Knox Dinner and Food Bank for Homeless Street Youth

The Roots of the Knox Youth Dinner & Food Bank

Formerly:  Knox Toronto – First Nations Gospel Assembly – Out of the Cold Program

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Many people ask me just what types of programs and services, other than our nightly street sandwich runs to the homeless, that Project417  operates in Toronto. One of the most amazing programs in the city is the Knox Youth Dinner & Foodbank that runs every winter from November to April on Tuesday nights.  The Knox program was a joint grassroots effort of our director Joe Elkerton and a group of willing Knox volunteers headed by Vicki and Bill Wood.  The program is entirely operated by Knox now – and that is Project417’s vision,  to mobilize community groups to establish sustainable services for the homeless. Personally, I’ve helped with the program for over six years and more than half a dozen Project417 team leaders show up every week to help the other volunteers.

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It’s where I have made friends with dozens of Toronto street youth like the girl named ‘R’. In 2008 I was invited to join a “street family”.  This is a family unit (as opposed to gangs) formed by homeless and underhoused kids out on the streets to replace their traditional families – to care for each other, watch each other’s backs, advocate for family members, share shelter, food, information and income.  This “family” was the largest of its kind in Canada.  My friends Mick and Ozz nominated me at a family meeting and I was the first to be unanimously voted in. They are my people, my little brothers and sisters – I love every one of them. Many are housed now, working, finishing high school, studying at university and raising their own families. It all started out on the streets of Toronto, and Tuesday nights at Knox.

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History:

On December 9, 1997, the congregation of Knox church, in conjunction with First Nations’ Gospel Assembly, opened its doors for the first time to the homeless and poor street youth in Toronto, following the Out of the Cold program model.  The idea for the program came from  Joe Elkerton of  First Nations’ Gospel Assembly – a church program of Ekklesia Inner City Ministries – Project417 (for native peoples).  Joe approached us at Knox after having to close a program at another downtown church after less than a full season.  Joe was familiar with the Out of the Cold (OOTC) philosophy and program format, and with a long-time ministry to homeless street youth and First Nations aboriginals,  felt there was a need for a similar program targeting street youth specifically.  The youth tend to feel uncomfortable at adult shelters.  At the same time,  a small group of us at Knox were looking at ways our church could expand its work in its own community.

We started as a pilot program in two ways:  Knox Toronto Session approved a one-year pilot, and  our program was submitted as a new church member of  Out of the Cold for one year. Almost immediately upon starting this program, we learned that a youth program is not the same as an adult Out of the Cold program.knox3

For one thing, we couldn’t expect to simply open our doors and wait for street kids to come to us. We had to build some trust first. So for the first year we would have volunteers with Project417 out in a van handing out sandwiches and inviting kids to come to Knox. The need for such a place soon became apparent,  as just about everyone who came once became a regular, and told their friends. On our first night we fed 10 youth and six slept the night. By that February, we were averaging 35 guests per night. (Now we serve more than one hundred youth).

We continued the Project417 van runs to deliver food to people outside and to youth who still didn’t want to come inside for the night. It gave us a presence on the street and also helped show our volunteers where our guests come from, which really helped them to relate to the kids.

Another difference: we had planned to serve an early evening meal at a set time, and then move on to quiet activities and then sleeping time, But we soon found that our young guests were not always prepared to come in for the night right at our opening time. Our vision of a big family-style sit down meal for everyone had to be re-arranged a little. Now we serve dinner at 6:30 for all guests and volunteers who are there, but kids trickle in throughout the night, and are welcome to eat whenever they are ready.

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Activities we offer at Knox include:  basketball, games, bowling (we need volunteers to help set the pins in our two-lane bowling alley), movies, hair colouring and haircuts, bingo, chess, lots of home made desserts, popcorn and conversation. Recent additions include a couple of donated guitars that the kids like to use, and we have initiated bi-weekly music nights, where a couple of volunteers bring in an amp and mics and guitars and drums and welcome any of the kids to join in an impromptu concert. We also have a volunteer set up a sewing table with sewing machine, repairing clothing and teaching anyone who wants to learn.  Often we have arts and crafts, which is quite popular. If we have the extra hands, we’ll offer foot baths/massages. We have a community nurse on duty. Our volunteers range in ages from 14 to 82. More than half have been volunteering for more than five years.

