Wood's Homes Blog

The beginning of a new adventure

May 29, 2018
By Amie Shanahan, Wood's Homes Youth and Family Counsellor at EXIT Outreach
The beginning of a new adventure

Throughout the years, Exit Outreach has had many different homes, but the longest home we’ve had was on 7th Avenue SW. Our program moved there in 2006, and wouldn’t have been able to do so if it wasn’t for the generosity of the Central United Church and donors Norman and Valerie Van Delinder, who graciously allowed us to live rent-free for 10 years. We started in the basement of this building and worked our way up, eventually utilizing the entire space for our EXIT Community Outreach program.

EXIT Community Outreach (EXIT) is a very special place, with more stories than I can tell. I, have been with EXIT for 5 years now, and have seen some sad and scary moments, but also countless happy ones. Our clients come to EXIT to get away from their harsh (and sometimes unbearable) lives, just to ‘take a breath’ and relax. Clients use EXIT to contact their family members, letting them know that they are OK, present and here in the moment away from the streets. Clients also utilize EXIT for basic needs such as showers, laundry or getting their first (and sometimes only) meal of the day.  Other times, our clients just need a hug and someone to listen to them, affirming that that there is someone out there that hasn’t given up on them.

I started at Wood’s Homes EXIT Youth Shelter in 2013, but I just didn’t feel right; I knew I needed something more, but didn’t know exactly what it was at the time. When I was asked to take a shift at EXIT Community Outreach, I had no idea what the storefront entailed – but I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’. Once at EXIT, I began to thrive in my daily work; the crazy, busy and action-packed days were exactly what I was looking for. Each minute, hour and day was different from the next, and no two situations were ever the same. Still, to this day, I love getting up and going to work to see our youth. During times of staff change over and transitions, I make sure to be there for the youth as they adjust. I know professionals come and go regularly in these youth’s lives, but sometimes it can be a challenging time for them to see staff, who have provided support to them, move on. In addition to staff changes, there was one particular passing of a staff member that deeply impacted both clients and staff. Maeve Faherty was more than just a worker; she was like a mother to many of our youth. Maeve poured her heart and soul into her daily work, and perfectly embodied the portion of Wood’s Homes’ mission statement that reads, “We never give up.” Maeve definitely left her mark, not only in this world, but on EXIT’s clients and staff.  

EXIT Community Outreach is a tight-knit family comprised of clients and staff. Deep down, our clients are all lost souls struggling to live day-by-day. The only thing these clients are looking for is a non-judgmental, safe and loving place to be, and to escape the everyday stereotypes of chronic homelessness, addiction and mental health.  At EXIT, we have many clients who struggle with various addictions, chronic mental health and homelessness. Each client has a different story and a unique situation, therefore needing distinctive resources to meet their needs. We provide basic needs such as showers, laundry, clothing, food and emergency food hampers, and also have a medical clinic for vulnerable youth, housing and employment support, and so much more!

We are now in a crucial period of transition, awaiting our new home at the Inglewood Campus. The new campus will bring together a total of eight programs and services, with six of them focusing on homeless and at-risk 12-24 year olds who are looking for a path to a brighter future. Until now, when these young people came to us for help, they would have to visit multiple locations to access all the resources and programs available to them. Once the Inglewood Campus is ready, our clients will be able to find all the support they need in one location! It will be so much easier for them to ask for and receive all the help they need without having to retell their story over and over again.

While I’m extremely excited about this new adventure, I’m worried about losing some of our clients who are extremely street entrenched. During our transition period when we are closed (beginning May 28), we needed to figure out a plan to keep connected with the youth and continue to provide daily services. With nowhere for our clients to go, my co-worker and I proposed that we continue to remain in downtown Calgary through our mobile community outreach van. This would ensure that we could still serve our youth and maintain relationships, but also promote the new building and build community relationships. Click here for our EXIT Street Outreach Schedule (effective May 28).

EXIT Outreach is currently comprised of four staff. Each of us brings our own unique strengths and different qualities to the table. Below are some short statements from our staff surrounding their experiences at EXIT:

Downtown Exit has been a very humbling experience. Each day at Exit we have so many opportunities to help those in need. We are able to invest in our youth and build meaningful relationships. At times we are the only place the youth has to go to escape the daunting reality of their lives on the streets of Calgary. Seeing clients succeed, or when clients come in to share their successes with us it makes all of the difficult aspects of the job worth it. Exit is like a small family that we have built and it will be sad to see that change/chance to lose some of our regular clients."

 “Since, I started at Wood's I always felt that there was something that I was missing and that I didn’t feel fulfilled.  I went to Exit and had my uh huh moment, these were the hidden youth that I was looking to support. I felt that my skills were being utilized and that I was being used to my best of abilities."

"For me, fears and things that I am looking forward to are the same. I am fearful that we will lose our youth, I am fearful that the youth that we lose are not being helped anymore.  I have to remember that this change isn't about me, that it is about the word, change. Change can be scary and unknown for many, and for others it is exactly what is needed.  Change is constant and changes with a thought; my thoughts are positive and new.  When our eyes are closed we see nothing, when our eyes are open and without judgement, we see everything.”

As we, the EXIT Community Outreach team, reflect on the years we have been in this building, we reflect on memories of the relationships we’ve built and the client successes we’ve experienced. As a team, we are eager and excited to move into our new home and, while we await this new chapter, we will be focusing our efforts on engaging in street outreach and maintaining client relationships.