interesting for me. I knew the areas where she was describing, and I could not help thinking about all the homeless people I see downtown while reading this ethnography. I would recommend this ethnography to other students in the social sciences, or to anyone from Toronto. This ethnography is great way of educating people at looking at the other side of Toronto, which must people do not also see or avoid.


Word count: 1138

by: Jewel Bemelen


Brown, Karin Elliott. 2004. Book Review. Safe Haven: The Story of a Shelter for Homeless Women. Cities 21(3): 267-268.


Spain, Daphne. 2005. Bridgman, Rae: Safe Haven: the Story of a Shelter for Homeless Women; Book Review. Canadian Journal of Urban Research (March).



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