Biz/TechCity of Toronto list highlights organizations in need of student volunteers

ETC StaffDecember 12, 2018667 min

Jeremy Yudin
BizTech Reporter

Homeless shelters need help from Humber students.

To make it easier for volunteers to determine who and where they could help, the City of Toronto surveyed agencies that run shelters, 24-hour respite sites and drop-ins to outline who they help, what they need and if there are any volunteer opportunities available.

The survey was sent out to about 100 different community organizations in late October and more than half  participated in the survey.

“It may continue to grow. I’m still getting requests to be added to the wish list,” said Lizette Costa, the communications representative at the city’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration division.

The wish list is organized into the six former Metro Toronto boroughs: East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, Toronto and York.

After years of matching individuals to a shelter, the city decided to create the wish list so that Torontonians could find their preferred place to volunteer.

“Ten or 11 years ago, and beyond that, there were many requests from the general public to help during the holiday season through volunteering or making donations. So that’s how this list came about,” Costa said.

“It was very labour intensive trying to match organizations with individuals and what they were offering to do and so this way, the list is there and people can choose who they want to donate to, whether it’s close to home, or whether it’s a specific group of individuals they want to help,” she said.

One shelter with locations scattered across the city is Eva’s. The youth shelter operates three facilities in three different locations each with different focuses: a youth shelter, a harm reduction shelter, and a transitional housing and employment training facility.

Andrea Gunraj, the director of communications and public education at Eva’s, said students can help by providing the resources needed at a short term shelter.

Municipal government funding isn’t enough and Eva’s needs the help of others to make ends meet, he said.

If they don’t have enough beds or food they are forced to turn people away, Gunraj said.

Youth Without Shelter, Etobicoke’s only youth shelter, provides emergency residence and support programs to youth between the ages of 16 and 24, many who may have issues at their parental homes or they could be a victim of a crime.

Twenty to 40 per cent of their clients are either refugees, newcomers, or victims of human traffickers.

“We are pretty well-situated being the only youth shelter in the west end of the city and the closest to the airport so we do get a lot of international kids,” said Mike Burnett, the community engagement and education specialist at YWS who studied at Humber in the youth worker program.

Burnett took a co-op placement at the YWS before graduating in 2011, and that same year, he was hired as a full-time staff member.

He said students can help out by just giving someone a voice who doesn’t have one.

“It may be someone who is silenced. Either metaphorically by someone being like, ‘Oh you’re homeless, I don’t really want to listen to you,’ or physically. Most of the time these individuals have actually been beaten,” Burnett said.

Humber students could do a variety of things to help out this season, he said.

“An individual could potentially come in to volunteer, could cook a meal here, could collect different supplies, you could get involved with events like Time for Change. With Time for Change, we require something like 600 volunteers,” Burnett said.

Burnett said his ambition this year is to provide a voice to someone who is voiceless.

“Personally, that’s a great way of being able to help support is really being knowledgeable and actual in a way that could help support somebody,” he said.

Burnett said people forget homelessness involves children. He said 6,000 people across Canada between 16 and 24 don’t have a home, representing 20 per cent of the total homeless population.

“You could statistically pick out one, two, three in a room of 100 people, and odds would say those same three people would be impacted by homelessness in one way, shape or form,” Burnett said. “It’s not just those who you are helping out. This literally could be the person sitting next to you and you might not know.”