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For several years, employees from the Royal Bank Financial Group made it possible for us to extend the Knox program to two nights. That partnership worked very well and we are so thankful for their participation, but RBC downsizing and resultant loss of volunteers caused that extra evening program to be cancelled.  If any group is interested in starting a similar program, the space is available and we would be happy to offer any help possible!

Quite a few of the regulars just like to talk to whoever will listen. We feel the most valuable thing we offer is a safe place where they can be themselves for the night, ask for whatever they want and share their stories (true or not!). As of three years ago, many of the youth began to get housed through the Streets2Homes program and the number of youth staying overnight grew less.  As a result, the Out-of-the-Cold “overnight” portion was shut down until the need increased.

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The program has evolved for those youth – many with no income or low income and sharing “under-housed” conditions – into the current Knox Youth Dinner and weekly Foodbank:

Everyone is fed a hot, home-cooked meal (we serve restaurant style and volunteers are encouraged to join the youth at table to share a meal also) and given a bag of groceries. The new season opens November 3, 2009. We need your help to once again keep the shelves stocked. Please consider buying one extra item during your weekly shopping. Items needed include:

  • Any canned foods, fish, pasta, beans, vegetables, fruit
  • Peanut butter
  • Dry Pasta
  • Soups
  • Kraft Dinner
  • Coffee, tea
  • Toilet paper
  • Vegetable oil
  • Condiments: hot sauce, mustard, ketchup, relish
  • Cereals
  • Cookies, treats
  • Cleaning Products

While food is the most practical and effective help you can provide, we also accept donations of plastic and cloth shopping bags, clean plastic lidded containers and clean lidded jars. We also accept socks, underware, jeans, winter coats and boots.

More than 100 youth are served every week – Tuesday nights from 6:30 til 9pm.  Consider volunteering.

( The original version of this history, by program coordinator Vicki Wood, appeared on the website of Knox Church at http://www.knoxtoronto.org and the Missionlog’s GeoCities site. ) Enjoy the photos!

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Me and my brother, James

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Project417 Online Newsletter – June 2009

StreetLife – Project417 – June 2009 Vol 6 Issue 8

Chuck - I'd rather die than be homeless another winter


Our friend Chuck – his portrait at the ROM exhibition June 2009

Dear Friends,

Thanks for reading the online version of the Project417 newsletter. This will give you the latest updates on Project417’s ongoing mission to the homeless. We’d like you to be able to read more, but frankly, without continuing financial support from great people just like you, Project417 is unable to provide additional web content for the newsletter at this time.

Our financial needs for support right now are critical. Without your donations Project417 will not be able to continue to provide essential services in 2009. These services include:

Sandwich Runs to the Homeless

– more than fifty thousand meals delivered to date
– on average, we deliver a nutritious bag luunch to around 500 homeless street people every month
– more than two thousand church and school volunteers visit Project417 every year to help
– your donations provide for expenses to traansport volunteers visiting the homeless, salaries for staff to provide volunteer safety and additional food, water, sleeping bags, and clothing during severe weather alerts

Project417 Urban Adventures

Short Term Missions – an urban, inner city experience – Project 417 has been hosting urban missions teams to the inner city in Toronto since the 1980’s but is now growing this ministry through Project417 Urban Adventures (UA). Urban Adventures will provide teams with the opportunity to come to Toronto and participate in a variety of urban outreach experiences. The goals of this program are to effectively serve the at-risk, low income communities we reach out to, to impact the worldviews and opinions of students toward a more Christ-like view of the urban reality. UA provides missions opportunities to Youth (and other group) leaders that will be easy to plan and allow them to experience the trip alongside youth – providing discipleship along the way. UA is a partnership with Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship.

