Wood's Homes Blog

The community comes through for EXIT Youth Hub clients in need

April 02, 2020
By Adam Flegel, Wood's Homes EXIT Outreach Supervisor
The community comes through for EXIT Youth Hub clients in need

(Pictured above: Beth, a client of our EXIT Youth Hub and strong advocate for EXIT, stands next to her winning design on our new pickup service van!)

In July 2018, Wood’s Homes Street Services moved into their new location at our Inglewood Campus, bringing programs that used to operate in different locations together to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ now known as the EXIT Youth Hub. Here, street-involved youth are provided access to basic needs, as well as mental health counselling, employment and housing supports, medical attention and connections all sorts of resources that can assist them in their drive for a brighter future.

With the move, our EXIT Outreach services transitioned out of the downtown core where it had been a staple since 1989. The downtown location provided ease of access for youth seeking support; generally the service would see around 30 – 40 clients each day. The move to Inglewood campus provided new opportunities but also challenges in making sure that young people who needed support knew we were still there for them, in a new location and with more to offer. The new location created a sort of shift in those who turn to us. Clients who used to come to us for a bite to eat, a shower and some clean clothes have turned their sights toward hope and a journey away from the risks that come with a connection to the streets. They are determined to succeed, utilize our array of services and strive for independence.

Still the initial move brought with it a challenge - how do we let young people know about the Youth Hub who remain in the downtown core? The well-known #1 bus route stops a mere block for the Hub, but for youth who don’t know that, the services and support we offer remain just out of reach.

Lucky for us, and for our future clients, thanks to the Calgary Police Service, we have been able to introduce a pickup service for vulnerable youth and EXIT Youth Hub clients!

It all started with an old friend, Constable Reid. A bike patrol officer, Constable Reid would regularly visit our former 7th Ave. SW location and continued to do so after we found our Inglewood home. In speaking with our EXIT Youth Hub program supervisor about some innovative ways of bringing more youth to Inglewood, Constable Reid mentioned that CPS regularly donates decommissioned police vans to non-profit organizations that will use them for something meaningful and for the betterment of the community – something like a pickup service for youth whose life might turn around if they just found the right support…

Working together, Youth Hub staff and Constable Reid created a presentation for a CPS panel. The presentation involved the following premise of service:

  1. Engage clients in providing employment opportunities, medical and mental health services, social activities placing emphasis on client well-being as an alternative to unhealthy choices or lifestyles
  2. The pickup service would mean that EXIT Outreach component would remain viable in the downtown core and surrounding areas, meaning that even if clients could not make their way to Inglewood, the vehicle could be used to bring necessary supports to them, including a trained mental health counsellor, basic needs and medical support.
  3. The service would support youth in reducing public transportation fines and assist in managing the cost of pubic transportation usage.

Prior to the pitch, the EXIT Outreach program created a survey to assess client need. Over 75 surveys were completed and overwhelmingly indicated that clients would use the service. Surveys also let us know best operation times and the top 5 most frequented locations by those who would benefit from a pickup service.

Several months after the presentation, Constable Reid stopped into the Hub to deliver the news - our proposal was successful and the EXIT Youth Hub will be receiving one of their vans!

Then came the fun part… after we’d received the van The EXIT Youth Hub decided to hold an art contest to design a logo for our pickup service. The winning design would be printed as a large magnet to be adhered to the van during pickups and while out in the community. After numerous submissions, a winner was chosen!

With the pickup service set to begin operations on April 1, The COVID-19 virus has brought about an obvious delay. However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t using the van for the benefit of those in need. We’ve been busy using the van to pick up food from the food bank and distributing it to clients. Food attainment is a consistent challenge for street-involved youth and with many services now suspended there is even more need for these types of supports. Using the van has been a tremendous success as it has given the Hub a meaningful purpose during these difficult times. Due to the virus, the EXIT Youth Hub has been forced to temporarily close our doors. We are still checking in with clients and offering appointment only services from our addictions counsellor and medical supports, but day-to-day operations are on hold. But with the van, staff have the opportunity to bring food and connect with clients.

But the journey does not end there. On March 26th, our dedicated addictions counsellor, Victoria Mitchell, was preparing another trip to the food bank. She hopped in the van, began pulling out of our lot and noticed a loud rumbling from the van. She pulled back into the spot and connected with EXIT staff who joined her to investigate. The van had been vandalized and was now inoperable. This meant there was no way to collect the food that was currently sitting at the food bank, waiting to be delivered to clients in need.

But this wasn’t a time to be discouraged. EXIT staff connected with Wood’s Homes communications team who put it out to the Twitter community:

The services we provide to vulnerable youth depend on community goodwill.

Today our EXIT delivery van was mechanically vandalized and left inoperable. This senseless crime now leaves us unable to do our Food Bank pickups for our clients. Any mechanics out there who can help?

The Tweet was retweeted more than 100 times and within minutes mechanics from around the city were reaching out. Our new friend Al from Calgary Muffler Carline fixed the van and the generous team at CJAY 92 have agreed to pick up the tab. This sense of community is simply amazing and we can’t thank everyone enough for their support.

We know it’s an uncertain time for everyone right now, but because of the support of our community, the young people who need us don’t need to feel uncertain about their next meal. Thank you, Calgary.