The Windsor Residence for Young Men
For the residents, volunteers and staff of The Windsor Residence for Young Men (WRYM), as for many people, 2020 was a very tumultuous year. We entered January 2020 with an excellent service record, having in 2019 achieved a 94% success rate (95% over 3 years) in assisting youth to leave homelessness behind and build new lives. However, it was clear from the beginning that program funding was in serious difficulty. The core Transitional Housing Program was the main priority – it looked as though the program might have to be suspended within six weeks. The basic issue was that, although WRYM provides an essential community service, unlike other social agencies it had received very little government funding. When we opened our doors in 2012, many people did not want to recognize that young men could be vulnerable victims, that some demoralized victims can also become perpetrators, and that early intervention can benefit the entire community. Senior government had frozen funding for any new agencies and this basic inequity has been frozen in time for eight years.
WRYM’s Transitional Housing Program is highly successful even though operations and staffing are cut to the bone. All funding goes directly to the program – we do not duplicate the services of other agencies, and administration and fundraising are done entirely by volunteers. Yet, every year we risk the collapse of transitional housing services for homeless young men in our community.
Once again, it was necessary to turn to the community. WRYM’s January 2020 Urgent Funding Appeal was launched and, immediately, a former homeless youth donated $13,000 to boost the program that had helped him and so many others build new lives. The money was used as matching funds to kickstart the online fundraising appeal and the community responded with an additional $19,300. This spirit of community giving would continue throughout 2020 – and it would be needed.
Then came the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. Because of health restrictions, our customary fundraising events became a thing of the past. WRYM’s 2020 Rough Night Out vigil by volunteers in an industrial parking lot was the last one. In March and April, all offsite or visitor activities such as the Kid Next Door program, which provided odd job opportunities for residents, were suspended. The Windsor area’s only residential support program for homeless male youth put strict “shelter in place” protocols into effect for residents and staff. Upon inspection, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit praised the pandemic plan and preparations, and not even one case of COVID-19 infection occurred at WRYM.
Even then, the core Transitional Housing Program did not qualify as a frontline essential service for federal and provincial emergency funding administered by the City of Windsor. As a small agency that depends mostly on effective community fundraising, efficient programs, free administration by volunteers, and minimal but dedicated staff, WRYM’s revenues were down “only” by 27.42% from March 2019, and not the 30% decrease required by the federal government. Our community fundraising was 2.58% too efficient for our residents’ own good.
Meanwhile, WRYM applied for other kinds of funding from the local administrators of the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF). The WindsorEssex Community Foundation, which administers some ECSF funding, granted $16,296.69 for “isolation preparation” during COVID-19, including wage supplements for staff isolating with residents and equipment such as “social distance” bedroom dividers. The WindsorEssex Community Foundation also recognized value of WRYM’s Aftercare Program that helps many of more than 300 past clients reintegrate into the community with suitable living arrangements, work and education. The foundation granted $14,118 so that a full-time WRYM advisor can use social media, telephone, e-mails and texting to provide COVID-safe crisis response. Similarly, The United Way/Centraide Windsor-Essex County has provided $14,900 in ECSF funds to make tablet computers and part-time education help available so that residents can continue their schooling.
As grateful as we are for these COVID-19 emergency grants, we must point out that they do not address the most basic needs of the at-risk and homeless youth in the Transitional Housing Program. To fund this core program in 2020, even during a pandemic, we turned time and again to online community campaigns and personal approaches. They included WRYM’s January 2020 Urgent Funding Appeal, WRYM’s 2020 Rough Night Out, WRYM's Pandemic #GivingTuesdayNow, WRYM’s Together, We Are Community Campaign (Cited by CanadaHelps as one of four campaigns out of 13,000 across Canada that are Inspiring Examples of Charities Rising Up to the Great Canadian Giving Challenge), Windsor’s Country Cares Concert (online - Windsor's Country 95.9/92.7 radio and singer Kelsie Mayne), Virtual WALK, RUN or ROLL 4 WRYM 2020 campaign (distanced walks/runs sponsored by Motor City Credit Union and Provincial Chrysler), Giving Tuesday December 1, The Home Depot’s Orange Door Project December 1-20, and WRYM’s Holiday Season of Giving.
Even in a pandemic, the community responded with great generosity – religious and community groups, private foundations, companies, employee groups, and many, many individuals including one business person who donated $100,000 with a note saying, “Keep up the great work that you are doing at WRYM, because you are definitely needed in the Windsor and Essex County area!” The success of our campaigns far exceeded expectations.
Entering 2021, WRYM has maintained its high standards of service delivery and effectiveness. The Youth Independence Program, an educational program for youth at-risk, has been adopted by two agencies to be used in other communities, and others have expressed interest. Community funding has put the Transitional Housing Program in a good position for the time being, and also serves as a community-wide endorsement of the program as an essential service. The grants of COVID-19 emergency funds from Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund by The WindsorEssex Community Foundation and The United Way/Centraide Windsor-Essex County infer that WRYM’s main mission is valued by them. In a ringing endorsement in November, The YMCA of Southwestern Ontario awarded a Peace Medal to WRYM, saying, “For close to a decade, The Windsor Residence for Young men has been providing essential services to homeless and at-risk youth.”
Perhaps it has taken the COVID-19 crisis to spur full recognition of the needs of homeless and at-risk youth in our community. Perhaps 2021 is the year that The Windsor Residence for Young Men’s Transitional Housing Program will justly be recognized as an essential frontline service, with the steady funding provisions that infers. I believe that is the social justice our residents deserve.
Brian Worrall, President
The Windsor Residence for Young Men