Bloor Lansdowne Community Dinner

– A Partnership program with the Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship, a church that has been located here in Toronto since the 1930’s
– runs every Wednesday evening from 6PM to 8PM
– provides a free, home-cooked meal for anyone in the community. So far we are serving about sixty to one hundred guests including street homeless, residents of neighbouring shelters and transitional women’s housing, needy families and other local church neighbours
– Live musical entertainment every week
– volunteers are needed, and donations to purchase the fresh food every week, clothing bank donations are also accepted

The STEP Program Sex Trade Exit Program

STEP strives to help sexually exploited people in Toronto, Canada. The core of our work is to express the gospel in both word and deed and to engage in discipleship with our community. We do our best to address the suffering of those who are currently involved in prostitution and provide opportunities for change for those interested in exiting the sex trade. Project417 welcomes the addition of Tara McPherson, our newest faith-based missionary, to run the STEP program. For the past few months, in partnership with BLCF, STEP has run a late evening drop-in for women on Bloor Street every Thursday night from 9:30pm to 3:00am called Serenity Cafe.

Out of the Cold Program for Street Youth (November – April)

– established in the fall of 1996, by Rev. Joe Elkerton, in conjunction with Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto, now known as Knox Youth Dinner & Foodbank
– this emergency shelter program was thhe first Out of the Cold program specially for street youth from 16 to 25 years of age
– currently the program has expanded to proovide meals, a food bank, clothing depot, service referrals, and counselling; overnight sleeping accomodation can no longer be provided
– serves more than one hundred youth every week
– several of Project417’s staff and volunteers are on site at Knox every week to provide mentoring to street youth, and assist Knox coordinate volunteers

Counselling Services

– Under the direction of Rev. Joe Elkerton, Project417 provides counselling services to the homeless
– clients include homeless men, women aand youth, street involved youth and at risk families living in poverty
– counselling includes healthy lifestyles reeinforcement, addiction counselling, anger management, and family counselling
– in addition Project417 staff have been trained and certified in Critical Incident Stress Management to be involved in emergency response services and disaster relief
– CISM components include: Group and Individual Crisis Interventions; Trauma & Addictions; Pastoral Crisis Intervention; School Crises

Street Outreach to the Homeless

– the staff and missionaries at Project417 conduct regular outreach to the homeless street population and at-risk inner city residents
– the Project417 model is not a traditional shelter based approach, rather it takes place out on the street where the homeless live
– the outreach comprises both individual one on one interaction and group settings
– in conjunction with the sandwich run ministry, it is the most relational of Project417’s programs
– outreach includes: social program referrals; crisis intervention; personal friendship evangelism; discipleship; fellowship; faith community referrals

Short Term Missions

Hurricane Disaster Recovery – Gulf Coast – Hurricane Katrina – Hurricane Ike

– In September, 2005, the first short term mission teams from Project417, visited New Orleans for one, two and three week terms
– fifty volunteers in seven teams have gone on Project417 short term missions to New Orleans, Louisiana and Galveston, Texas
– Andy and a team of fifteen volunteers from Georgia State University visited San Leon, Galveston County, Texas to help with Hurricane Ike relief in the renovation of a storm damaged home belonging to a Vietnamese – American family
– there is currently no funding available for the next short term mission, but plans are to visit the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans in 2009 and team with Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Housing Institute
– On TV –  “The Old Man and the Storm, a PBS FrontLine documentary by June Cross describing the rebuilding efforts of Mr. Herbert Gettridge and his family in the Lower Ninth Ward, aided by volunteers (including Project417); the documentary aired Jan. 2009 and can be watched online at PBS

Thanks for reading this far. We hope you have a better understanding of the essential services Project417 provides to the homeless, both here in Toronto and where disaster strikes elswhere. We need to continue. We need your support. Over 500 street homeless and 6,000 shelter housed men and women benefit from Project417’s core ministries. Thousands in New Orleans and Texas are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt.

