From homeless to business owners

The near-cinematic stories of three smart and successful women,each of whom has endured a past rife with homelessness, poverty and abuse.


By: Vanessa Craft, Online Magazine


Rose Cathy Handy had always believed in destiny, but as she sat shell-shocked and alone, forcing down an unappetizing breakfast at a Toronto shelter for homeless women, she simply couldn’t fathom how – or why – she had arrived there.


Handy had a steady job working as an account analyst for RBC and had been spending most of her spare time preparing a bedroom for her first child’s imminent arrival. As she left home to give birth at the hospital, she noticed the eviction notice on her door. Her boyfriend had been pretending to go to work every day for six months, siphoning money from her bank account and neglecting to pay the rent. With a landlord unwilling to negotiate, Handy had to face the realization that she would have no home to return to.


This abrupt arrival at rock bottom 12 years ago came not only with fear and anger but copious amounts of guilt – her baby daughter would never sleep in her new bedroom. “I sat at the table in the shelter and questioned how on earth I could have ended up in that situation,” says Handy, who turned 40 in March. “I was doing all the right things, so why didn’t I see it coming? I woke up every day thinking this wasn’t how my child’s life was supposed to start, that she deserved so much better than this. I was completely at a loss.”


Looking for ways to pass the time at the shelter, Handy came across a dusty, abandoned room functioning as a library. The discovery of unused business books, demographic studies and materials about women entrepreneurs sparked an old dream of starting her own company. “I’d always believed that one day I would go into business for myself,” she says with a shrug. “And at this point, I had literally nothing to lose. I thought, Maybe this could be my way out of here.”


Working her way back to the top


Handy may be soft spoken with a gentle, easy smile, but she’s made of a mother bear’s fighting stock. Driven by a fierce desire to provide a home for her fledgling family, Handy parked herself at a payphone and worked every contact she had from previous jobs in event planning and marketing. Eventually, she won her first contract – consulting for a women’s seminar from her makeshift “office.” “My daughter, Carole, would sleep in her stroller, and I would work from a bench in the shelter library with my papers in my lap because there was no desk,” she says. Within five months, Handy was able to move into a one-bedroom apartment. “The day my business picked up to the point that my daughter had to start daycare – and I could afford it – was a very big step for me.”


Handy, who was born in Cameroon, immigrated to Canada from France in 1993 and is fluent in French, has since built three successful consulting and HR businesses, including Bilingual Link, which has connected more than 16,000 job seekers with potential employers. What’s next for the ambitious entrepreneur? She’s in training to enter politics and hopes to become a viable candidate within the next five years. “I don’t think the immigrant population realizes how much Canada has to offer them,” she says. “I want to help get these new communities feeling more involved.”