Urban Barn blankets Canada in warmth; donates more than 15,000 blankets to local shelters throughout country​

Know that good feeling you get when someone shares good vibes with you through a warm message or gesture? This year, Urban Barn helped to spread that warm feeling across the country through its sixth annual Blanket the Country in Warmth initiative.

From October 5 to November 5, Urban Barn collected $5 donations in-store and online at www.BlankettheCountry.com to go towards new blankets that were distributed to 33 shelters throughout the country. With the help of customers across Canada, Urban Barn exceeded its blanket donation goal of 15,000, and will confirm a final count in the following weeks.

"Blanket the Country in Warmth represents many things that are core to Urban Barn," said Linda Letts, CEO, Urban Barn. "We are a community-focused company, and this initiative allows us to directly support the communities where our customers and employees live and work. It also represents one of our core values - be respectful. The most vulnerable people in our communities can often feel forgotten. In our own small way, Blanket the Country in Warmth is about showing these people that they are worthy of respect and support."

In the six years the campaign has been active, Blanket the Country in Warmth has achieved much more than its donation numbers. It has rallied Canadians to show community support and spread warmth, donating more than 73,000 blankets since 2012. For the second year in a row, the program gave Canadians another way to spread warmth through the option of adding a "warm wish," on BlanketTheCountry.com as well as on social media by tagging @UrbanBarn and #BlankettheCountry. To date, more than 150 warm wishes have been shared as a part of the campaign.

In 2016, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness estimated that 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night, and at least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a year.

According to Statistics Canada, 3,491 Canadian women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters on any given night because it isn't safe at home.

Warmth by the numbers:

This year, loyal Urban Barn customers, through donations in-store and online, donated more than 15,000 blankets to shelters.
Generous Canadians have donated more than 73,000 blankets to those in need since 2012.
Urban Barn customers have left 151 warm wishes since 2016.
About Urban Barn
Canadian retailer Urban Barn offers well-appointed furniture, home décor and accessories. With over 50 retail locations across the country, the Vancouver-based company first opened its doors in 1990 and continues to pride itself on offering a successful combination of value, quality & great design. For further information, please visit www.urbanbarn.com.

To learn more about Urban Barn and to locate an Urban Barn store, please visit www.urbanbarn.com.​​

City of Toronto announces expansion of winter services, increasing number of sites, total capacity and days of 24-hour service​

Paul Raftis, General Manager of the City of Toronto's Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, today announced details about an expanded suite of services available this winter to assist residents who are experiencing homelessness.

"It's not enough to be providing more shelter services per capita than any other Canadian city," Raftis said. "Our shelters are very busy and staff are working full-time on opening new shelters to address increases in demand before the end of the year, into 2018, and beyond. In the meantime, we are increasing the number of sites providing 24/7 winter respite services and tripling the days of continuous service availability." 

Services will be available starting November 15 and remain open until April 15 next year.

The City has increased the number of winter respite sites to five from the three provided last winter, and the number of sleeping spaces to at least 250 from 160. Days of 24-hour service will rise to 760 (five sites x 152 days of 24-hour service) from 240 last winter.

24/7 Winter Respite Services, November 15, 2017 to April 15, 2018:
• Yonge and Bloor site at 21 Park Rd. 
• Downtown East site at 323 Dundas St. E.
• Downtown West site at 25 Augusta Ave. 
• Parkdale site; details available shortly
• Scarborough site at 705 Progress Ave.

Public to 'Encounter' Homelessness through Educational Escape Room

- A ground-breaking Escape Room is set to be unveiled in Metro Vancouver, allowing the public to encounter homelessness in a radical new way. The room, called Encounter, was partly conceived, designed, constructed, and engineered by formerly homeless Canadians who want the public to understand homelessness on a new level. It comes complete with gadgets, puzzles and clues meant to educate the public and inspire change.
"Homelessness was like a maze," says Terry Lawrence, who was homeless for two years and confronted a labyrinth of endless challenges along his road to housing. "I helped build 'Encounter' to educate the public on just how complicated homelessness really is and help others."

"We don't know of anything quite like this ever before," says UGM's Jeremy Hunka. "Because many of our formerly homeless guests tell us they felt 'trapped' on the streets and speak of how difficult it was to 'escape' homelessness, they believe this is an appropriate way of communicating reality and building empathy."