A donation of $10 – $20 will help pay for our team leaders’ expenses to support the volunteers for one evening’s sandwich run. A donation of $50 will buy a Tim Horton’s coupon book and give a panhandler a meal instead of small change in his cup. $500 =  sandwich run van for one month. $1000 would pay for the travel of one short term mission team to New Orleans or fund two weeks of inner city street outreach. Partner with us today. Follow the links below to make your donation, online, or in the mail. Join with us to bring the love of Christ to those forgotten by society.
Sincerely,

Rev. Joe Elkerton
Executive Director
Ekklesia Inner City Ministries
Project417

Homeless prefer grassroots Out of the Cold program versus city run shelters

It’s spring right? I mean it’s getting warmer right?  Well, I don’t know about where you live, but here in Toronto there has been a dearth of fine spring weather. We’ve had more than our share it seems of unseasonably cold weather, especially cold, blustery winds and the perennial April showers. Most of us, we live with it, it’s an annual thing – how soon will it warm up – and doesn’t seem to affect our daily routine more than getting the car out of the garage and walking from the parking lot to work or other destinations. To our homeless friends on the street however, it is much more than an inconvenience.

Out of the Cold: for the homeless

Out of the Cold: for the homeless

Toronto’s Out of the Cold program has wrapped up again for another season. What this means for the few hundred homeless people who attend the Out of the Cold programs is that they are once again “Out on the Streets”. I was out with a small volunteer group a couple of weeks ago with the regular Project417 Sandwich Run outreach to the homeless on a Monday night. The streets have been particularly quieter this winter as far as the presence of the homeless (more on this later) but most of our route was busier that night and as we arrived at Nathan Phillips Square at the Toronto City Hall, there was a marked increase in our homeless friends that I haven’t seen since last fall.

Five years ago
, it was very different at city hall. Then Mayor Mel Lastman had unofficially condoned the homeless sleeping outside city hall all around Nathan Phillips Square “if they had no other shelter”. It was a year round phenomenon with upwards of two hundred people sleeping in a cardboard jungle right next to the front doors of city hall or just bundled up in sleeping bags on every available bench and corner protected from the wind and elements. That whole period in Toronto’s homelessness saga deserves a more detailed analysis. There had been a marked population boom when Home Depot and the city shut down Tent City down by the harbour, but suffice to say that upon the ascension to power of Mayor David Miller, the official policy changed, Streets to Homes was born, the 100 plus bed Edwards street shelter opened (now closed and slated for “affordable” housing) and city security quickly turfed the homeless residents of Nathan Phillips Square. This prompted one homeless bard to pen a lilting country tune, “How do You Sleep”, dedicated to Mayor Miller. One woman, who had slept on the Square for a few years, simply moved down a couple blocks onto a hot air ventilating grate across from a major hotel, where we see her every night we are on the street – yes, that’s right, she has slept in that exposed sidewalk location every night for the last five years. Again, Mayor Miller has demonstrated that he is not unfeeling when it comes to homelessness and more independent study is required of the touted success of the Streets to Homes program he championed, but this blog is about our friends still sleeping outside at City Hall.

Homeless on Queen Street W., Toronto

Homeless on Queen Street W., Toronto

During the winter months, Nathan Phillips Square is one of the stops on our Project417 Sandwich Run that has several routes spanning the downtown core from about Bathurst out to Parliament and from Bloor down to the Gardiner Expressway (with a van route that reaches more outlying areas). This winter – we go out on sandwich runs even during cold weather alerts of which there were many this year in temperatures below minus twenty – there has generally been only two or three homeless men and women sleeping at city hall. There has almost always been at least one – our dear friend Randy*, a double amputee, who sleeps there sitting upright in his wheelchair with his sleeping bag upside down over his head. During the recent celebrated Earth Hour on Nathan Phillips Square (I’ve never encountered such bright lights and high powered amplified music during any other “blackout”), we spent almost three quarters of an hour talking to Randy and looking on at the eco-revellers from Randy’s dark, hidden alcove just steps from the celebration. Randy practices “lights out” 365 days a year, except for the daily charge his wheelchair battery receives at a friend’s close by. Streets to Homes outreach workers are in constant contact with anyone, including Randy, who sleeps at city hall, but so far have been ineffective in convincing many chronically homeless men and women like him to choose the severely limited housing options available. [*Randy is not his real name]

