Community

Keeping Our Neighbours Safe During Extreme Weather

When temperatures drop, Edmontonians can keep warm inside their homes. But where do you go when you don’t have a home? For our vulnerable neighbours experiencing homelessness this is a frightening reality that can be dangerous without contingency plans in place.  

Every winter, members of Edmonton’s homeless-serving sector—comprised of Homeward Trust, the City of Edmonton and more than 25 system partners and agencies—coordinate an emergency response to reduce the risk for people experiencing homelessness by getting them into a safe space as quickly and as easily as possible. The current public health crisis has exacerbated the risk for people experiencing homelessness, highlighting a need for an emergency response that goes beyond extreme weather to address unforeseeable challenges. 

This coordinated response has resulted in a shift in focus to a broader Sector Emergency Response (SER) to reflect the year-round need to ensure networks are in place and active in order to support individuals when shelters are at capacity and the weather takes a turn for the worst.

“We know people experiencing homelessness are already at increased risk. The compounding effects of extreme cold weather and COVID-19 exposure and restrictions only adds to those dangers,” explains Matthew Ward of Homeward Trust. “Our Sector Emergency Response, which builds off existing control measures to keep the COVID-19 virus from spreading, are important steps to help our vulnerable neighbours stay safe.”  

A collaborative and proactive problem-solving approach is taken to address arising challenges, which involves partners working together in sharing timely data and resource information between shelter providers, emergency services, transportation services and other service providers across the City to deliver supports to those who need it. 

Triggers that activate the Sector Emergency Response in winter include temperatures of -20 or below (including windchill) and/or shelter capacity reaching 90% or higher. The response would typically involve lifting bans at shelters under the discretion of providers, opening overflow spaces, increasing current shelter capacity where possible and providing supplementary transportation services. In the past, Edmonton Transit Services has also operated additional buses to serve as a warming space and transport people to shelters.  

And in the summer, extreme heat or poor air quality are conditions that could activate a Sector Emergency Response. The response looks at weather warnings from Environment Canada, existing capacity of the city’s emergency shelters, and other emerging concerns expressed by the group.

While the best solution to homelessness is permanent housing, the Sector Emergency Response ensures that people experiencing homelessness have access to life-saving services in times of immediate crisis and are protected from the risks of COVID-19 and cold weather.  

Winter shelter is available at the following locations: 

For the latest updates on the Sector Emergency Response, visit homewardtrust.ca 

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Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society

It takes all of us working together to create spaces where we can all heal together and thrive together. We talked to Sherry Fowler, Community Engagement Coordinator at Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, about how they create these spaces for the community.

Tell us about your organization.

Bent Arrow is committed to building on the strengths of Indigenous children, youth and families to enable them to walk proudly in two worlds both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous world.

Although Bent Arrow’s programs have Indigenous base to them, we welcome people of all races and backgrounds.

Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society has been serving Indigenous children, youth, and families in Edmonton and area since 1994. 

The founders believed strongly that keeping culture at the centre was crucial and that this important work was best done in partnership. 

Bent Arrow provides programming and services for all ages from pre-natal to seniors ensuring that we look at all programming to ensure we are providing a wholistic perspective encompassing the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing of all participants.

How does your organization bring focus to mental health?

When looking at an individual’s mental health it is done from a wholistic standpoint ensuring we look at the whole person and what needs are not being met.  A person who is struggling in one area may be struggling in all. Mental health supports may include but are not limited to: connection to community and culture through phone calls, video chats, social distance meetings, or meeting face-to-face (in a safe way) with an Elder.

We also offer onsite therapy/counselling sessions for participants of the programs offered at Bent Arrow.

What is one thing you would like the community to know about young people and mental health?

When we look at mental health just remember you are never alone. Many people struggle in silence, don’t be one of them. There are people out there who can help; you just have to let them. You are stronger than you think and braver than most, keep on being strong and talk to someone.

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#tbt Stardust Retro Roller Rink

This summer, Southgate Centre hosted the Stardust Retro Roller Rink for five weeks of groovy fun in support of YESS. They welcomed kids and adults, talented rollerskaters and newbies to the rink where everyone got to make awesome summer memories.

