National Philanthropy Day: 5 Days for the Homeless

For National Philanthropy Day 2021 we nominated 5 Days for the Homeless, ATCO, and John Brooks Comapny Ltd., to recognize their incredible support of YESS!


5 Days for the Homeless is a university student initiative designed to raise funds and spread social awareness in support of the issues faced by traumatized and homeless youth. The event, founded in 2005 by students in the Faculty of Business at the University of Alberta, has since become a national event in which 21 universities and colleges across Canada support their local homeless shelters. The 2021, 5Days group, faced the additional challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented almost all of the normal events of the 5 Days campaign. The students of this group, however, were very innovative and motivated, and moved the campaign almost totally online. Their campaign was highly successful and Youth Empowerment and Support Services is proud and honored to have such a group supporting our youth.

“The 2021, 5 Days for the Homeless campaign, was able to fund raise over $25,000 for Youth Empowerment and Support Services. The campaign was able to exceed its goals of raising donations and general awareness towards youth homelessness support in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. 5 Days has reached campus wide appeal with volunteers from different faculties helping deliver our message in their respective networks. Our awareness content, educating students about the challenges associated with youth homeless, was able to reach hundreds of followers through our social media and events. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted youth experiencing homelessness as multiple Canadian organizations have struggled to stay connected with them due to a loss of funding, a decrease in staff, and an increase of health concerns. While the 5 Days campaign was typically conducted in person, we decided to pivot online to continue contributing to YESS during these challenging times.”

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Meet the Youth Agency Collaboration and Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response Team

To share their experiences in working with youth and as part of the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response, we talked to Gus Gusul, Management and Strategy Consultant for the Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC), and Lux, Family Resource Network Manager for the C5 NE Hub.


Tell us a bit about yourself and organization.

Gus Gusul: My name is Gus. Now, I know that legally my name is really Matthew Gusul, but no one calls me that (except my mom and the police) – please call me Gus. I am from rural Alberta growing up on an acreage a half mile south of a village named Bittern Lake that is halfway between Camrose and Wetaskiwin on Treaty Six Territory. My family came to Canada one generation ago on my dad’s side (Ukrainian) and two generations ago on my mom’s (Polish), making me a Settler.

I have spent a lot of time in university classrooms, recording studios, rehearsal halls, theatres, in the various places charities/non-profits call offices, pubs/coffee shops, and riding my bike. I have a PhD in theatre where my research was working in Tamil Nadu/Pondicherry, India to help start intergenerational theatre performances in rural areas. I have played in bands and am currently working on recording some songs I have written. I have also written several plays and have taught acting. I have worked for charities/non-profits for all my career outside of a year-long stint working for Indigenous Relations for the Government of Alberta.

I am currently hired as a Strategy and Management Consultant to help the Youth Agency Collaboration complete the final phase of our process in creating a city-wide model for the alleviation of the negative effects of poverty and homelessness on young people in Edmonton. YESS and Boyle Street are sharing the fiscal responsibility for my role.

Lux: My name is Lux, my pronouns are they/them, and I grew up in Treaty 7 territory, just outside Mohkinstsis. A proud queer and trans first generation Canadian, I have spent my adult life in the Human Services field and am currently the Family Resource Network Manager for the C5 NE Hub. The C5 is a collaboration of five non-profits (Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Boyle Street Community Services, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Norwood Family and Child Resource Centre, and Terra Centre for Teen Parents) who collectively support over 30,000 Edmontonians. The C5 NE Hub is a microcosm of the collaboration in action and was a response to a lack of services in NE Edmonton. The C5 NE Hub currently offers a community hub, employment supports, a Family Resource Network Hub, and food security programming.

How did you become involved with Youth Agency Collaboration and the Coordinated Youth Response?

GG: Last year while I was working as the Interim Executive Director of iHuman Youth Society, I was a member of the Leadership Steering Committee for YAC/CYR after Margo and Krysta (Krysta Fitzgerald, Deputy Executive Director, Boyle Street Community Services) invited me to sit on the committee. I really identified with the goals of YAC/ CYR in the efforts towards collaboration.

While working in India, I was amazed at the level of collaboration between the charities. If one group had extra milk, vegetables, laborers, or just about anything it was immediately shared with their neighbour organization; they collaborated on fundraising in the bigger cities and made sure any visiting dignitaries saw all the amazing work being done in their communities. I was more accustomed to the territoriality and competition between charities I had seen in Canada. I am excited to be working towards collaboration as I see the reality that a rising tide raises all the boats, not just mine. This past summer, I felt my time with iHuman was winding down and took on the challenge of helping with completing the final phase of the YAC Project as the Strategy and Management Consultant.