Now during the spring, summer and fall
, the number of our homeless friends sleeping on Nathan Phillips still rises to more than a dozen, sometimes double that. On the recent Monday night, we had no sooner approached Randy than I noticed there were several more homeless in view under the walkway. As soon as they noticed us, they literally ran over, happy to see us, recognizing the tell tale bag lunches out team carries. “Hey Andy, we’re back”, a couple shouted. I’ve known many of them for almost ten years going back to the first time I ventured out on the streets to help the homeless with Project417 (Our director, Joe Elkerton has been performing outreach to the street homeless almost twenty years in Toronto). “Hey, I’m glad to see you!”,  I answered back, but in truth,  I was disturbed and profoundly saddened to see their familiar faces. Yes, they’re my friends and yes I missed them over the winter, but I had hoped that some had found a place to call home in the last four months.

The reason they are back out on the streets at night is, as I mentioned at the start, the end of the Out of the Cold Program until next November. For those of you who don’t know, or who may have been misinformed, Out of the Cold is not a City of Toronto or other level of government program. What it is,  is a grassroots success story – a faith based program started by Sister Susan Moran and her St. Michael’s School students back in 1987 and a coalition of  local downtown Christian church communities. Indeed it has developed into a multi-faith initiative with representation at 23 facilities from different faith and organizations taking part now. Very simply, the model is:  local downtown churches open their doors one night a week to provide a hot meal and a place to sleep “out of the cold”. In Toronto, more than three thousand volunteers help every winter to feed and provide shelter to about five hundred of our homeless friends. The majority of the food, materials, supplies, shelter and other costs are funded by the local church members. (Note – The city does fund the program peripherally – a local non-profit social service agency -currently Dixon Hall- has an annual contract to send one or two safety and security personnel to some sites, some transportation of guests and the supply/ laundering of a limited number of blankets and sleeping mats. They also provide counselling, housing worker and referral services to the guests. A separate community health care provider offers a registered nurse at each location) Only 16 of the churches fully opt in to these city services with several preferring the freedom and intimacy of program delivery funded and guided by their own community resources and principals. This model has spread nationwide and Sister Susan was recognized with the Order of Canada in 2006 for her contribution.

Why the streets see a surge of the over five hundred homeless when Out of the Cold ends is because the majority of them would not step foot in a city run shelter. They just plain like the Out of the Cold program sites and the volunteers who run them. They tell me the food is better by far – the people are friendlier – the rules less stringent – the atmosphere more inviting and they enjoy the other programs run concurrent to the Out of the Cold like, music nights, sports, foodbanks, clothing banks, crafts and personal hygiene care services. The sleeping arrangements are often more primitive than city run shelters, usually just thin mats on the floor placed in open areas like church gyms, but still our homeless friends praise the program and bemoan the fact that it runs only November to April.

There are over three thousand city run emergency shelter beds at numerous locations from small 20 to 30 bed operations to the 600 bed monster on George Street – Seaton House, (affectionately dubbed Satan House by it’s inhabitants) and this number has dropped due to budget cuts and the questionable recommendations of the infamous city sponsored “homeless count census” – a limited, one day snapshot of street populations. The Out of the Cold program has remained stable or grown over the same period. Our homeless friends eagerly attend Out of the Cold shelters, many making the trek across the city several nights a week to the next church location that is open that night. There is one Out of the Cold program that operates more than one night a week.  University Settlement House, an independent non-profit, United Way partner agency and City of Toronto supported community center next to the Grange Park,  runs an Out of the Cold Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the winter and Saturdays, Sundays only in the summer. It is one of the best liked shelters amongst our street friends, and they all miss Fridays now that spring has come.

