A Look at the Past

Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation, has been working with vulnerable populations since obtaining her BA in Psychology from the University of Alberta in 2004. Jessica spent the early days of her career working in a variety of group care settings focusing on high-risk children and youth with complex cases. Her work often involved clients who had experienced extreme family violence and sexual abuse. When Jessica joined the YESS family in 2016, she focused on becoming a certified Trauma and Compassion Fatigue Practitioner to fully understand the trauma journeys of youth and staff.  Jessica brings a wealth of experience and deep understanding of the complex needs of the most vulnerable youth. 


When you asked me to look back to when I first started in this field, I was shocked to think it’s been over 20 years. Time flies when you are helping humans to grow and develop, as any parent will tell you. What I do remember from my first days in group care, was the battle between my educated ego and my lack of experience and how all first-time workers feel. We feel smart and understanding of other human behaviour, having educated ourselves on the psychology and sociology behind how to work with youth at risk, children in care or transitioning youth to adulthood. We have this profound sense of ego that we know all the tools and techniques to help kids and change the system for the better. We are smart and we are going to save lives and change the world! And then we are hit with what the real experiences of working with youth are like and that is when the real work actually begins.

They say knowledge is power, however trying to explain the hierarchy of needs to an escalated youth resulted in a chair being thrown at my head and my life being threatened in the first 30 minutes of being on shift. I wasn’t actually in any danger; the youth was escalated because I gave them space and fuel to be escalated and when the adrenaline wore off, so did the threat. I can remember, clearly, the process of writing about this incident in the hand-written logbook and shaping the narrative of what happened out of fear of my job being questioned or to prove I was a youth worker, and less about the facts of what was done. Why? Because I was afraid: of the youth, of another escalated situation I couldn’t handle, and for my job.

I bring this up not because I am a bad youth worker (although they say that those who can’t do, teach or lead!), or to indicate that this business is scary. My point here is that, back in the day, we often operated and communicated out of fear. Sometimes it was the fear of the unknown, sometimes it was the fear of action, sometimes it was the fear of our careers. Policies and procedures were reactive written laws in the homes; however, they didn’t allow for the many grey scenerios that came up. This led to a need for someone else to tell us what to do, how to act, what is expected. This fear and this structure meant that proactive problem-solving and proactive innovations were not heard or utilized.

As I grew older and moved up the systemic hierarchy to have positions of decision making, responsibility, and leadership, I realized that the system was structured in a way that protected youth rights but also agency liabilities. There was very little support or engagement with the frontline staff and there was nothing close to interactive feedback on changes or ideas. Youth workers were almost dispensable and expected to follow along. It was a difficult time because it tied the hands of the workers who were directly trying to impact the lives of youth and it made this human process very bureaucratic. Burn out, lack of change or impact with the youth, and even staff turn over were the biggest frustrations in the system. We didn’t talk about the reasons why a youth was in service—we spoke of their behaviours and escalations. We didn’t talk about family relations, unless specifically designated to family reunification. We had strict goals for the youth, dictated by the government or guardians, that the youth had to comply with but didn’t get a voice in. Staff were injured and held accountable for serious ethical violations, without any support or understanding or compassion.

The biggest evolution I have seen is that there is a collective understanding that our system needed to evolve and change. We couldn’t keep operating out of fear of the youth and their history, we had to look at them as wholistic human beings who were hurt. Agencies started to understand that they needed to support their staff and look at their skills and capacities with intention and purpose. Engagement at all levels became important; youth, staff, and leaders all had perspectives and they all needed to be heard in order to form a policy. There was a shift in how we educate our staff, understanding that we need more than book knowledge to develop into youth workers; onsite placements increased in availability and length of time. Access to practicing skills, with support, became necessary for our youth workers. Trainings became more than a task that was checked off for accreditation; it became necessary to evolve and grow our capacities and update our knowledge and practice of tools to help.

