2020 PROJECTS

The Miramichi Youth House in New Brunswick is the only homeless shelter in the area specifically for youth; filling a crucial need of stability for some of our most at-risk members of society.

The group's mandate is to provide support to youth ages 16 to 19. This includes overnight shelter beds, low-cost housing and an outreach program. The Youth House has about 30 staff, at two main locations.

 
 
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1. Youth House participants enjoy a nature hike.  2. Union of Safety and Justice Employee representatives present Miramichi Youth House with a $20,000 contribution. 

In February of 2020, the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) selected the Youth House’s application for funding, and contributed $20,000 towards the operation of the shelter and its programs.

Lindsey Fanjoy, manager at the Miramichi Youth House, says the funding came at a crucial time. “Well, we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic and donations were harder to come by. Miramichi is a small community, so securing revenue is already a daunting task—and the pandemic made it even tougher. The union’s contribution allowed us to function well during an especially lean time.”

With the funding, a new staff computer as well as a new resident computer were purchased. And because of all the extra time spent indoors during the mandatory isolation from the outside world, the new computers were really needed.

“Libraries were closed, right? Everything was closed. So those new computers provided a big update and outlet for the kids that was key,” explains Fanjoy.  “Overall, this particular funding just brought with it a lot positivity from the staff—and the kids, too. It’s a great feeling when you see that your community ‘has your back’ during tough times.”

Apart from the new hardware, funds were allocated to several areas that needed a boost. For staff, additional training was paid for that covered Non-violent Crisis Intervention training, formal First Aid training, as well as Mental Health First Aid. For the youth at the shelter, the benefits were numerous.

“A big thing is when we are transitioning a young adult at the shelter to live on their own in the community. We used some of the funding to make the first big purchase of groceries and toiletries that are needed when moving into a new place, to help alleviate that worry and stressor,” says Fanjoy. “But over and above that, we went on some really fun excursions—like Magic Mountain!—when the pandemic lockdown restrictions eased. And some of the younger kids got meaningful Easter presents or birthday presents for the first time; the look on their faces was just priceless.”

"These are the kinds of experiences that can change the lives of a young person, in a really impactful way,” Fanjoy continues. “And conversely, helping people succeed can be a really rewarding experience for our staff. The employees here at the Youth House are very committed to their job and to the kids. It’s not out of the ordinary for staff to come in on their day off with some refreshments, or just to say hi. Or if it’s a resident’s birthday, they show up whether they are working or not to celebrate; it really is like a family here.”

And that is the essence of USJE’s Community Investment Initiative. If we invest in positive outcomes for those who need a little extra help, everyone benefits.

At its core, the Youth Diversion Program in Kingston, Ontario, is about helping local youth overcome some of life’s more difficult challenges. And they’ve been doing it, successfully, since 1974.

Once you familiarize yourself with all the different services they provide, it's staggering. The Youth Diversion Program in Kingston is really an established leader in Canada for at-risk youth.

They have an outreach program, two crime prevention programs (REBOUND and a personal mentoring program), two amazing school-based programs and two youth justice programs, and a substance use and addictions counselling program—all focused on early intervention, and keeping kids out of the judicial system where possible.

 
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1. Members of the Youth Diversion team hand out free summer activity kits at a central location in Kingston, Ontario during the global pandemic.  2. A promotional poster for one of the weekly summer activity kits put together by Youth Diversion.

Youth Diversion also has a summer program, which is an outdoor survival-based camp that includes things like canoeing, swimming and other outdoor camping activities. The original intention of the Union of Safety and Justice Employee’s (USJE) $1,000 donation was to allow a child who normally could not afford to, be able to attend a Youth Diversion-affiliated summer camp for a few weeks.

 

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic changed how we all spent our summers, didn’t it?

Amanda Dyson, an outreach worker with Youth Diversion, explains:

“Yes, as you can imagine, a lockdown during a global pandemic is going to affect our summer camp program. But it was okay! We have a pretty strong team, a creative team, and so we got together and it was clear that families still needed us.”

The Youth Diversion Program responded in fine form.