“Our team was brainstorming ideas in terms of new experiences we could offer our guests,” says Claire Kolmatycki, Marketing Director at Southgate Centre. “We landed on roller skating as we thought it would be fun to offer a retro activity that would be fun for our adult shoppers, while offering something new for our youth to try out.”

In addition to regular skating during Southgate’s open hours, they hosted theme days, seniors days, toonie Tuesdays, and parties at the Stardust Retro Roller Rink, with all proceeds coming to YESS. The team at Southgate anticipated that the roller rink would be popular with young families, and so they wanted to partner with a youth-oriented charity. They approached us with this awesome opportunity and we teamed up to provided all the staff and volunteers needed for five weeks of rollin’ at the rink. The team at Southgate learned a lot about YESS and even came for a tour of our Whyte Ave building.

“I would like to raise awareness that YESS is a lot more than an emergency shelter,” says Claire. “They offer a broad range of programs for traumatized youth. On our tour we were able to see some of the artwork created by YESS youth and we were impressed by their talent and level of creativity and artistry.”

At YESS we focus on empowering our youth to build healthy relationships and we love giving them opportunities to create special memories. It was touching for us to see friends, families, and—on a special outing!—our youth come together at the roller rink to have fun, experience community, and create memories together.

“If we can contribute towards shaping fun memories through the roller rink, then we are very happy!” says Claire.

There was a lot of rockin’, rollin, and retro fun at the Stardust Roller Rink this summer. Of all the great memories, what was a highlight?

“The adults-only roller rink party was a hoot! We had some diehard rollerskating fans that night and they were skating backwards and doing tricks! It was fantastic to see everyone in their retro outfits, just enjoying the 80s tunes and having a blast!” says Claire.

Thank you so much to Southgate Centre for partnering with us on the Stardust Retro Roller Rink this summer! The rink raised $18,290 to support YESS programs for traumatized youth on their journeys toward healing. The number of great summer memories made at the rink this summer will always be priceless and we know the community had a special, magical experience rolling the sunny days away!

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We Are Loyal to the Pavement

This piece was written by Kristina, who shared it with us on Facebook. She is a champion of the YESS cause and presented this piece at a local event.

We are loyal to the pavement. The only stable thing in our lives, we pound on it – it never shifts. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what brought you here, you’re not wrong. Your reason is good enough. You are good enough. There is no wrong reason. And even more important, you are strong enough. You are winning, even on days you feel like you aren’t, every day that you wake up you are winning. The odds are against you; a harsh reality. We are embraced by adversity, as youth on the street. We are synonymous with struggle. We are transparent to privilege. We earn every right we have, we fight for it, scream for it, we walk some dark paths for it. As youth our ability to fight for solutions falls short of our age, to prove our opinion is worthy – it is “wise” enough to know better. We fight to be our own advocate. We fight to be heard. We battle ourselves in a teeter totter of knowing we can always do better and coping through the position we’re standing in. We face the internal battle of leaving the comfort we’ve found in those dark places and reaching for the light, the end of the battle – a different dream for everyone. We struggle to imagine our success, how we will get there and who will hold our hands. Many things will come and go, they will tear you down and leave you feeling broken. You will lose friends, you will lose things you love along the way. I promise you will heal. You will meet new friends and you will find love in new places and new things. You will one day wake up and realize, the success you struggled to imagine is internalized in who you are and the battles you’ve won. You will wake up and see the courageous person that brought you here. You will push for greatness, because you deserve it – you are worthy. You have a beautiful gift to offer the world. Success is defined as the “accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Find you purpose, whatever it is. Reach for your dreams, dear child dream big. Embrace who you are and all you’ve become – be proud of who you are. I promise you this is true, I know because I was there too. We need to empower our youth, especially those fighting their battle on the streets. The strength and drive of a youth who grew up on the streets is parallel to the spirit and drive of many of the business people I’ve come across in my professional life. I’ve walked the pavement; I paced the alleys at 3am and faced the wounds that came along with it. I resented the stereotype cast on me as a “degenerate”. I faced endlessly the judgement, that I had been or done wrong – that I wouldn’t be where I was if I had been a better person, a better kid. I fought that belief, I challenged them – I wanted to prove them wrong, not for them – for me. I fell and when I fell, I fell hard. I embraced that struggle, I cried and I screamed and I moved on. I found support in the people who held me up and I worked hard at it. Until one day, that day came, my 19th birthday (I was in BC). The day I become an “adult”. That was the day, my focus changed from fighting for my own privilege, my own rights and it became about fighting for their rights, their privilege – their right to childhood. You’re right to not have to pound the pavement. Stay strong my friends, stay innocent and humble.

