Creating Safe Spaces During COVID-19

Grant from ECF allows Youth Empowerment and Social Services to create a COVID-19 Response to ensure they stay open to serve Edmonton’s vulnerable youth.

Adjusting to the pandemic has been difficult for many organizations. For the Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS), continuing to stay open was crucial for protecting Edmonton’s vulnerable youth population.

In the 2018/2019 year, YESS helped empower 729 youth in vulnerable situations, and COVID-19 has only increased the demand for support.

“This is an incredibly vulnerable population that we work with,” said Stacey Johnson, Director of Operations and Fund Development at YESS. “These are kids who are dealing with crisis, trauma, addictions and health issues on a daily basis. For most of our youth, their reality is not like everybody else’s where everyone else was required to isolate in their warm, safe home to keep from getting COVID19. This option doesn’t exist for them.”

YESS provides low barrier shelter, temporary housing, and wraparound supports to youth from ages 15 to 24. The organization and shelter shifted its pre-existing model into a 24/7 model when the pandemic hit.

“These kids literally had no place else to go, aside from YESS. So, we needed to make sure that we had processes in place and we had resources in place that would allow us to, should we have any kids who are at a high risk of contracting the illness, isolate them at any given time and keep our staff safe too” Johnson said.

A $75,000 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) allowed YESS to create the YESS COVID-19 Response.

“YESS has a proven track record of providing a safe place for youth who are experiencing homelessness but the pandemic has changed what it means to be a “safe place,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement, says. “They had to change what they were doing and respond to new needs for the young people they serve.”

The goal of the COVID-19 Response is to ensure that the needs of homeless and vulnerable youth are being met during the COVID-19 pandemic. YESS increased its hours of operation and staff, and purchased personal protective equipment and other resources to create a safe environment.

The Government of Canada’s $350-million Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) aims to help charities and non-profit organizations adapt and increase frontline services for vulnerable populations during COVID-19.

The Canadian Red Cross, Community Foundations of Canada and United Way Centraide Canada are collaborating with the Government of Canada to flow ECSF support to those who need it most right now.

Though times may be uncertain, vulnerable youth can be certain they will always have a safe shelter at YESS, even during a global pandemic.

“I would like to say that it’s really wonderful to have opportunities like this because it’s great to be recognized for the work that our staff do,” Johnson said. “It’s great that our kids are valued because they should be valued. They deserve to be valued.”

Learn more about the Emergency Community Support Fund.

The Emergency Community Support Fund
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