March COVID Update from Executive Director, Meagan Hennekam

Posted on March 3, 2021 in Current News

The 2nd wave of the pandemic has taken a toll.

Up until recently, young people staying in shelter were either spending time sitting on their bunkbed, or outside in the cold winter temperatures.

With the 2nd wave in full force, teenagers in shelter were feeling isolated and unsupported like never before, and hope was leaving them. We saw a dramatic increase in self harm and mental health crises in shelter, and I knew something had to be done.

Thank goodness you came through. After asking for help, we received an outpouring of support from our friends and partners, and as a result YES has started a public health approved Drop-In program only for young people staying in shelter.

Finally, a reprieve

Very close to the shelter now, there is a large space where young people staying in shelter can spend time. With help from YES staff, a variety of inspiring (and potentially life changing) activities are taking place at the drop in: cooking, art, music production, skateboarding, basketball, to name a few.

Kevin St. Louis, Drop-In Coordinator says that young people who attend always leave in a better state of mind than when they arrive.

But most importantly, the teens who attend can take a breath. Most of the time, young people come, sit on a couch, chat with their peers and eat some food. This kind of reprieve is incredibly important to development and healing.

Coordinator Kevin St. Louis has been cooking up a ton of healthy food, but often the youth just want what kids tends to enjoy the most – junk food. Pictured here is a pizza created by two youth at the drop-in (including hot dogs).

Kevin, the program coordinator for the Drop-In says that young people always leave in an improved mood and with a better perspective. When there, they are safe, warm, and getting a small opportunity to just be kids. Something they haven’t had in quite some time.

Youth get a chance to take a breath and work on projects and activities that rejuvenate them.

The impact has been profound

As a result, things in the Emergency Shelter have improved. There are a few less crises, less emergency calls, and staff are better able to support the young people in shelter.

These crucial measures were taken in large part thanks to GPHSF Your Family Health Team Foundation, RBC, and our amazing community supporters.

The pandemic continues to present significant challenges

Without this help, young people experiencing homelessness would have been neglected through this pandemic, to an unacceptable degree. Instead, young people have been able to take good care of themselves, in a welcoming and comfortable environment.

The wellbeing of our front-line essential service staff is crucial to the operation of the Emergency Shelter. I am doing my best to support them with paid sick days, extra vacation and funds to support wellness, and mental health support through access to personal counselling.  

We’ve been asking staff across the organization to fill in shelter shifts because its been extremely difficult to keep the shelter staffed during the pandemic.

These are only the first steps to ensuring shelter staff are properly supported in their incredibly important role.

Vaccine update

I continue to be hopeful that we will receive vaccines in the emergency shelter soon, which would give us relief. We have been prioritized in stage 2 of vaccine rollout, and I am in regular contact with our close partners at Peterborough Public Health to plan for it.

I know vaccines won’t solve all of the problems we are facing, but knowing our clients and team are safe from the virus would be a huge help. Then, we will continue to tackle the extreme isolation our youth and families are feeling, and the mental health challenges they are facing.

I am so grateful for the community’s response to our call for help. This is yet another highly challenging time during this pandemic, and I am sure it is nowhere near the last hurdle. We remain committed to getting young people and families experiencing homelessness through this pandemic, and we know you are behind us.

Meagan Hennekam, Executive Director, YES Shelter for Youth and Families

Thanks again to our community partners who helped us to put on the Youth Drop In. It has made a profound difference to young people in shelter through COVID-19.