We also started to hear and understand the word trauma and research into the brain science behind trauma and youth development became necessary. Science was telling us about the healthy trajectory of youth and comparing it to the developmental trajectory of youth who experienced trauma, and this opened up the scope of understanding the youth’s behaviours and escalations. It wasn’t willful disobedience that we needed to fear. There were needs not being met, survival skills protecting against more trauma, and developmental delays that require different approaches. We also started seeing the youth as individual humans with complex needs and goals. The language in the group homes and the policies and the history of the youth all changed to be more trauma-focused and including more context and humanity. The youth were no longer dangerous, scary, and evil people—they were scared, traumatized, and hurt kids who were locked in a survival mode.

Understanding this meant that we focused, as a system, on building relationships with the youth. Letting them tell their own stories and experiences, building up trust that we would handle them with care and grow their hope or potential. Youth workers started to get benefits and access to wellness supports that made it so they didn’t have to take on more trauma from this job. And our storytelling became more human and solution or growth-focused, rather than based on fear. Staff at all levels understood that feedback was important and necessary to be more effective and efficient with any policy changes. Agencies became teams and youth started to see more success as agencies and families truly collaborated around them.

The best part is that with the system changing and collaborating, we got excited to educate the community. We wanted their help; we were not longer adversaries. Our system staff understood that the community needed to be part of the solutions and part of the discussions and part of the knowledge. We can’t do this alone and the community can’t support if they aren’t walked beside as well. There’s a pride and excitement in engaging the community members and partners into collaborating and supporting the youth and it creates an entire city of growth and care.

The ultimate outcome of all this evolution is that the youth journey became healthier and more supported. In the past, youth were names and behaviours, shuffled and moved around according to agency needs, staff fears/narratives, or funding expectations. They were traumatized over and over by broken relationships and lack of trust; trust in themselves, the workers, and the systems. Goals were not met or if they were, it wasn’t genuine. Loss and grief for youth and staff were real and stereotypes were large and loud for our youth. With all these changes, the youth are now humans and their journey is one of understanding and empathy and compassion. We are youth-focused, not staff or agency-focused and this means the image of the youth changes. We are protective of their stories and their narratives across systems, within communities and amongst agencies. The youth journey is collaborative and at their pace because we recognize their voice and their knowledge and their pain. We acknowledge that these are their lives and we are here to fully support what they need, when they need it, however they need it. There is no fear or judgement anymore, only compassion and desire for growth and success. The stigma around youth behaviours is changing and the stigma around family involvement is changing and moving into more trauma-informed discussions. We know, now, that hurt humans hurt humans. We know that healing is dependant on relationship building and we know that the stakes are high. We are committed to a collective belief that we want to do this work, we need to do this work, and we can only do it when we grow and evolve together.

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Community Spotlight: Mealshare

Mealshare is committed to creating a world where it’s easier to share with those in need, and every child and youth is fed as a result. And, they won’t stop until that’s happened.

How does Mealshare work? Mealshare partners with restaurants and selects a “Mealshare Item” for the menu. When a customer orders this item, they get their meal, just like normal—and for each of those items sold, restaurants contribute $1.00 to Mealshare. Those funds are shared with partner agencies like YESS to purchase groceries and ingredients to provide meals for children and youth. Buy one, give one—it’s that simple!

Mealshare first partnered with us in 2015 and they have donated over $100,000 to YESS! 

We talked to Shree Govindarajan about her experience in bringing restaurants and charities together to support youth and children in our communities.


Tell us about yourself and your role at Mealshare.

My name is Shree, and I am the Edmonton Community Leader for Mealshare. I joined the organization in August 2018 to help fight against youth hunger, and connect with the restaurant community to do so. The Community Leader position is a combination of restaurant recruitment and retention, as well as managing our charity partners, and other community stakeholders. It’s been a rewarding experience, and such a great way to engage with my city.

How does Mealshare work?

It’s really simple! Mealshare is a non-profit organization whose mission is to end youth hunger in our lifetimes, with a Buy 1, Give 1 model. Our partner restaurants put the Mealshare logo on 2-3 menu items, and when patrons go in and order those items, they not only get a delicious meal, but they also share a meal with a youth in need through our program. Our partner restaurants provide us with funds for each one of their Mealshare items sold, and we distribute those funds to partner charities who then serve those meals. It’s a really great way to turn dining out into helping out!

