We first spoke with the people at Youth Without Shelter back in 2016 and thought we would follow up with them with our new Charitable Choices profile. We spoke with Judy Leroux who is the Development and Engagement Manager at Youth Without Shelter about everything they do to help those in need.
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.
Youth Without Shelter (YWS) is an emergency residence and referral agency serving youth ages 16 to 24 who are experiencing homelessness in the GTA. Life circumstances have not been kind to the youth in our programs – they are victims of abuse, abandonment or have no family at all. We provide shelter and a variety of support services in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
What problem does it aim to solve?
Youth between 13 and 24 make up 20% the Canadian homeless population. We aim to solve the problem of youth homelessness by providing safe, emergency housing and support programs for youth. By providing wrap-around programming for more than 1,000 youth annually, our goal is to get youth off the streets permanently and to enable youth to live responsibly and independently in society. For over three decades, we have helped more than 15,000 homeless youth find long-term stable housing and jobs.
When did you start/join it?
In 1986, a group of teachers and guidance counsellors created YWS as they were frustrated with the lack of safe, emergency housing and support programs for their students. From these grassroots origins, our strategic approach continues to to ensure that every youth has the support and encouragement to develop to their potential. The youth voice guides all programming. In 2007, I joined YWS to support the shelter’s fundraising and community engagement activities.
What made you want to get involved?
I was introduced to the realities of youth experiencing homelessness through my children (who were teens at the time) and a group I was involved with who volunteered at Youth Without Shelter (YWS). What resonated with me was the remarkable potential of the young people housed at YWS, and the myths and stereotypes associated with youth homelessness – especially the lack of understanding that homelessness does exist in the suburbs.
What was the situation like when you started?
I joined YWS the month the new Stay in School Program opened, moving YWS to a 53-bed capacity, and adding a critical new dimension of long-term transitional living for youth to focus on their educational goals. The Stay in School Program, which was years in development, filled a youth-identified gap where leaving school early and homelessness go hand-in-hand.
How has it changed since?
Since that time YWS has evolved beyond providing emergency services to add a comprehensive range of wrap-around programming, including life skills and culinary, employment, after-care and educational outreach. Stays at YWS have become longer as youth are very challenged with finding affordable housing, combined with a complex set of barriers they may be facing including mental health.
What more needs to be done?
Youth Without Shelter is full each night. We need to continue to shift our focus and resources to prevention. Prevention encompasses intervening early before a youth becomes homeless (research indicates many youth first experience homelessness before they are 16); enhanced After-Care Programming that supports a youth in maintaining independent living; and increased access for youth to an affordable housing supply.
How can our readers help?
Readers can help by volunteering their time with YWS, making a donation and learning more about youth homelessness. From individuals to workplaces to faith-based organizations, there are volunteer opportunities for everyone to help support areas such as the YWS meal program, tutoring or even by sharing a special talent or skill! Donations go towards safe shelter, nutritious food and provide our youth with access to counselling services, job search skills, educational opportunities, life skills training and more.
Do you have any events coming up?
February 1 is Time4Change Day (formerly Tokens4Change), a 12-hour, Toronto-wide student art activism event that will see 600 elementary and high school students collecting spare change and TTC fare to support transportation costs and essential programming at YWS. Time4Change Day is taking place at 29 of Toronto’s TTC stations, PATH locations and high-traffic urban areas, where students will also perform theatre, dance, visual arts, music and spoken word to convey the staggering realities of the youth homelessness crisis in Toronto.
Where can we follow you?