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Guest Post: The Power of YESS

I recently took a tour of YESS’ facilities. Being a complete outsider with only a very broad idea of what Youth Empowerment & Support Services stands for, I went in expecting to be surprised, but that ended up being an extreme understatement. I jumped on board the tour because I was hoping to make a difference through my company, Burst Energy, who provides inexpensive electricity prices to both residential and commercial.

Tommy, YESS’ Sponsorship Specialist, walked me around one of their three robust buildings and explained how YESS is one of the only “full service” homeless shelters. You can’t really appreciate what they mean when they say full service until you see it firsthand. Does that mean that they provide beds, food, and blankets? Doesn’t everyone do that?

Well, it turns out that what I thought was a lot, only scratched the surface of what they actually do. Beds, food, and blankets are important, but YESS ensures that every aspect of the kids’ lives are addressed, including their physical, mental, and emotional well being. The youth who go to YESS are searching for help to rebuild their lives. YESS provides them with the help, much needed resources, support, and individual guidance through all of the different programs they offer. I knew that I had to support this work.

Since our conception, Burst Energy has made it our mandate to supply energy to Albertans at an inexpensive rate because nobody should struggle to pay for electricity. This matched perfectly with the incredible work at YESS.

To better support YESS, we are proud to announce The Power of YESS program. If you sign up and use the referral code “YESS”, we will give you some of the cheapest electricity rates possible and donate each month to Youth Empowerment & Support Services. The best part is that the donation comes off our bottom line!

Residential – $2 CAD every month.

Commercial – $2 CAD per 2,000 kWh every month.

If only 500 people sign up this year we will still be providing YESS with $12,000 annually. It’s our way of making a difference by doing what we do best: providing electricity.

Let’s help make life brighter for these youth!

To find out more about the Power of YESS Program visit burstenergy.ca.

~ blog post written by David Mendenhall, Burst Energy

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The Christmas Shoes

It was December20151230-145903.jpg 23, and there was still one Christmas wish we hadn’t yet been able to fulfill. One of our youth always dresses up. His everyday attire is a suit, tie, and torn dress shoes that have seen better days. On this young man’s Christmas wish list was a pair of spiffy, black, dress shoes. Size 12. Triple wide. Not the easiest type of shoe to find, and we hadn’t really had time to hunt for them. It was looking like the new shoes just weren’t going to happen.

And then we read a message that Burkhard, a generous Edmontonian, had sent us through Facebook, offering to purchase the steel toe boots that were on another wish list that we had posted a photo of. If the youth had already received boots, Burkhard said he’d be “more than happy to fulfill someone else’s wish.”

We knew that the next day was Christmas Eve, and that most stores don’t carry triple wide shoes, and that the chances of anyone having time to search for something so specific with such short notice was slim – but we passed the Christmas wish on to Burkhard anyways.

And sure enough, to our surprise, we received a message from Burkhard on Christmas Eve day. It said, “I’m on the hunt for the shoes, so far I have not found anywhere that carries triple wide. Any idea where I might find them?”

The search was on. We googled and made phone calls, trying to find a store that was still open and that carried triple wide dress shoes, while Burkhard searched every shoe store in the mall and drove around to other stores as well.

And just after 4PM on Christmas Eve, Burkhard delivered a pair of size 12, black, triple wide, men’s dress to our shelter, making a Christmas wish come true for one youth experiencing homelessness.

It’s a gift that goes far beyond what is inside the box. The thoughtfulness showed the young man that someone cared; that he was important and had value. And we have no doubt his perfect fitting, Christmas shoes will give him a new sense of confidence and take him great places in 2016 as he works towards stability and independence.