Why did Mealshare choose to focus on supporting kids and youth focused organizations?

Kids and youth are such a vulnerable population, and we wanted to focus on these groups as well as the glaring issue of youth hunger in our communities. When people think of starving kids, they often think of groups in other countries, of it being a far-away issue. They often don’t think about the kids who live in their own communities, who are going to school without lunches in their backpacks, or food in their bellies. Especially as kids need good nutrition in this critical growth stage, it’s so important that they receive healthy meals on a consistent basis, and we’re so happy we can help through our program.

How does Mealshare see their impact in the community?

Recently, Mealshare hit the 4.5 million meals shared mark, which is incredible. Just thinking about 4.5 million Canadian kids who were fed through our program is very humbling, and also mind-blowing. Our impact on a day-to-day basis is still humbling, if not a little more easy to digest. We hear from restaurant owners that their customers love that they can give back to their communities in a way that is tangible, and guilt-free. We hear from our charity partners that it is nice to have a consistent source of funding, and that it helps them to plan and budget better. We see it in volunteer sessions with our partner charities, when we can serve meals directly alongside our restaurant partners, and see the impact of our work as kids and youth fill their plates.

Find out which Edmonton restaurants partner with Mealshare here

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Meet the YESS Kitchen Team!

Our kitchen team works hard to make sure our youth have access to nutritious meals in our programs. Over the past year, they provided over 70,000 meals! This is not only important for physical health for our youth, but also helps to create trust and build relationships with them, creating an environment where they feel safe to embark on their journey towards healing.

Like all of our teams, the kitchen team has had to adjust the way they work these past 18 months. We talked to Ryan Little and Reddy Manikyala about how their team has worked together to continue to do their important work.

What does it mean to nourish youth at YESS?

For us as a kitchen team, to nourish youth means we are potentially giving them a hot meal they would otherwise not necessarily have received. We want to be able to broaden their culinary tastes through a range of foods from various cultural backgrounds within the confines of what has been donated and what we have purchased.

What nourishes you, as a team?

The kitchen team gets our nourishment from knowing that our hard work creating meals is filling the bellies of our youth. The rewards of knowing the youth have tried something new and are happier without an empty stomach nourishes our hearts and minds.

What tips or ideas can you provide for community members who want to nourish their families, or organizations like ours?

We would encourage our community members to try and expand their culinary minds! Try that new restaurant down the street. Eat that meal you have never eaten. Make the recipe you have never made before. Don’t be afraid to play around with flavours. Share your new experiences with others. Take the time to volunteer or donate to organizations like ours. There is no harm in trying something new.

What is something you wish the community knew about youth who access YESS?

Our youth are very culinarily adventurous, and they have suggested meals that we have never had the chance to make before, expanding our own culinary minds. As we want to show them our favourites, they as well challenge us to try new styles of cooking and experiment with different flavours.

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Interview with Chef Scott Jonathan Iserhoff

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 newsletter. Scott spoke so powerfully about food, culture, and building positive relationships that we want to share it again.

Scott Jonathan Iserhoff is now the owner and chef of Pei Pei Chei Ow (pronounced “pe-pe-s-chew”), a catering company based in Edmonton creating contemporary Indigenous cuisine.

Learn more at peipeicheiow.com 

Hear more from Scott as one of the Indigenous chefs interviewed for “A Land of Rich Traditions” in Culinaire magazine.

Pei Pei Chei Ow was also featured as part of “The Original Original” campaign for Destination Indigenous


At YESS our vision is to walk beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. This doesn’t just apply to youth workers in Programs—it applies to every department across YESS! And just like many other folks would say about their own homes, what happens in the kitchen is a huge part of the heart of our work at YESS.

We sat down with YESS Chef Scott Iserhoff to talk about his experiences in creating a space where youth can heal through his culinary calling. Scott studied culinary arts and hotel management in Ontario and has been a chef for over 15 years. But his love of food and community goes back farther than that.

“Cooking is an integral part of my Indigenous culture. My first exposure to food was through eating wild meat with my family and smoking goose over the fire with my grandparents,” says Scott.

How does Scott bring this same powerful feeling he first experienced in childhood to his work at YESS?