Love on the street

Love on the street

It’s time the city reviewed their emergency shelter programs and borrowed a page from the Out of the Cold program’s success story. The city shelters are efficiently run, relatively clean and safe to a certain degree – but they are still shunned by many of the homeless. Many lack the humanity and compassion shown to them by Out of the Cold volunteer efforts. Our friends are homeless – not just house-less. What is the distinction? What makes a house a home? – LOVE – A commodity in short supply evidently when payed for by tax dollars and delivered by bureaucrats. Thank God, Toronto’s faith community has a surfeit of love and compassion – I only wish, for the five hundred more men and women we’ll be serving now out on the streets with the Project417 sandwich runs,  that communities could see that people need to come in out of the cold year round.

If you’re interested in volunteering with or donating to one of the local Toronto Out of the Cold sites, the best way is to contact them directly.  There is no formal or central  “Out of the Cold” foundation to receive donations, each location is self-supporting through their local congregations – and the OOTC schedule link above is maintained by Dixon Hall, a separate non-profit. So I’ve taken the time to compile this list of the 2008/2009  Out of the Cold locations:

Knox Presbyterian Youth Dinner & Foodbank

630 Spadina Ave (no overnight program)

University Settlement House

23 Grange Rd. Year round Out of the Cold program

St. Patrick’s Church

141 McCaul Street at Dundas

St. Margaret’s Church

156 – 6th Street (Islington and Birmingham)

Evangel Hall

552 Adelaide,   E. of Bathurst

York Region Mosaic Interfaith community

Yorkminister Park Baptist

1585 Yonge Street,  N. of St. Clair

Holy Blossom Temple

1950 Bathurst at Eglinton

Eastminster  United

310 Danforth Ave. at Chester

Blythwood Road Baptist

80 Blythwood Road
N of Yonge/Eglington

St. Matthew’s /  Our Lady Peace

3962 BloorSt W

St. Brigid’s

Woodbine & Danforth

Beth Sholom / Beth Tzedec
1445 Eglinton Ave W

First Interfaith at St. Matthew’s

729 St. Clair Ave. W

All Saints Kingsway Anglican

2850 Bloor W

Beth Emeth Bais Yehudah Synagogue

100 Elder St

Chinese Gospel Church

450 Dundas W

Knox United

Agincourt

St. Aidan’s

70 Silver Birch Ave

St. Michaels Cathedral

66 Bond Street (St. Mike’s parish)

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship 1307 Bloor St. W;
(Overnight tba Community dinner only, year round)

To volunteer for a Project417 Sandwich Run to the homeless visit Project417.com and check our online volunteer calendar and read about other volunteers’ stories. More than two thousand people helped us last year – come on out and see!

Time to Volunteer – Out of the Cold

Knox Out of the Cold

Autumn is here again, although you wouldn’t know from the sunny, balmy weather we’ve been having. This is definitely a bonus for the homeless street population here in Toronto. Here at Project417 we are not looking forward to the wet, cold and blustery weather that is bound to be coming soon. It makes life difficult for the street homeless we work with – stuck outside all day, rain drizzling down, soaking their sleeping bags and blankets, making their outdoor beds sodden and chilled, bringing morning dews and soon frost. Quite a few of the homeless and street involved youth that we know are making a living on the streets busking, a time honored musical tradition and one that offers self-esteem and an escape from the hazards of panhandling or squeegee. With the advent of cold weather, most busking is severely limited, especially for guitar players or other instruments affected by the cold or requiring warm hands.

There is a great fall and winter program to look forward to though: The Knox Out of the Cold Dinner and Foodbank for Street Youth starts up again every Tuesday from November 6th, 2007. Now in its 11th year, the Knox Out of the Cold is a favorite amongst the street youth who attend. Last year we averaged over seventy youth, roughly between the ages of 16 to 25, serving them hot, nutritious homemade dinners and offering access to a foodbank generously stocked with fresh food, such as milk and cheese, many frozen foods and dinners, as well as some fresh produce from Second Harvest and a good selection of standard foodbank non-persihables.