“This year, it was more about providing a little bit of mental health and wellness for the kids in the community who were somewhat ‘trapped’ by the pandemic lockdown,” says Dyson. “Some families were struggling with what to do and how to fill their time, so we decided to put together different activity kits that families could pick up and bring home to complete as they wished.”

The activity kits became 2020’s version of a summer camp. For six weeks of summer, every Wednesday, Youth Diversion staff and volunteers would hand out activity bags with snacks and different puzzles, Zen garden kits, slime making kits, painting kits, colouring books and markers. They ensured that the activities were varied in skill level from week-to-week, to target different age groups of kids.

“We would also include a Zoom link with when we were doing the activity as a group, if participants wanted to do it together,” Dyson adds. “So sometimes they joined the Zoom call, or sometimes they would just do the activity on their own time, but there was lots of feedback from both kids and parents who said they appreciated having something different to do during the day.”

Week one began modestly, to see what the reception would be like. Eleven kits were picked up. But as the summer went on, and word spread about what Youth Diversion was doing, it increased to 15 kits, then 20, then 25 kits by the end of the summer program. In total, over 110 activity kits in six weeks were distributed to youth in the Kingston area.

“We have some partner groups in the city, like Family & Child Services, so word spread pretty steadily,” says Dyson. “We even had partners come pick up kits and deliver them to group homes, or rural-area children who don’t have the means to come get the activity bags. So it was a well-coordinated approach that had some real impact, and it didn’t cost a lot of money. It was more about time and effort.”

All told, the six-week summer program run by the Youth Diversion Program was funded by $3,500 in donations from the United Way, Family & Children’s Services, and the USJE.

The Union of Safety and Justice Employees is proud to support groups like Kingston’s Youth Diversion Program. The depth of pro-social programs they provide for local youth is something that makes our communities stronger, and should be modeled across the country.

The Bear Clan Patrol needs little introduction; after it was first founded in Winnipeg, different Bear Clan patrols have popped up in multiple cities across Canada.

Why? Because the formula works: Drawing from traditional indigenous philosophies and practices, the organization does evening community patrols, provides rides, cleans up discarded needles left on the streets, and delivers food to people in need.

 
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1. Bear Clan Patrol volunteers.  2. USJE’s donation helped the Bear Clan Patrol to launch a food hamper program in Winnipeg.

After applying for funding a few months prior, the Bear Clan Patrol received $50,000 in funding by the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) in March of 2020. According to John Drabble, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Bear Clan, the funding couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

“Well you have to understand that the biggest challenge, for most any charitable organization, is the January-to-March period. That’s where many groups are trying to secure their funding for the year,” Drabble explains. “It’s an uncertain time, make-or-break period for a lot of organizations. Of course, the challenges of 2020 were magnified by a worldwide pandemic!”

 

Once the pandemic made its way to Winnipeg, the Bear Clan realized quickly that it needed to adapt its operations.

“We had to pull back our neighbourhood patrols for a bit,” Drabble says. “And normally where we would have about 300 people lined up outside our doors for food every day, with the pandemic that need almost doubled. But with the lockdown restrictions, lining up outside was now prohibited, so we had to change something.”

The Bear Clan didn’t start out providing food out of its base of operations at the Ndinawe Youth Drop-In Centre, but people kept asking for food. Rather than having desperate people getting hurt dumpster diving or getting arrested for shoplifting food, the non-profit organization stepped up to answer the call. And the need to feed hungry people wasn’t going to go away with a pandemic lockdown. In fact, the need was now more pronounced because so many low-wage workers lost their income when their employers had to close their doors.

The proposed solution: How about a food hamper delivery service? After all, the Bear Clan is founded upon responding to community needs, and the pandemic showed that the immediate need was to provide some food stability for those who were struggling the most. So the Clan shifted their business model and developed a program to deliver food hampers.

“There were a lot of hurdles, of course,” states Drabble. “First, we went to a local supermarket asking for wholesale prices of food, which is a big ask when you will need about $10,000-$20,000 of food every month. And thankfully we were able to secure that support. But even then, food donors will only give you what they have, so there would still be a lot of other food staples that we would need to purchase to help the folks who need it most.”

