This past winter was a hard one. Low temperatures and unpredictable weather made for a season which often threatened the health of homeless people throughout the city. This was reflected in the media with regular reports of long waits, full shelters, and desperate situations. Now that we are coming upon the summer the same concerns always seem to dissipate. While the threat of serious health risks, including death, may have changed, the issue of homelessness has not.
In his final speech, Hubert Humphrey is quoted as saying;
“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. “
I have always believed this to be true not only of government, but of the people as well. Ghandi made a similar reference to true greatness being measured by how a society treats its weakest members.
Being concerned about someone should be an always thing, not a some time thing. Yes, we should increase our concern, but we should be vigilant to not allow our caring about others to wane simply because it is not in the front of our mind or in front of our eyes in headlines. Those on the fringes of our society will remain on the fringe if nothing changes. Advocating for opportunity and fairness is as important in the summer as it is in the winter. Unless we act, those who are homeless in July will remain that way in January.
One of the things I am hearing quite often these days is how terrible the weather is. I agree that it is certainly out of the norm and I am definitely not a fan. Then I think about the youth we support and those who do not have a safe and warm place to stay. For our residents, there is shelter and warmth. But for too many youth, what most of us consider to be terrible weather is life-threatening.
When I used to lead canoe trips and camping trips our goal was to keep our trippers warm, dry, and well fed. Three basic essentials that all of us need. When no formal shelter was available these essentials were that much more important. In a city like Toronto, we tend to believe there is always shelter and a place to get out of the rain and out of the cold. Unfortunately, this simply is not the case. Three or four days of unrelenting cold and rain with slush covered streets and sidewalks make it even harder to keep warm let alone dry.
I am asking each of you to take notice when you get cold, or wet, or both. Noticing the feeling of warmth and security when you are safely in your homes out of the cold. Imagine if you could give someone that feeling? By supporting our work at YWS and by being an advocate for ending youth homelessness you have a chance to do just that.
In the ground breaking 2016 National Youth Homeless Survey participants who identified as female accounted for 36.4% of the national homeless youth population. One of the factors that must be taken into consideration is that many young girls are exploited for what is known as survival sex. This is the practice of exchanging sexual acts for shelter and food. At some point we need to say that enough is enough. YWS is part of the effort to keep young women safe but it will take a far greater commitment and far wider efforts to make lasting change. Each of us can be that voice and keep these issues at the force of political and social debate. The journey for equality has a long road ahead but it is a journey that cannot be taken alone. Join us and other groups supporting the rights of women along this road.
It is once again time for the Olympic Games. Most of us will turn our attention to the achievements of our athletes and applaud not only for their performance, but also their dedication and effort put forth to make those performances possible. These are our national champions.
I am a strong believer in acknowledging the exemplary achievements of those who have dedicated their lives in pursuit of excellence. In reflection, I have realized that it is in not simply the achievement I applaud, but rather the dedication and single minded pursuit of excellence I applaud. I am humbled by their effort. The same can be said for the youth we support each day. I am humbled by their resilience and strength in the face of adversity and their ability to push forward despite the odds that are stacked against them.
The opponent in the Olympic Games may be the athletes from other countries, the weather conditions, injuries, illness, or even the athlete themselves. For the youth we support the opponent may be mental health issues, emotional injury, cultural stigma, racism, or poverty. What both groups share is the ability and desire to overcome these opponents each day. Our youth are the champions of life. It is their triumphs that should remind ourselves to cheer and to celebrate. The ability to get up each day and push forward despite the challenges and to do so with a smile and hopefulness is truly the triumph of the human spirit. It is the intersection of the Olympic spirit and the human spirit that I choose to celebrate and I invite you to do the same.
We are all familiar with the concept of pay it forward. Performing a kind gesture for someone and then the hope is that the gesture is paid forward or reciprocated in some way. In a cynical world the question always arises about how much impact a single kind gesture can achieve. My response is that is can change a life. But you just don’t know which gesture it will be that makes a dramatic impact, so do it all of the time.