“In my culture we say that food is medicine,” says Scott. “Not only does it feed your body, but it also carries a strong sense of community and hard work. Preparing food for others can also be seen as ceremony. It feeds your spirit.”

Almost half of the youth who access YESS identify as Indigenous and Scott takes every opportunity he can to share culture and connection with all our youth.

“Being an Indigenous person and being present in the space of YESS contributes to many youth who are also Indigenous feeling more represented, safer, and having someone to relate to,” says Scott. “This also extends to cooking, where I have the chance to share my cultural dishes with the youth, providing many of them with comfort and connection through food.”

Last year we announced that our focus would move more towards trauma-informed care. This has started to reach out from youth programs to touch other areas of YESS to align all teams with what it means to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing. This includes the kitchen in a major way.

“Food is one of the top resources we need to secure for our kids in trauma care and if we cannot reassure our kids that they will always have food, we will never get to the root of their trauma,” says Cherish Hepas, Kitchen Supervisor. “In a small way we add to a positive experience for our youth on a daily basis through food. It has been a joy to watch them literally eat their hearts out. Trauma-informed care will be a fantastic tool to help our kids. It’s going to be an exciting time for the agency as we embark on this new form of care.”

In his two years at YESS, Scott has impacted hundreds of young lives through food and culture, making YESS a safe and healing space for youth who have experienced trauma. What has Scott taken away from the time he has spent with youth?

“The most remarkable experiences for me are connecting with youth over food and hearing about what they’ve enjoyed or what food they’d like to try in the future,” says Scott. “I wish that more people were aware of homelessness in our city and the huge gaps in resources that still exist, as well as the prejudice and stigma that our youth have to face on a daily basis. With more awareness hopefully there will be more understanding and positive change.”

The special way that YESS chefs honour their work in the kitchen shows in the ways our youth experience food, build trust, and heal through relationships.

“This kitchen was given to me as a gift from my predecessor. I treat it like a very special gift. I teach my staff to treat it like a gift,” says Cherish. “That is what walking beside our youth is like. It’s a window into their souls. If this kitchen can somehow touch one of those beautiful souls through food, we will have added a little light in whatever darkness they battle. And that is what food is in the end. Something that truly nourishes.”

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The Ins and Outs of Bequest Giving

Karen Reed has a larger-than-life personality and the laugh to go with it. Venture to ask for her thoughts on legacy building in life and at YESS, and her mood will turn reflective, with comments sure to be full of candor and characteristic passion.  

Karen’s Giving Story

I’ve always understood the “why” of my working at YESS. There is an undeniable ebb and flow to the daily dynamic and culture that touches the lives of so many. You can see it very clearly—how we each at various times come to play a small or a large part in the weaving of a youth’s life story. We’re all helping in our own way to create this incredibly rich legacy. It’s so important to touch a life, to share your heart, and to live well!

My charitable giving has become more focused over time on a few particular causes close to my heart.  From my perspective, time and treasure run parallel to each other. And so, it’s important to me that I support organizations that work in tandem with my personal vision and values. I have a real love and respect for local grassroots charities, not typically found to be in the spotlight, doing a variety of great work for the community. I have been both a volunteer and a monthly donor throughout my entire tenure with YESS. I see the far-reaching, inspiring, and hugely consequential impact of a donor’s support on young lives. Each time I see one of our youth at YESS making strides in their life because they have the critical supports that they need, I am so grateful that YESS is there to be the gift of hope they need.  

About 5 years ago, I met my wills and estate lawyer. Working together, I was guided through the estate planning process. I had my will drawn up and YESS was named in my estate. This was a very important step for me, both in my personal planning for the future and for that of Youth Empowerment & Support Services. This legacy gift was an opportunity for me to deepen my commitment to an organization I trust and deeply respect. It’s a great source of satisfaction and peace of mind knowing how greatly the youth will benefit from what may be the most valuable gift I ever give.

In the face of so many critical circumstances and challenges faced by the youth, I am always in awe of their resiliency and strength. It has been amazing to me when I realize how many people I know who accessed YESS when they were teenagers, survived deeply challenging and difficult times, and who are now uniquely successful persons in their own right. I am proud to honor their courage and fortitude and to support futures that will be shaped by their time spent at YESS.