I asked him about Food Banks. Aren’t they around to provide food to those in need? John Drabble explains the nuance: “Sure, there are food banks, but there are also layers of need. Many food banks service the working poor, who may have a car or a bus pass and a Social Insurance Number. But you go a couple of rungs down the ladder, and you have people in desperate need of support, who often have almost no mobility and ID issues, and that’s who the Bear Clan services.”

And that’s where the timing of USJE’s $50,000 donation comes into play. It was utilized as seed funding for a food hamper delivery program that is now an integral part of the Bear Clan’s overall operation in Winnipeg.

“The timing was great. Not only did USJE’s donation help with our food hamper program, it enabled us to launch it in the first place,” says Drabble. “It allowed us to demonstrate the viability of the food hamper program to our partners, and from then on it’s been a success.”

Since it began, the need for food hampers has only grown; it now costs Bear Clan about $100,000 per month, providing some food security to a very vulnerable population.

That’s important, because research shows that stable housing and regular access to healthy food are the building blocks for escaping the crushing cycle of poverty. The Union of Safety and Justice Employees believes that investments in our community organizations vastly improves the safety of the cities we live in. We congratulate the Bear Clan for their great work in the Winnipeg area!

With about 300 people in four distinct communities along the Fraser River in British Columbia, the Yale First Nation Band Office faces logistical issues whenever they hold a community event; getting people there and back. In fact, transportation is a challenge for local residents for many common tasks and appointments, like medical visits or even groceries.

So when the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) put out a call for proposals as part of its Community Investment Initiative, Yale First Nation staff submitted an ambitious idea—a shuttle bus.

 
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Yale First Nation's shuttle bus.

Ken Hansen, Chief of Yale First Nation, explains: “When there are gatherings of our community members, which are fairly common in a small, tight-knit community like ours, a shuttle bus would be a huge logistical solution to the challenges we’ve had in previous years.  We often have Band Office staff using their personal vehicles to drive people around, back and forth to different events.”

“Many of our events include important cultural teachings that are not done in the classroom,” adds Chief Hansen. “They are done on the land, and that is just one aspect of how a shuttle bus would be very, very helpful to us.”

The Yale First Nation proposal for a shuttle bus was carefully considered, including several levels of screening, and ultimately the proposal was approved by the national executive of USJE. Stan Stapleton, the National President of the union, says he was encouraged by the decision to fund a project of this size.

 

“Certainly, there were several factors to consider, not the least of which was the capital cost of a shuttle bus,” Stapleton explains. “But when you weigh that cost versus the true impacts that an in-house shuttle would provide the four communities of Yale First Nation and its residents, there was large support by the national executive of the union to proceed.”

 

Other uses for the shuttle will include organized field trips for the community day care children and their parents, and a multitude of events for the very active local youth program in the area, as well as important deliveries to their brothers and sisters who no longer live on-reserve.

“Our Nation has a substantial component of family members who live in Vancouver, the downtown east side,” says Chief Hansen. “And where before we would bring supplies or Christmas hampers in a caravan of personal vehicles, now we can load the shuttle bus up and bring more supplies, clothing and food to them all in one shot. It’s a game-changer for us.”

“And a lot of our elders, like any elders, have mobility issues,” Chief Hansen continues. “So this shuttle is not just about medical appointments or groceries, which are key. This bus allows them to participate in community events and share their cultural knowledge, our oral history, with the rest of us. The automated lift in the back of the shuttle allows our residents with serious mobility issues to still remain a part of our community events, which are so very important to us.”

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has limited use of the bus to deliveries and appointments that keeps the contact footprint small, but requests to utilize the bus keep coming in. So much so, that there are plans ongoing to have multiple people trained in driving the bus, so that the Band Office and community members aren’t reliant on just one person’s availability.

“This isn’t just about Yale First Nation,” says Chief Hansen. “Yale is the mother-ship, but we’re involved with multiple organizations in the larger community around Hope, B.C., mobilizing for different events in the Fraser Canyon. So the shuttle actually has a positive impact on the whole area, not just for us. We’re very thankful.”

The USJE’s Community Investment Initiative is just that, an investment in Canadian communities. It is rooted in a belief that unions not only improve the lives of its own members, but that they strive to make real impacts in our greater communities as well. The Yale First Nation shuttle bus is a proud example of that philosophy.