For East York youth shelter, a drive for change

For The Kennedy House on Pape Ave., breaking down stereotypes is as important as raising money

The Kennedy House
The Kennedy House in East York is located on Pape Ave. The shelter is full every night.  Tiffany Fung/Toronto Observer

Along with raising money and delivering a meaningful message, a one-day fundraising program for The Kennedy House led to a heartwarming reunion between staff and previous residents.

Established in 1971, The Kennedy House provides shelters for homeless youth. The one in East York opened four years ago at 1076 Pape Ave. (north of Cosburn Ave.) That location is the most eastern shelter until Oshawa.

Homeless youths can be stereotyped as criminals or drug dealers, but there are more legitimate reasons for youths being homeless, said Michelle Cutts, a senior development officer at Kennedy House. Among them: fleeing an abusive home and facing mental-health issues.

Michelle Cutts, senior development officer at The Kennedy House. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELLE CUTTS)

“There are about 2,000 youths who are homeless every night,” she said. “There are only 518 available [spaces] in the shelter system.”

Cutts added that youths need more care than an average homeless person because they do not yet have basic living skills.

The Kennedy House shelter in East York has 40 beds. They’re full every night, she said.

The majority of the organization’s funding  comes from the City of Toronto, but that’s not enough to cover all the needs, so the organization also runs fundraising programs.

One of those is “Change For Change,” which took place Sept. 28 at eight TTC stations, including Pape. Cutts was in charge of it.

Staff from The Kennedy House pose beside a poster during the “Change For Change” program. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KENNEDY HOUSE)

The event raised $6,000 this year, but there’s more to it than money. “It helps people know who we are,” Cutts said. “We have a lot of people stopping and talking to us about the needs of the youths.”

Some of those who didn’t have cash to donate still stopped and asked questions, including how to volunteer for the organization.

“We got a lot of people going, ‘Thank you for the work you do,’ and that warmed a lot of our hearts,” Cutts said.

At three stations — Kennedy, Bloor-Yonge and Bathurst — staff encountered previous residents of Kennedy House. “They gave us everything they had in their wallet,” Cutts said.

A gym inside The Kennedy House in East York. Cutts said youths often visit the gym because being physically active is important to their mental health. (TIFFANY FUNG/TORONTO OBSERVER)

They also said they are what they are now because of the support they received from the organization. “When you see the positives,” Cutts said, “it makes the work worth it.”

The next fundraising program will take place Feb. 23, 2019. Called the Coldest Night of the Year, the annual night walk gives participants an idea of what it’s like to be out on the street in the winter. It takes place in 120 cities across Canada.

The Kennedy House has been holding the Coldest Night of the Year in Scarborough for the past two years, and will continue there this year. Next year, the organization will bring one to the Danforth for the first time.

A room in The Kennedy House that holds clothing donations from the public. (TIFFANY FUNG/TORONTO OBSERVER)

Cutts said people can support youth shelters by donating money or in-kind items, such as canned goods and new pyjamas. However, if you can’t donate financially, then helping to break down the stereotypes around homeless youths is also helpful.

“Being positive about what the service can do for someone’s life,” Cutts said, “is just as meaningful as a cash donation.”

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Posted: Nov 2 2018 11:16 am
Filed under: Features News