The holiday season is quickly approaching. With the semester ending and the snow beginning to fall, it’s almost time to kick back and take a break from school.
Not everyone has a relaxing holiday season though. While numbers for the Durham Region are hard to locate, Covenant House, Canada’s largest homeless youth agency, estimates up to 2,000 youth are homeless in Toronto on any given night.
That number jumps up to 7,000 when including the entire country.
Youth shelters such as Joanne’s House in Ajax specialize in finding housing options for young people who are homeless. A resident can stay up to 30 days in the shelter. During their stay the youth, who are between the ages of 16 and 24, are pushed to find jobs and full-time housing.
The difficulty is that the shelter, and others like it, are often full.
Joanne’s House can host up to 13 people at one time, which meant they turned away more than 30 kids in October.
Still, the holiday season is a special time for most people, and Joanne’s House is no different.
Community organizations, such as churches and charities, help make the holidays a special time by organizing special dinners and creating gifts for the residents.
“We try to make the holidays as important for these kids as it would be for anybody else,” says shelter manager Adrianna Vanderneut.
Just down the street from Joanne’s House another organization is also trying to make the holidays better for everyone.
The Salvation Army is at the corner of Exeter Road and King Crescent, which is only a ten-minute walk from Joanne’s House. While the Salvation Army doesn’t specifically target youth, it does work with young people in multiple ways.
In turn, their captain, Jason Sabourin, says they are in they are trying to turn hopelessness into hopefulness.
“The goal is basically to relieve suffering for people, and help people through the difficult times they’re finding themselves in,” says Sabourin.
The small bungalow next to the headquarters is also owned by the Salvation Army.
On the main floor, hot meals are served and people can use the food bank. The amount is based on income, but Sabourin ensures that no one leaves without at least one item.
The basement has been converted into their food bank for the area. It is a small, unfinished area lined with shelves full of food ready to go out for the holiday season. Around this time of year, the food bank is filled with donations mostly from food drives around the province.
The food bank is mostly operated by older people, many of whom are starting to have troubles lifting boxes and moving things around. The deposit area is a small basement window covered by a piece of plywood, with a wooden ramp leading down into the deposit room.
The basement is cold, and cramped, with every employee hard at work in their own area of the basement.
Both organizations face challenges: lack of finances to pay for employees and simply not enough volunteers. There is also an awareness issue.
Above all, Vanderneut wants people to know that Joanne’s House exists.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just raising the awareness that Joanne’s House is here,” she says. “Despite the fact that we are full often, there are a lot of people who don’t necessarily know that we are here and what we do.”
Sabourin needs people’s time. With aging volunteers, the Salvation Army needs new workers, and stronger funding.
“Monetary resources is our number one priority, to operate, to heat the place, to keep the lights on, also to pay salaries is very expensive,” says Sabourin. “To have specialized help, the cost of that is rising very, very much.”