Being kind is one of the only things that doesn’t necessarily cost you anything, and almost never causes any personal inconvenience. In fact, the payback is exponentially tilted in the favour of the doer. It feels good to do good. If you’ve ever done something out of the blue and without being asked, that made someone smile, you know the feeling I am talking about.
This year marks our eighth year of Tokens4Change taking place on February 2nd. The theme of this year’s big day is Change one life, one gesture at a time. It is that simple. One gesture of kindness, one gesture of generosity, one gesture of caring. That is the power of your actions.
I ask each of you to offer one gesture of kindness and please do not feel as though it is only for February 2nd. Offer to buy a coffee for the person behind you line, help someone struggling with heavy bags, pay someone’s transit fare. We can change 30 lives in 30 days. Can you imagine the outcome? If every person in Toronto performs one act of kindness a day, at the end of the month there will have been over 844,000,000 gestures of kindness taking place. That is a staggering number. All it takes is one gesture.
Be kind, and on February 2nd as you pass through the TTC stations, you will see me and other T4C’ers canvassing and raising awareness on youth homelessness. You can change a life, one donation at a time. Your generosity will be met with heartfelt thanks and smiles to hopefully brighten your day as you have done that for us.
December is upon us; holidays, family events, gifts, shopping, parties. So many things we look forward to and so many things we are thankful for. We also eagerly await the coming New Year. Each year there are multiple shows on TV that look back on the year that was. We see recaps of events and major news stories. The other theme that seems to permeate the end of the year is opportunity and a chance to start anew; a new year with new possibilities. We gain a perspective on what has been and this helps to shape what can be. We are filled with hope.
At YWS we help to support those we serve to gain a perspective on their past and by doing so perhaps we can help them to see how truly strong and amazing they really are. They can see how resilient they are and how many possibilities lay ahead for them. In essence we are purveyors of hope and kindness. We do not charge a penny for these priceless treasures, but instead we give them away freely and happily. I encourage you to do the same for those you care about, for those you don’t even know yet, and for yourself.
During this season of joy, togetherness, and renewal I wish for all of you the gift of hope and possibility. Hope that the next day will be better than today and the New Year brings endless possibilities. Please remember to give these gifts to others and deliver them wrapped in kindness.
When no one is expecting them home…we are.
The Home Depot Canada Foundation announce 2017 partnership
Today, The Home Depot Canada Foundation announced a 2017 partnership with Youth Without Shelter (YWS) with an investment of $125,000. The Home Depot Canada Foundation focuses on supporting initiatives that prevent and end youth homelessness through renovation and repair projects and programs that provide youth access to safe, stable shelter and support services. This gift of $125,000 provides essential project and program funding to Youth Without Shelter. Funds have enabled the replacement of the shelter’s kitchen walk-in combination freezer and refrigerator. The YWS kitchen is the “heart of our home”, a 24 hour operation offering three meals and two snacks daily and facilitating life skills learning. The program funding supports the continued enhancement and growth of YWS’s Employment Program. Priority areas identified by youth in the employment program include the need for increased support with pre-employment trainings, workshops and certifications.
Team Depot is on-site today sharing their energy and skills to bring YWS’s outdoor space to life with fresh, colorful plantings and herbs for container gardening. Lunchtime will bring the YWS youth and staff team and Team Depot together to enjoy a meal prepared by Team Depot!
Thank you to The Home Depot Canada Foundation for your continued investment in young people challenged with homelessness. This gift recognizes that each youth comes to YWS with their own set of strengths, challenges and dreams, each requiring personalized strategies to successfully and safely transition to independent living.
At Youth Without Shelter, we believe everyone deserves a safe place to call home. Young people who are homeless (ages 13-24) make up approximately 20% of the homeless population in Canada (Gaetz et al., 2014). We continuously strive to make our house a home and breakdown barriers youth face such as on going housing instability, unemployment, and access to education. For youth who experience homelessness, “home” could mean a place with a warm meal or simply having a place to sleep at night.
We asked our youth in our “House” and our Board of Directors “What does home mean to you?” Here’s what they had to say:
Tell us how you would finish the Hashtag. Tag us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. We want to know where home is for you.