L: The C5 NE Hub and our Boyle Street neighbour program, Ubuntu, became a joint CYR Hub from the inception of the response, and I had the pleasure of representing us at the table. My background is in youth work and I have a long history of working in youth crisis and housing instability, so it was a good fit. I am able to bring my experience in agency collaboration, my experience as a frontline worker, and my lived experience as a natural support of folx experiencing crisis and housing instability to this work.

How does the Youth Agency Collaboration and the Coordinated Youth Response address the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness?

GG: Youth-serving agencies in Edmonton are not collaborating well. The fault for this does not lie with the agencies but with the culture our community has historically operated in. Charities are in competition with each other. We compete for funding from the government, for donation dollars from the Edmonton public, and we compete to have young people’s foot traffic through our agencies so we can show the best data. This culture of competition has weakened the ability of youth-serving agencies to meet the needs of young people.

The main purpose behind YAC/CYR is to reform this culture of competition into a culture of collaboration where agencies work to blanket the whole city in crisis services which young people can utilize to aid them in their ability to self-actualize the goals they have for their life. The group of agencies that serve young people in Edmonton will gain in strength through collaboration. We will be better able to advocate to government and business to what our sector needs to support the young people and the frontline staff. If we unite our voice, it will strengthen our voice. If we unite our knowledge, it will strengthen our ability to serve. If we unite our efforts, we will make a positive impact on the young people’s ability to achieve their goals.

I also see YAC/CYR as an opportunity to refocus the efforts of the youth-serving sector from treating the symptoms of poverty, houselessness, and other negative effects caused by capitalism and colonialism and to look at treating the root issues of trauma and family/community neglect. YAC/CYR goal of collaboration gives the youth-serving agencies in Edmonton the ability to focus on more preventative measures. Our collaboration will work to set a standard of practice that will focus on prevention. This shift in focus will help build community and aid young people in their ability to obtain self-actualization.

L: The YAC/CYR work is based on a report completed in Edmonton using stakeholder and lived experience feedback. By utilizing participant-based and practice-based evidence to guide our work we ensure that the voices of those we serve are at the forefront of our decision making. The CYR platform leverages technology to get youth connected to a team of supports when they ask for it, rather than expecting youth to traverse the entire city, often taking several

days, to build their care team on their own, if they are able to navigate the existing barriers. We are meeting the unique needs of developing brains experiencing crisis and housing instability by reducing wait times to be connected to resources and sharing in the labour of building an appropriate care team.

That youth experiencing crisis and housing instability are kind, talented, dynamic human beings whose brains are still developing. Like any other youth they are navigating the world around them, determining the paths they will take in the future. They deserve the same space and grace we give all youth.

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The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response

In May 2020 the City of Edmonton was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the EXPO Centre was opened to support adults experiencing housing instability in their isolation and pandemic needs. Immediately, youth-servicing agencies noticed a significant gap in pandemic supports for youth aged 15–25.

The indoor public spaces and buildings that young people accessed during the day were no longer accessible, public transit was unavailable, and they were prohibited from being outside in public spaces. To further limit support for them, many agencies were closing for weeks at a time with quarantines. It was clear that much stronger collaboration and communication was needed to support youth in crisis during this time and in September 2020, YESS co-launched the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response with our youth agency partners, Boyle Street Community Services and iHuman Youth Society.

The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response (CYR) is a growing group of youth-serving agencies across the city committed to ensuring that young people receive timely, trauma-informed access to basic needs, pandemic support, and same-day virtual connections to other agencies. Through the CYR online platform, young people can access food, shelter, clothing, and housing connections from various agencies as well as access screening, testing, and safe isolation.

The CYR includes youth-serving agencies, schools, and secondary service partners such as Children’s Services and the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). In January 2021, the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response was given an Indigenous name by Elder Kokum Rose Wabasca: kanaweyim oskayak (pronounced CAN-ah-WEEM oh-SKY- YAK), which means “taking care of the youth.” And, as of February 2021, young people can access or get information on kanaweyim oskayak by texting or calling 211. The Coordinated Youth Response, kanayweim oskayak, is also a pilot project to practice coordination and integration between agencies within our Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC) work to build a long-term, city-wide plan for a collaboration, integrated network of care model for the prevention of youth homelessness.