 

Thank you Burkhard, and all the amazing Edmontonians that helped make Christmas miracles happen at YESS.

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YESS Champions: The Home Depot Canada Foundation

The Home Depot Canada Foundation has become personally invested in taking action through The Orange Door Project to bring housing options and hope to the kids that YESS assists.

In collaboration with community partners, thought leaders, Home Depot’s suppliers, customers, and associates, the Orange Door Project focuses on improving spaces through renovations and repairs as well as supporting programs that give youth the resources to build brighter futures.

Not only did The Home Depot Canada Foundation provide YESS with a substantial monetary donation, but they also sent an important message to the many youth that YESS serves – the message that someone cares, and that they’re not alone.

But the hard-working and dedicated team didn’t stop their generosity there. They also sent a crew of over thirty men and women, and covered the cost of all supplies to give YESS an incredible makeover as part of the Home Depot Celebration of Service campaign.

Some of the improvements included tearing out an old patio and rebuilding it, building a new shed, donating a gazebo, replacing the siding on our garage, making landscaping improvements, and installing new flooring.

The Home Depot Canada Foundation is wholeheartedly committed to helping YESS change the lives of the youth we serve. Whether it’s providing funding to provide critical support programs or engaging the volunteer efforts of Team Depot associates to help improve housing accommodations, they’re proud to work with YESS to make meaningful contributions that help young people prepare for independent living.

YESS is eternally grateful for these heroes in orange who stepped up to help us “zen out” our spaces for our clients’ comfort. Having a serene, clean, beautiful space for our kids to lay their heads down at night really sets the tone for prosperity in other aspects of their lives.

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YESS Champion: Collin Bruce Mortgage Mentor Team

Collin Bruce is a driven, dedicated, and generous man surrounded by a loving family and a committed team of professionals. A strong supporter of YESS, he is always looking for what we need and finding ways to help.

As the leader of the #1 mortgage broker in Canada, his team sponsors and attends YESS functions like gala and golf, and they host a barbeque each summer for the youth attending our day programs at the Armoury Resource Centre.

Recently, Collin funded some commercials to profile the situations of youth who are at risk and experiencing homelessness, and the importance of YESS in the community. These features are meant to connect to youth so that they know YESS is there to support them, and also to increase understanding and compassion by the general public for both our youth and our organization.

Collin provides a generous donation every year for recreation, knowing how important it is for youth to de-compress and have some fun; after all, they are still kids. He also understands the harsh realities of our youth and gives monthly to offset the costs of transportation, housing, and supports, knowing that beating poverty is a complex issue and multi-faceted support is a critical element to changing young lives around.

Collin understands the importance of art, both for positive expression and sheer joy. He has purchased our youths’ art for his new offices and each year supports SONiC’s guitar auction, donating $10,000 regardless of what amount the bid reaches. At Christmas, we know we will see Collin with gift cards and treats for the kids.

He learned philanthropy from an early age from his parents, who also find so many ways to support the kids of YESS. We are so fortunate to have Collin Bruce, his family, and his team on our side.

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YESS Champions: Dave and Gwen Burroughs

Dave and Gwen Burroughs are true champions of the youth who come to YESS, and have been for almost a decade.

YESS provides support to youth who are in crisis and experiencing homelessness through a variety of channels ranging from immediate emergency shelter to ongoing support programs and individual guidance, and the Burroughs are with us every step of the way to ensure our kids get what they need to succeed.

Their generosity has provided access to counselling, medical care, hot meals, and a safe place to spend the night for hundreds of youth. Executive coaching funded by Dave and Gwen has allowed YESS to invest in staff so they can give their very best to the kids every day. A gift to a YESS endowment fund enabled the fund to begin paying out this year. Gwen’s paintings have been popular auction items at YESS galas.

Whether it is selling a race car to raise funds for YESS, inviting friends to YESS events, or building the YESS endowment fund to ensure future support for our kids, Dave and Gwen will do just about anything to provide the resources our kids need to succeed, and that makes them true champions of the hundreds of kids who come to us each year looking for help.

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