"Encounter: Interactively Understanding Homelessness and its Barriers" illuminates obstacles that prevent people like Terry from accessing housing – barriers often invisible to the rest of society. It was professionally designed through a partnership between Union Gospel Mission and EXIT, Canada's largest Escape Room chain.

"My eyes were opened to the many struggles homeless people go through," says Canadian Olympic Medalist Stephanie Labbé, one of the first to see Encounter. "I really think this experience will help change our perception."

"Reality really hit home for me," says North Vancouver Olympic Medalist Georgia Simmerling, who also participated.

Encounter is not a game; it is an immersive learning experience that will challenge perceptions and incite action to 'counter' homelessness. It will be open to the public, free of charge, during Metro Vancouver's Homelessness Action Week. Anyone can sign up at ugm.ca/encounter.

"EXIT Canada has been a proud sponsor for many companies over many years all towards one goal of making a difference," says EXIT owner Justin Tang. "The opportunity to collaborate with Union Gospel Mission is no exception as this unique project hits a personal chapter in my life, one of perseverance and resilience. The concept of an escape room as a platform to bring awareness to homelessness is a bold new way that I hope will encourage not only more listeners but spark an effective movement toward change."

Public participants will also have the chance to meet formerly homeless individuals – who are paid for their time – to ask questions and learn from their experiences.

"This is a way for me to give back with the skills I have," says Terry Lawrence, who helped engineer the electrical wiring and clues within the escape room. "I hope it breaks stigma and helps others."


Thursday, October 5, 2017
10:00 – 10:30am
Exit Canada; 9111 Beckwith Rd, Richmond   

Vancouver's StreetMessenger now displays shelter bed availability in real time on Google maps and expands across Canada to combat homelessness

The Vancouver Community Network (VCN) has launched StreetMessenger.ca, which leverages SMS technology to send messages to the cell phones of homeless and street-involved youth with program information, life-saving alerts and real-time updates on available shelter beds displayed on Google maps. Work on this program started in 2014 in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Leveraging that success, StreetMessenger is now open to every community in Canada thanks to support from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), Employment and Social Development Canada, as well as Canadian philanthropists Bob Rennie and Peter Wall.

With the live-launch of StreetMessenger, VCN is working with community organizations in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto to register cellphone carrying at-risk street and marginalized individuals in their communities.

"We know that more than 67 per cent of people under 30 experiencing homelessness have cellphones. And text messaging is the best outreach tool given posters aren't seen and more than half of emails are never read," said Tracey Axelsson, VCN's executive director. "The reaction has been very positive here in Vancouver and we want cities across the country to know it is available in their communities as well."

Vancouver's homeless count has increased by 30 per cent since 2014. With homelessness on the rise, better access to interventions is needed to reduce these numbers and get people housed. StreetMessenger has been well-received by users in Vancouver. In fact, 97 per cent of people approached by VCN enrolled immediately to receive messages about services offered in their community.

StreetMessenger is an outreach tool that sends time-sensitive alerts on available program information for job skills and training sessions, pop-up health clinics, messages about where a mobile unit is or will be, emergency alerts that can save lives including bad batches of drugs in the community, as well as instantly distributing information about missing persons. The system can send messages in any language.

"When VCN applied to CIRA's Community Investment Program to develop this project we immediately recognized the reach and impact it could have on so many people," said Byron Holland, CIRA's president and CEO. "We believe in supporting initiatives that harness the power of technology to change lives for the better. VCN is linking simple but powerful technologies with smart and passionate people to solve real-world problems. I'm incredibly proud to support this as part of CIRA's commitment to building a better online Canada."

"The work done by the Vancouver Community Network is essential in addressing unique problems associated with the chronically and episodically homeless populations. This organization is taking innovative measures to address enduring social issues with the ultimate goal of having more positive outcomes for people experiencing homelessness. The Government of Canada is proud to support projects like this one in order to help prevent and reduce homelessness," said the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

The final phase of development for StreetMessenger was completed in January and included a process that allows frontline shelter administrators to send the number of beds available via text to StreetMessenger, which then displays it on the Google map icon showing the shelter's location.

Frontline workers tell VCN they spend two or more hours a night responding to calls for bed availability or trying to find a place for someone. This system will let them get back to doing what they do best -- supporting people in their shelter.

StreetMessenger is live and already making a difference in Vancouver. It is certain to have a positive impact on street-involved individuals in Calgary, Toronto and beyond. Clients can enroll themselves by sending a text to 778-819-6826 or visit streetmessenger.ca to learn more.