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National Philanthropy Day: No Room in the Inn

For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!

No Room in the Inn

Since 1999, the Edmonton & District Council of Churches has sponsored an ecumenical Christmas fundraising initiative called No Room in the Inn. Each year, church congregations and individuals from many denominations join together to provide financial support to a housing provider for the homeless or people at risk in the Edmonton Capital Region. The annual campaign raises from $40,000 to $70,000. Over the years, the project has raised (cumulatively) over $1 million from the community for twenty different housing projects in the Capital Region! Rooted in values central to Christian faith and identity, their annual campaign expresses to vulnerable persons in our community that they are loved and cared about as valued members of our society. YESS was awarded funds from their 2018 campaign to completely renovate the bathrooms in our Whyte Avenue Nexus program to provide a cleaner environment with increased privacy and dignity. This will help the traumatized youth assisted by YESS to understand they are important and to help them integrate back into the community. Thank you to each member of the Edmonton & District Council of Churches for your generous support!

 

“No Room In The Inn is a Christmas fundraising initiative sponsored by the Edmonton and District Council of Churches. The name, drawn from the biblical story of Christ’s birth in a stable, reflects our focus on creating or improving housing for those in need. We often support small renovation projects for groups that might otherwise not be able to afford them. EDCC has long been aware of the good work that YESS performs in the community, and we were especially taken with the request from YESS knowing what a significant benefit they would receive from our relatively modest contribution.”

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Thank You to Southview Acura

Thank you to the team at Southview Acura for their commitment and continuous support for our youth.

Their dedication to give back has been essential in creating opportunities for our youth to be integrated back into the community.

Thank you to Southview Acura for your generosity and leadership.


Tell us why you choose to support YESS?

We choose to support YESS as we believe ending homelessness in our community starts with ensuring our youth receive the support and services they need to be successful young adults and integrate into our community. YESS’ mission “To walk beside traumatized youth on their journey towards healing and appropriate community integration” deals with the underlying issues by helping young people find a stable and secure environment to heal. We believe this is a crucial step towards a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

How does Southview Acura give back to the community?

Every year Southview Acura selects several charities that are near and dear to our hearts. Through monetary donations or by collecting supplies we do our best to support our community. This year we have been lucky enough to support Big Brother and Big Sisters, SCARS, Edmonton Food Bank, Basically Babies, Little Warriors, and The Christmas Bureau.

Why is it important for Southview Acura to support the community?

The community of Edmonton and surrounding area have been extremely loyal and supportive of Southview Acura for many years. Our clients are truly the most caring and hard-working people. It is our privilege to give back to the community.

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Thank You to The Orange Door Summer 2021 Campaign!

Thank you to the Orange Door Campaign for raising over $74,000 in support of Youth Empowerment and Support Services. We’re incredibly grateful for the Home Depot Canada Foundation and the local Home Depot Edmonton stores leading the way to end youth homelessness in Canada.

Words cannot express how much we appreciate the community support in donating $2 at the till and making a difference. 

Thank you for being part of the community walking beside youth on their journeys towards healing!

THANK YOU TO

Home Depot Clareview
Home Depot Sherwood Park
Home Depot Skyview
Home Depot South Edmonton Common
Home Depot Strathcona
Home Depot West End
Home Depot Westmount
Home Depot Whitemud
Home Depot Windermere

Home Depot Clareview

Home Depot Skyview

Home Depot Strathcona

Home Depot West End

Home Depot Westmount

Home Depot Whitemud

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Donor Spotlight: Judith Dyck and James Flett

Isn’t it true that our lives are rife with the unexpected and filled with surprises. And as our story is written, within those fulsome pages is a powerful commonality that we all share. What stands out the most isn’t necessarily the emotions associated with our greatest joys or our most heartbreaking sorrows. It is who was there to support us.   

Long-time annual donors, Judith Dyck and James Flett, so beautifully speak of the two-fold gift that can be found within the wise help and loving support provided to youth along their life’s journey. No young person’s life should be consumed by worry, the loss of potential, or the loss of their dreams, along life’s long tale of the complicated and unpredictable. What a privilege and opportunity that presents itself when a young person finds the courage and wisdom to reach out for support! We are all, whether by happenstance or design, a part of someone’s yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

 

From Judith and James

We are long time Edmonton residents—James grew up here and I moved from Manitoba over 40 years ago. Our lives are rooted in a deep love of family, place, and community. Our two sons are in their early twenties and through them, their friends, and our own experiences, we know transitioning to adulthood can be tough.

