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Street Involvement in the Child Poverty Capital

Yonge Street Mission’s Renaldo Wall Walks Us Through Youth Services in the City

You’ve probably seen Toronto show up in multiple reports, ranking it somewhere in the top 10 for the best cities to live in globally, but I’d bet good money that you didn’t know that Toronto is also the nation’s child poverty capital. According to Statistics Canada, the current poverty rate is at 10%, an appalling figure.

Earlier, we were able to talk to Renaldo Wall, the director of street-involved services at the Yonge Street Mission (YSM), one of Toronto’s largest and oldest charities dedicated to ending chronic poverty. In our discussion, we outlined various topics, ranging from Toronto’s socio-economic crises, what street-involved services actually entail, and how barriers need to be broken to truly eliminate poverty.

So, what actually does ‘street-involved’ mean, and how does that differ from homelessness?

“Well, when looking at homelessness, we consider those that are living on the streets, and in shelters,” Wall stated, “street-involved can encompass homelessness, but it also includes those who are precariously housed, have unsafe accommodations, and are struggling with mental health issues.”

YSM hosts a plethora of programs for street-involved youth, with the goal of curbing the rate of youth who endure the aforementioned issues.

Pictured: YSM Evergreen centre, located on 365 Spadina Ave., Toronto

“YSM Evergreen Centre for Street Involved Youth is a branch of YSM, we do our best to cater to at-risk youth: they can drop in, receive meals - lunch and dinner,” Wall said, “we do our best to make it a safe place, with no discrimination, so that the youth who come in can foster a positive relationship with peers, and adults whose job it is to build relationships and trust”

According to York University’s Homeless Hub, approximately 7,300 youth in the city were experiencing homelessness as of 2021. This number is only said to have increased due to the sprawling housing crisis. With an abundance of an abject misallocation of resources, these youth lack support in various areas, from the necessary health services, to career development. Luckily, YSM does their best to provide comprehensive assistance.

“On site, we’ve got 2 registered nurses, volunteer health practitioners, ranging from general health care, to optometry, dentistry, and even orthopedics, and we connect the people attending our programs to other offices of aid as well, such as addiction support, alcohol groups, and anger management groups.”

Pictured: YSM's comprehensive medical services

“We house a range of support programs, including mental health counsellors, who run

trauma counselling, and anger management, and also workforce development,” Wall continued, “we keep employment counsellors on site as well, and they help with job development, improving resumes, and things like that.”

In addition, they provide help to youth in the justice system: Case managers work with youth to handle pending charges, and ensure that youth work through their judicial responsibilities.

YSM also assists with the distribution of basic necessities, such as hygiene kits, and even provides street-involved families and parents with diapers, and baby formula, a prevalent issue, with shortages spreading throughout, raising the price of this essential commodity to the absolute limit, ultimately pricing low-income consumers out of the market entirely.

Attuned Towards Advocacy

“The running theme with YSM is advocacy. To advocate for systemic change, and for the individuals themselves”, Wall stated, “we step into that role of advocates for sustainable housing, and more, as needed.”

“Our basic, main responsibilities are to the ones that are in the building”, Wall explained, “we prioritize effectiveness and quality of service, which is where my purview comes in.”

“One thing that we are really trying to pursue are strategic partnerships to fill some of the gaps that exist once certain needs are identified.”

We proceeded to ask Renaldo Wall about the greatest needs facing the most vulnerable population (MVP) and how YSM's services are designed as a result.

“We are a positive community, we do our best to foster a positive and safe space: things like positive peer support, positive relationships, and connecting youth to people in authority who can help them.”

“We speak to these issues through a very therapeutic lens”, Wall finally stated. “Most of these people come from traumatic situations, people in authority have burned them”, Wall elaborated, “when that is the case we often make referrals within YSM, and other services.”

Behind the 8-Ball

“Helping anywhere from 60-100 youth on a daily basis, with each youth attending for various reasons, be it the meals or the mental health counseling, or even housing, our challenge is that they come with internal barriers.”

Pictured: YSM engages youth with various activities, including games, and recreation

YSM’s biggest challenge is not the mere logistics of the entire operation, but rather the time

it takes to gain the trust of those they help. For this reason, all programs offered at YSM Evergreen are low-barrier.

In our conversations with the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women, the Jane and Finch Centre, and the St. Jamestown Community Corner, SimpliFined found that each centre struggles with a major problem: staffing. Renaldo Wall was more than happy to explain this situation to us, and how staffing requirements affect the performance of organizations in this line of work.

Pictured: Staff provide assistance as best they can, amid limited workers

“In this sector, because the need is so great, we find ourselves behind the 8-ball. To compensate, we encourage volunteer services. There might be gaps between certain staffing requirements but we can fill those gaps through volunteers”

The Fruits of Advocacy

With thousands of street-involved youth on a monthly basis, the most viable solution would be employment, especially for those in precarious housing, in order to fund the bare minimum of a roof over their heads.

“Yeah, I mean it’s tough, I’d encourage employers to give our street-involved youth some jobs.”

At YSM alone, around 15% of youth attending these programs are those in unsuitable living conditions.

So, what exactly can youth do? According to Renaldo, the obvious choice starts with an ‘a’ and ends with an ‘dvocacy’. That’s right, advocacy.

“I think that one of the biggest things that youth can do is engage in advocacy”, he stated, “It's more powerful and stronger than they can understand - even though they're young, their voice and their influence are much greater than they think. Advocacy through whatever platforms that they may have shines a light on the issues at hand and the need for true and sustainable change.”

So, what can you do to help? Anyone interested can connect to YSM’s volunteer resources department, through which you can sign up online and identify which areas you’d like to support, ranging from street-involved services, to administration, or even the kitchen - an area which always needs help!

Pictured: YSM's kitchen, which supplies for those in need - a place where help is always appreciated!

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