Is YESS already in your will or other estate plans?  Thank you! Please let us know about your plans because it helps YESS plan for the future. Call 780.468.7070 or email Eileen Papulkas in our Development Office and she will add your name to the Legacy Society. Your gift may remain anonymous, if you so wish.

Don’t have a will? You’re not alone! Now is a great time to start planning, and please consider including a bequest to YESS in your estate plans. Contact Eileen for suggested “bequest language” and YESS’s charitable tax number for you to share with your attorney.

Shelly K. Chamaschuk, is a Barrister & Solicitor with Reynolds Mirth Richards & Farmer LLP. Her practice focuses on corporate/commercial matters, business and succession planning, estate planning, including Wills, Enduring Powers of Attorney, Personal Directives, family trusts, and estate administration. She is their firm’s Wills, Estates & Trusts Team Lead. Shelly kindly agreed to write a guest article for us. For more information on Wills in Alberta, read her article “Do I need a Will?”

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The Orange Door Project

The Home Depot Canada Foundation is committed to supporting initiatives that prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada. They support youth at-risk or facing homelessness by helping them realize their full potential and build a brighter future.

In December 2020 for the Orange Door Project Campaign, 182 stores participated nationwide to support their local youth-serving charities. First established in 2008, the Orange Door Project’s in-store fundraising campaign unites our communities together to help give back through $2 donations at the till.

With the Orange Door Project and support from The Home Depot Canada Foundation, over $1 million was raised for 125 youth-serving charities across Canada! In Edmonton and the surrounding area, nine stores selected YESS as their charity of choice and raised over $50,000 for youth in our community!

After going through an uncertain year and adjusting to health and safety protocols in the pandemic, the support of the community rallying together and giving back has truly blown us away!

Keep an eye out at your local Home Depot for their next Orange Door Project Campaign!

Home Depot Strathcona

Home Depot Clareview

Home Depot Sherwood Park

Home Depot South Edmonton Common

Home Depot Skyview

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Team Highlight: Facilities

Team Highlight: Facilities

Our Facilities team is essential to the functioning of YESS Programs. Through their hard work, our spaces and buildings are kept clean, safe, and maintained. We talked to Darin Maxwell, Operations Manager, about his team and the impact they create every day.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at YESS!

For the past 25 years my career has been in Information Technologies supporting educational organizations, initially with K-12 learning and then with training in the Oil & Gas sector. In April of 2020 my position, which I had held for 14 years, was eliminated due to restructuring during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was this event that opened up the opportunity for me to bring my organization and team building skills to YESS in the role of Operations Manager: a completely new career path with the rewarding opportunity of supporting vulnerable youth within the community in which I was born and raised.

What are some of the responsibilities of the Facilities team?

The facilities team maintains, cleans, and cares for YESS’s properties. We make sure our youth have access to clean secure sleeping quarters, shower and laundry facilities, and sanitized spaces in which to access the many resources YESS provides, all while minimizing their exposure amidst a global pandemic.

How does the work the Facilities team does contribute to the YESS mission to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration?

My team’s work provides the physical elements our city’s most vulnerable youth need in order to bring their best selves forward into our programs. We provide the resources for them to continue their journey towards healing and appropriate community integration rested, clean, and fed.

What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

How quickly they respond with the delight and enthusiasm of kids everywhere when provided with secure, safe spaces in which to heal and grow.

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Long View Systems & SkipTheDepot

Last year, Long View Systems wanted to do a fundraiser to support YESS and youth in their community, but the pandemic made it difficult for them to work together when they couldn’t get together. They contacted our Community Engagement team for more information on fundraising options that would be accessible them, and we helped them find a solution with SkipTheDepot!

Tell us a bit about yourselves! Long View is one of North America’s fastest-growing IT Solutions organizations. We are one of the largest privately-owned IT services and solutions companies in North America, with offices across the continent. Our people-centric approach allows us to employ and retain many of the world’s leading enterprise technologists. We support the world’s dynamic businesses by bringing agility, simplicity and insight to your people, so they can serve your clients.