Caring is a part of being human and to be able to give is a blessing. Our focus in giving is helping people build resilience and strong families. Sometimes it seems that society looks at people in silos—some are sick, so we give to hospitals. Others are hungry, so we give to the food bank. But really, they’re the same people. So our hope is that there’s a continuum of support for people in need, from crisis nursery to youth services to support for young parents.

Through working with Kids Kottage, a crisis nursery in Edmonton, we saw first-hand how hard people try to support their families. If people are struggling and aren’t able to create the families they’d like to, children can miss out. As these children become adults, they are left to knit together their lives on their own.

And thus YESS. YESS provides a place and a warm heart for youth—all youth—in need. It relies heavily on donors. We tend to give annually without designating where the funds are to be used. YESS knows its needs and uses donations wisely.

If there’s one thing we would like people to understand about youth using the services of YESS, it is that they are no more or less gifted or worthy than our own children. They’ve just had to travel a different road. They are deserving of unconditional love and support in reaching adulthood.

A few years ago we toured YESS and saw this on the wall:

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.”

YESS gives young people the space to hear that voice and keep trying. And to succeed.

 


 

Thank you for caring so deeply about the work that YESS does and for the profound difference that your gift will help to make in the life story of so many young people!  

Your donation will be used to support the wide-ranging and life-changing needs of our youth, as our donors would so rightly expect:  Programs and services to address trauma, addiction and mental health challenges, to establish or rebuild life skills and strengthen resilience, to ensure access to healthy food, welcoming, safe shelter –and crucially- healing, recovery, and future vision.

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Into the Future

Tessa has been involved in the humanities field for 22 years. Her passion is to help high risk youth reach their goals by helping them navigate around the barriers in their lives and build essential life skills. This passion is what brought her to work for Youth Empowerment & Support Services, where she serves as Manager of the Shelter Programs, including the Nexus 24/7 sleep shelter, the Armoury Resource Centre, and the Cohort Independent Living Program. Tessa believes that collaboration is key to ending systemic homelessness across the city. Tessa received the Commonwealth Gold Medal Award from Canada’s Lieutenant General for her work with the Youth Restorative Action Project.  


Over the past 18 months, there have been many adjustments and innovations made in YESS programs. Even looking back to pre-pandemic times, why is it important for youth-serving agencies to be flexible and open to change? 

Adaptability has always been an important part of our frontline services. The youth themselves are constantly changing, and as some move on and new youth move in, this creates a shift in both trends and needs which are both influenced by a lot of factors. One year we might be seeing a big push for gang recruitment in the area and we need to pivot our efforts towards a safety and risk-focused programming in mind, another year we might see a spike in interest for going back to school and we pivot towards a stability focus that will drive success there. 

The pandemic for us wasn’t an exception to this, but it is a perfect example of what flexibility really means for us. When the pandemic first hit, one of the most urgent issues was that individuals experiencing homelessness suddenly had fewer places to physically be, in the middle of winter. Malls were closed, libraires were closed, all of the safe spaces to loiter simply weren’t accessible anymore. We knew that we immediately needed to modify our operating hours to be 24/7 between our day and night programs so that youth had a space to just exist safely. We also anticipated that there would be many new youth coming through our doors for the first time, with the closures of schools and many people losing jobs. High stress + nowhere to escape to = a breaking point in some households that were already struggling. This is exactly what we saw, a spike in new clients who very likely would never have been in our service if the pandemic had not caused this tipping point to happen. In other words, a spike in clients who were very much not prepared for life on the streets. The population shifts, external risks shift, community supports shift… it’s a fluid environment and we need to remain fluid in order to provide the best version of support for the youth who need us today.  

 

 

How do youth-serving agencies impact not just youth’s futures, but also the future of the wider community? 

A single youth does not exist in a bubble, they have family and friends, they go to school and have jobs, they pass by and interact with many people—just like we all do. They are a part of our community. Pain and suffering are not siloed, when any member of our society struggles it affects us all. Sometimes this is in very direct ways, like when someone who is struggling with severe addictions becomes desperate enough to rob a stranger. Sometimes it’s in more subtle ways, like the high cost of emergency physical and mental health interventions for people experiencing homelessness, and this affects the public budgets which we all pay for. What if we can prevent the residual trauma of events like that community member being robbed by having addictions programs ready and available? What if we can prevent the enormous cost of emergency services for homeless individuals by spending far less money on meaningful prevention and interruption of homelessness?  

