As we continue our mission to create a stronger and better York Region, we here at United Way have learned that it is important to go beyond immediate needs and focus our attention on the underlying, root causes of social issues. As our community continues to grow at a rapid pace, our social service infrastructure is challenged to respond to those who need it most. Two organizations working hard to help provide solutions to these problems are United Way York Region member agencies Blue Door Shelters and Pathways for Children, Youth and Families of York Region.

“We see the challenge of accessing social services as a daily problem,” Patti Bell, Executive Director, Blue Door Shelters begins. “Last year, through our three shelters (for family, men and youth) Blue Door Shelters served 1,590 individuals with 26,653 nights of shelter in total, yet we still did not have space for 1,751 people who contacted us directly in need of emergency assistance. As this number only reflects people who have connected personally with Blue Door Shelters, expect this to be just the tip of the iceberg.”

Looking for a temporary roof under your head can be especially hard if you are a distraught teen looking to clear your head. As Michael Braithwaite, Executive Director, Pathways for Children, Youth and Families of York Region adds. “There are an estimated 300 homeless youth on the streets and only 27 shelter beds across the region to serve them. When they can’t find a bed, they bounce from friend to friend or have to seek shelter in downtown Toronto, which can pull them out of their community and its familiar resources. Pathways sees over 1,000 youth annually through our Home Base drop-in centre, but when the doors close at 8 pm, many of them are left with no place to go. Pathways is working hard to change that.”

Another issue that York Region is facing is public transportation. As Mr. Braithwaite puts it, “It is vital that York Region streamline its transportation system. Many people who use the system within our community depend on it to make appointments and work because they don’t own cars. It is low income families who have come to rely on our transit and it needs to be more accessible to them and convenient to use.”

While there are issues, there are people working towards solutions. Blue Door Shelters is currently part of a transit pilot project with York Region Transit (YRT). The project consists of a bus stop right on site serving two shelters in East Gwillimbury. YRT comes to Blue Door Shelters four times daily from Monday to Friday and three times a day on Saturday. This system regularly connects up to 90 clients with the Newmarket Go Bus Terminal, where they can transfer to another route for a single fare. Overall, their clients have had access to public transportation every three hours. Most have benefited enormously from this initiative, now being able to travel across the region looking for housing, work or to go to school. And the potential for positive change does not stop there.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to United Way York Region, for highlighting the issue around the difficulty of accessing social services in our community. For our clients who are ‘between homes’ there is an additional hurdle of accessing social services,” Ms. Bell states. “The Region is working hard to address these gaps in service by developing new facilities. Belinda’s Place, the first shelter for single women who are homeless will be operated by Blue Door Shelters in Newmarket, scheduled to open late in 2013. Shedding a light on the high poverty levels in York Region and working to reduce the stigma and blame for people who experience homelessness are extremely positive steps that prevent this issue from remaining invisible.”

For more information on the programs and services offered at Blue Door Shelters, log onto

To learn more about Pathways for Children, Youth and Families of York Region, visit


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