Published on December 2, 2015 | by barbara.herman     Photography by Barbara Herman


Holiday hope for homeless youth

The holiday season is the time of the year when people share and spend time with their families. But for the two thousand youth without a bed to sleep on that wander the streets of Toronto in the freezing December cold, the holidays are a very different story.

Youth Without Shelter hosted the “A Home for the Holidays” event on the Nov. 18, 2015. The event aims to raise awareness regarding youth homelessness and to also raise funds in the form of money donations or gifts brought by participants of the fundraiser.

Around 250 people attended the event and got the chance to participate in the Snow Globe Challenge which was a trivia game designed to test the audience knowledge regarding the cause with the purpose of showing true facts and erasing myths related to youth homelessness.

Homeless youth are “the big kids,” said Judy Leroux, the event main organizer and development manager of the shelter. Youth Without Shelter aims to assist young people between the ages of 16 and 24 that have been abandoned by their families, that have fled their homes after experiencing physical, sexual or emotional abuse or that have grown up in foster homes and are on their own, among many other different backgrounds.

“There was a family problem that the only resort that I can think of is to leave, so I left,” said John Cabezas, 23. “I ended up in the subway sleeping in Kipling Station, travelling to Scarborough and back until it closed. Then I [would] go to McDonald’s.” Cabezas arrived at the shelter after a few weeks of being homeless, penniless and hungry. “They asked me now that you are here, what is your plan. So then I told them this is my plan, I want to do this, I want to do that, I don’t want to stay here forever, this is something I just need for now.”

Youth Without Shelter works based on a model of care which focuses on developing the strengths and potential of each youth, said Leroux. The aim is to help those youth achieve their goals and attain an independent life.

“There are many myths and stereotypes about youth homelessness,” said Leroux. Some of these preconceptions society has about these youngsters are that they are homeless because they do not want to follow the rules set up in their homes, that they do not work, that they are dangerous or that they are heavy drug users. “Part of our role is to share with people the realities of youth homelessness…that this image of a youth on the street who left because they don’t like the rules at home is not the reality that we see,” said Leroux.

“I am very happy to be working with them,” said Merle Fedirchuk, one participant of the event that has been volunteering for the shelter for the past 25 years. She cooks a meal with the children every other Sunday and strives to raise awareness about this reality in her community and the church she attends.

“I think for a teenager without parents to guide them, many of them can get lost,” said Anna Jones, another event attendant. For her, volunteering at the shelter and participating in their fundraisers is a “personal thing” because she has teenage children of her own who she feels would be “in a bad state” without her to take care of them.

In a film shown to the participants of the event, Wendy Horton, the executive director of the shelter said that “A Home for the Holidays” aims to show the youth of the shelter that the community and the shelter are there for them and that “they are not abandoned or unloved.”

“[Ending up homeless] could happen to anyone of us,” said Horton. “We were just lucky to be born into good families.”

About the Author

Bárbara is a third year exchange student enrolled in the Media Studies program at Guelph-Humber. She is innately curious, talks a lot and in her spare time likes to discover new places.

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