If we help meet the needs of our most vulnerable, then we lift the entire community at the same time.  

 

Based on the changes you have seen in the youth sector during your career, in what ways do you think this work will continue to evolve, either in the broader sector or specifically at YESS? 

I hope to see the sector as a whole pulling away from methods that institutionalize youth. We need more services that directly aim to end chronic underlaying issues that cause cyclical homelessness. We can’t simply have shelters and independent housing—we need to focus on the transitional programs that fit in-between those two points. Programs that build life skills, that offer support rather than coddling, that guide rather than control, programs that create an environment where autonomy and self-reliance can grow and thrive, programs that promote healthy integration into community. ­­­­­­­­­ 

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Holding the Present

Marcia trained as a psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience working with youth and their families, five years of which has been spent in Edmonton working with youth who are homeless. She is motivated by her love for youth and seeks to find ways in joining them on their journeys in pursuit of healing. Her strengths include the ability to bear witness to the experience of others, facilitate containment of others, and collaborate with others in the exploration of their strengths. 


YESS has made trauma-informed care a focus in all programs. Can you speak to how this has impacted the youth experience at YESS, and how this focus has evolved in the years that you have worked at YESS?

Trauma-informed practice speaks to the integration and understanding of past and current experiences of trauma into all aspects of the work we do for the populations that we serve. Our staff at YESS receive trauma-informed care training and are therefore aware of the high prevalence of trauma in our society and the wide range of responses, effects, and adaptations that people make to cope with their trauma. As we continue to mediate these experiences of our youth through our relationship-building, creating connections, and facilitating healthy attachments, there continues to be a rise in youth safety levels, as is demonstrated in increased access our services, ease in inhabiting our spaces, and opening up and connecting with staff.

 

How does access to therapy and trauma-informed support impact youth in their current circumstances as well as into their futures?

Therapy sessions utilise a strength-based approach, helping youth discover their authentic selves, their abilities, and resources, and employ them to build and improve their coping strategies so they can better respond to cues and emotions associated with traumatic events. Therapy also provides an opportunity for youth to explore their thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behavior, and learn new coping techniques to better manage the daily stressors and symptoms they experience. Some of these skills include relaxation strategies, self-regulation, and anxiety management. Trauma-informed support emphasises working collaboratively to deliver optimum services, as well as offering chances for choice in programs, which promote empowerment, and the prospect for healthy attachment. The trauma-informed support we provide at YESS also promotes resiliency building, as we seek to improve the protective factors in the lives of our youth.

 

How does the ever-widening conversation of mental health affect the youth as well as the community?

The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults. We are then called upon to be aware of and facilitate the experiences that contribute to good mental health in youth. Factors such as a strong sense of safety in community; high self-esteem, self-efficacy, and positive sense of self-worth; and connection to spiritual or cultural beliefs, goals, or dreams provide meaning and purpose youths’ lives.

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National Philanthropy Day: Collin and Janel Bruce

For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!

Collin and Janel Bruce

Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) is honored to recognize Collin, Janel & the team at Collin Bruce Mortgage Team for the profound impact that their philanthropic commitment has had over the past 10 years on our organization and the lives of the incredible youth that we serve every day. As passionate advocates and ambassadors for our youth in the community, the Collin Bruce Mortgage Team has helped to strengthen the futures of our youth through their many creative and generous avenues of support. With television and radio commercials, they have been instrumental in raising awareness of the challenges our youth face. Their benevolence has extended to major financial support, Christmas gifts for the youth celebrating the holidays at YESS and they have generously matched support for an annual Sonic auction initiative. Over the years, they have regularly sponsored and helped to grow both our annual Gala for Youth and YESS Charity Golf Tournament. Many thanks to Collin, Janel & the Collin Bruce Mortgage Team for their tireless long-term support and encouragement of our youth as they grow and empower themselves to become independent and break the cycle of homelessness.

“YESS plays an integral role for the youth of this city. These youth are put in unimaginable, terrible circumstances, at no fault of their own. Not only does YESS provide a safe place for these kids to go, over time they help address and heal the trauma that they face. We are so grateful and blessed to be a part of the small business community in Edmonton and have always wanted to give back to that community. We connected with YESS when we started our business and feel so lucky to be a part of that family. We truly believe that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more and try to live by this.”

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