This independant Out of the Cold program (it’s supported entirely by Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto) was started more than ten years ago as a cooperative partnership between First Nations Gospel Church and a caring group of Knox members who wanted to reach the growing numbers of homeless street youth ( In Toronto, a good estimate suggests there are at least 10,000 different youth who are homeless at one point on any given year – and anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 on a given night. ;Source – cbc.ca) The First Nations Gospel Church which evolved into our organization – Project417 – Ekklesia Inner City Ministries – was founded by Joe Elkerton, our current Executive Director. It has always been at the forefront of outreach to the most as risk portion of the homeless – those who are absolutely without shelter, sleeping on the streets. Back in the 90’s, Rev.Elkerton and his teams of volunteers, who visited the streets delivering bag lunches on sandwich runs, noticed that many homeless street youth were not visiting the various overnight emergency shelters which serve the general homeless population. They were feeling out of place and harassed by the older, adult population, (most are escaping some form of abuse at the hands of adults) and couldn’t find referral or counselling programs which dealth with the issues unique to youth. So, seeking to meet their needs, and with the blessing of the Knox Session, the Knox Out of the Cold was implemented. Joe Elkerton and his team provided the expertise in running a shelter and serving the homeless and Knox provided an awesome facility and ready group of volunteers and administrators.

Knox Out of the Cold for Street Youth has gone through many changes over the last decade, continuously adapting to the changing needs of homeless and at risk street youth. At the beginning, we followed the Out of the Cold model first championed by Sister Susan and the founders of Out of the Cold. In addition to providing hot meals, the church gymnasium became an overnight shelter with dozens of youth finding a warm place to sleep and a hot breakfast in the morning. Beginning in 2006, the overnight portion of the program was cancelled, due in part to the large number of youth who had found housing through the efforts of the Streets to Homes initiative and caring counsellors from NaMeRes (Native Men’s Residence). For several years the program ran two nights a week thanks to the volunteer efforts of the Royal Bank of Canada RBC, who ran the program Wednesday nights as well as the churches’ own Tuesdays.

The program this year guarantees to continue it’s hit status with the youth who attend. Doors open at 6:30 pm and a home cooked meal is usually served by 7 pm. Teams of volunteers takes turns commandeering the well equipped church kitchen and producing great meals – and not just soup kitchen staples like spaghetti or stew. Menus often include Roast Beef and all the trimmings, or adventurous nights like homemade pizza. All meals come with a fresh salad, vegetables, potatoes or pasta and bread. There is fruit juice and chocolate milk on every table and most meals include a vegetarian alternative. There are also choice os yummy desserts and trays of cookies and munchies homemade by the “church ladies”. The meals are served to the youth at table by volunteers – we don’t make them line up meal program style like some shelters – and once they are all served the volunteers are encouraged to join them at the tables, which can make for some interesting discussion topics.

Early on in the program’s history, Knox Church members assumed all responsibility for the program’s operation under the guidance of Vicki and Bill Wood. Project417 – Ekklesia stays on just to volunteer, lend a hand with coordination and enjoy the community. Vicki and Bill and countless other volunteers over the years have added programs which make the Knox Out of the Cold unique. The church has a bowling alley – 3 lanes! – in the basement and volunteers are always needed to help set the pins and return balls. Years ago Bill started “Hair Nite”, and dyes the youth’s hair every technicolor choice imaginable. Along with volunteer barbers and hairdressers, this is one activity the youth line up for. Starting as a test in the summer of 2005, the Knox Foodbank for Street Youth now runs every Tuesday in conjunction with the Out of the Cold. A community public health nurse is on premises all evening. There are often crafts and there’s a table with video games on an aging Nintendo. (Wii or xBox donations anyone?)

Every other week Bill Wood and a group of helpers host an open mic night in the gym for the youth to entertain us all with their amazing musical talent. Bill, a veteran musician who just released his latest CD “Take It” always performs his latest tunes and, in human jukebox style, responds to almost any request. We’re constantly surprised by the awesome talent of the youth, especially Meg, Lucian Thomas or Spewkie and friends of the Freckled Arm and the Kruntry Revolution. It’s a warm haven for our friends like Terry, Petboy and Gomer once busking season is over.

So come on out and join the volunteers! Visit the Knox Presbyterian website at knoxtoronto.org for contact info or visit the volunteer pages of Project417.com

Entrance Out of the Cold at Knox Spadina

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