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Finding safety and shelter in Renfrew County


This video was filmed in February 2020, prior to COVID-19. The pandemic has impacted community programs in ways both big and small, meaning this program may look a bit different right now. This story is an example of how United Way works with our community partners to make a difference 365 days a year—no matter what challenges our community faces.

Melissa is a proud Oneida Iroquois teenager who loves to paint, and is very engaged in sports like archery, horseback-riding, kickboxing, and swimming. 

Although she’s been in the foster system since she was three and a half months old, Melissa has found support from Family and Children’s Services of Renfrew County (FCSRC)’s Safe Shelter for Youth which provided her with a safe and welcoming place to stay and all the tools she needed to achieve healthy independent living. 

The mission of FCSRC is to help, protect, and support the development and well being of children, youth, and families in Renfrew County through integrated services, prevention, and social inclusion.

With United Way’s support, FCSRC is able to ensure youth who reside in Renfrew County between the ages of 16-21, who are homeless or at-risk of being homeless, have somewhere to turn when they need it.

“Our hope is that we are reaching youth all across Renfrew County who may be at risk, may be homeless or at risk of being homeless.”

Supporting youth in the ways they need it

The Safe Shelter for Youth program gives youth like Melissa the agency to advocate for her needs and wants. The program also provides flexibility and targeted outreach across the vast geographic area in Renfrew County. 

The program aims to create an environment where youth feel empowered to set goals, build relationships and connect to community resources. For Melissa, this meant she was able to seek out and try her hand at new experiences like kick-boxing, but also spend more time nurturing hobbies she’s loved and is skilled at, like painting—which connects her more deeply to her culture. 

“We’ve actually been really fortunate to receive the grant from the United Way,” says Kathy Davis, Executive Director of Family and Children’s Services of Renfrew County. “We’ve found that we’ve been able to use that money in different ways to support these youth in the way that makes the most sense for them.”

With United Way’s help, programs like the Safe Shelter for Youth provide youth who are in need of a safe place to stay with shelter, mediation and advocacy, basic needs and support engaging with other community resources.

Finding an extended family

Being a young person can be difficult and complicated, and the challenges of adolescence are made even more complicated when compounded with the difficulties of securing safe and reliable shelter.

For rural teens like Melissa, the Safe Shelter for Youth program is a safe haven, and a place to go when you need some help setting goals to get back on track.

“It's like having an extended family who actually know your struggles and are kind of in the same boat as you.”

Challenges rise with COVID-19

The social challenges people face on a regular basis—like homelessness—have been amplified during COVID-19.

The pandemic has stripped youth of their social connections, at a time when relationships are of utmost importance to their personal development, well-being, and sense of self. They are often disconnected from their mentors, teachers, role-models and friends. For those who don’t have homes, internet access is nonexistent, and smartphone and computer use is likely limited and inconsistent.

How are families and youth doing?

In the early days of the pandemic, organizations with a focus on families and youth, like  FCSRC, were focused on the urgent needs of people in our communities: do they have a safe place to stay, and do they have food to eat? 

Now, more than half a year into the pandemic, Family and Children’s Services are looking ahead and planning for challenges that lie ahead. 

As part of their ongoing pandemic response, the FCSRC were able to offer their 2020 Experience and Engagement Program (EEP), with support from United Way East Ontario and the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund. EEP 2020 is open to all school-aged kids across Renfrew County and provides them with fun and safe learning experiences with their peers, over the course of the summer and into the fall. 

The program, which offers all workshops and activities for free, also allows FCSRC to continue to support families with food and activity bundles, ensuring residents are cared for throughout the pandemic.

The path ahead

As we continue to address the challenges of COVID-19, we must continue to evaluate our efforts, and commit to the same quality of response, knowing these issues will persist for many months to come. 

Young people need our unwavering attention and support. At a broad level, they are struggling more than other groups, and will require sustained help to return to a “new normal.”

Our mission is to work together, using our resources creatively and effectively to address the most pressing needs—now, and over the long term.

Help us put an end to youth homelessness.




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When folks have access to safe, affordable, and accessible housing, they have a much better chance of staying employed, going to school, feeding themselves and their families, and living more stable lives.

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