What made you choose YESS for your fundraiser? We chose YESS as an organization to donate to as we wanted to support our local youth in need and work with an organization that focuses on improving youth homelessness. SkipTheDepot has made fundraising easy during these challenging times. The process was simple and safe, with COVID-19 here we needed to find a way that everyone could donate without leaving their homes.

Thank you so much to Long View Systems! They raised $344 through their online bottle drive with SkipTheDepot!

 


 

Let SkipTheDepot make recycling easy for you! This made-in-Alberta initiative provides an awesome service picking up bottles from you front door, and you can even choose to give your refund to your favourite charity!

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Message for Youth

Our Programs team wanted to make it clear to youth how we can empower and support them with these new banners in program spaces.

 

Do you know why we called ourselves Youth Empowerment & Support Services?

It’s because we are here to support you and empower you.

Sounds simple enough, but what does that really mean…              

Empowerment means we ask you what YOUR PATH is and we WALK BESIDE YOU.

It doesn’t mean we’ll do the work FOR you.

We don’t pick your goals for you, and we won’t push you towards what we think is best for you.

YOU are expert of your life.  Our staff are the experts in resources available for you.

Together we can overcome obstacles and barriers.

We are a TEAM.

Supporting means we KEEP YOU GOING.

Sometimes this means being your cheerleader.

Sometimes this means holding you accountable.

Learning from mistakes or decisions can be a messy process and sometimes has negative consequences.  We don’t follow through on these because we’re mad at you, we do it to help you learn and grow.

You won’t always get it right and neither will we.

And that’s ok, that is human.

We GROW together.

Having the tools and experiences to meet your goals makes you stronger.

You set the GOAL, we’ll help you get there.

Shower? Laundry? Job? School? Healthy relationships? Housing? Leadership?

Whatever your goals are, big or small, we are here to connect you to resources and coach you through it.

We are here to advocate for you and help you navigate tricky systems.

You are an important part of YESS, the city, and your community.

You deserve RESPECT and OPPORTUNITY.

We are actively fighting against structures and stigmas that divide society instead of unite it.

Your experience is unique and we believe that diversity strengthens us.

Your contribution to society is important, your voice matters.

In short, Empowerment & Support means that we care about you.

It means that we are in your corner and we are rooting for you.

Whether you’re here for a few days, a few months, or a few years, please know that YOU are why we exist.

You are welcome here.

– The YESS team

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Cohort Independent Living Program

Cohort Independent Living at the HI Hostel

YESS’ new Cohort Independent Living Program is a one-year pilot project to address some of the direct barriers and stressors affecting youth in shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through Federal Reaching Home Funding administered by Homeward Trust Edmonton, YESS is leasing the Hostel International Edmonton Building in Queen Alexandra to provide youth, aged 18-24, who are ready to practice independence and transition to other housing, the opportunity to live together in “youth cohorts” of up to three. The creation of these youth cohorts allows youth to be unmasked and to not be physically distanced from each other for the first time in 12 months. The hostel is also divided up into four wings, which have been allocated to specific demographics, such as Tier 1 and 2 Isolation Wing; Sober School and Employment Wing, etc. We have already seen success with this program as youth have been able to relax and build stronger relationships with their cohort. Youth have co-created this program along with Manager of Shelters, Tessa Mulcair, and have created many of the rules and processes in the program. Youth also fill out a self-assessment of knowledge and life skills when they enter this program and then choose a key support worker to help them work on a personal plan throughout their stay. The program started April 12, 2021, and will end March 31, 2022.

 

Nexus Shelter moves to 24/7

The Cohort Independent Living Pilot Program has also opened up beds in the Nexus shelter and created the opportunity to make the Nexus Shelter 24/7. Since April 12, 2021, the Nexus shelter is open day and night for drop-in youth. For the first time in Edmonton, youth have a safe, youth-worker supported place to sleep during the day. To accommodate day space at the shelter, it has changed capacity from 24 to 16 beds, with 2 staff. The intention is to keep the Nexus shelter 24/7 and improve the process as we learn what is needed.

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