Christy Upshall is a guest on Thrive blog to share her experience with helping to build PCYI’s System Integration Framework in the context of her organization, Our Place Peel. She tells us why she’s in, and how other organizations can benefit by getting on board. Christy shared these words with us on June 5 at our System Integration Community Conversation.
My name is Christy Upshall and I am the Executive Director at Our Place Peel, which provides shelter to homeless youth ages 16 -21 years old. The shelter is located in Mississauga, however we service youth across the Region of Peel as well as outside the Region. Our vision is that all youth in the Region of Peel who are at-risk of homelessness will have access to a safe shelter and appropriate supports.
We have 3 main programs.
Emergency Youth Shelter
In operation since 1989, the fourteen bed emergency youth shelter provides short term emergency shelter, crisis counselling and referral services within a supportive environment for young people 16-21 years of age. Youth are able to stay at Our Place Peel for three weeks and while part of the program, youth are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves, their actions and their future directions.
Within the shelter we provide 6 transitional beds for youth who need to stay longer than the 3 weeks provided at the shelter. The youth can stay for up to 3 months in an independent living environment where staff will provide support as needed. The youth living in the transitional program participate in a comprehensive case management program, with mandatory programs to assist them in developing all aspects of their life.
The Resource Room, located within the shelter, is available for youth living in our programs or youth who are in the community between the ages of 16-21 who require computer/internet access and support with employment and accommodation searching. We provide young people with job search strategies, job leads, resume preparation advice, computer access in our job lab and tips on interview techniques. As well, we provide individual counselling, bus tickets and business-appropriate clothing. We also work with employers to find jobs for our youth.
The youth who are living at the shelter have support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When they come live with us they are at the lowest point of their life and we provide support to them as each one individually requires it. I have personally been with the organization for the past 15 years and I have learned and experienced so many wonderful things about our agency, how resilient our youth are and how wonderful the community that we live in is. Unfortunately, I have also seen the other side of the coin with the clear increase in the amount of youth we are serving: in 1998 the annual occupancy rate was 65%, and in 2013 the occupancy rate was 96%. Last year alone, we reported turning away 550 youth from our shelter because we were full. When I see these numbers continue to increase, I know that we have to work differently within the community and we have to work together to close many of the gaps within the system, complement and align.
Community Collaboration, System Integration
This is why I choose to participate in the System Integration Framework development process. A core group of about 18 organizations were represented and worked together, learned about each other and how our agencies could work together and fit into the system.
During the process, we had the challenge of tackling what a high-level framework, uniting those with a vested interest in children and youth ages 0-24, could look like. Rest assured, we faced many of the same questions, doubts, limitations and unknowns that may be running through your mind as you read this right now.
I can also tell you that we spent months, with regular meetings, to really hash out these issues to present what you see before you today. We are extremely thrilled to bring this concept to reality, and the first step is having you all here.
I know that we have logistics to sort through: where do I fit in the structure? Who will represent our organization? How will we keep in touch? How much time will this take?
We will answer those questions, together, in time. Today, though, I can tell you why I’m in, regardless.
As I stated before, it is very clear that my clients need effective services, we need to work with them before they turn 16. Your clients need effective services. They do not need to know who is doing what behind the scenes. There should be no wrong door. Families should not have to hit the reset button when their child turns 7. Youth in crisis should not have to navigate a system that we ourselves do not know inside out. We have an obligation to produce outcomes in a fiscally responsible way and integration will help us do this.
It will not be easier to work together. In fact, it will take time and effort and I can think of many reasons why it will be too hard, but the one and only reason that should be on the top of our minds is that the outcomes will be exponentially better for our kids and youth 0 -24 years old. I am willing to make room in my schedule to be linked to this framework. In fact, I have already committed hours to its development, because I believe in the benefits that it will achieve for my organization and for my clients: young people in Peel.
As an Executive Director of a small organization that has an enormous impact on the community, being a part of this framework could mean that I will learn of services and initiatives in the Region that I can link with to complement my strategic plan. Perhaps we will unite social housing organizations in Peel so that we can make better referrals that will mean my client is not sleeping on the street tomorrow. Maybe my staff will be able to piggy back on a training opportunity that secures more professional development value than we could ever achieve on our own.
The possibilities are endless and the benefits more than justify the room I need to make at the margins to participate.
Throughout this process, I often wondered that if there was an integrated system for kids and youth, a seamless one where they don’t fall through the cracks and one in which services don’t stop due to funding requirements, and we started working with our kids before they turned 16, maybe our youth would stay in school, maybe they wouldn’t turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with their issues and maybe they wouldn’t become homeless at all and Our Place Peel wouldn’t need to exist.
So what I am asking is for you take the first step with me today. Commit to the concept with the understanding that it will evolve and strengthen over time. Join me in this journey that we are embarking on today.
As a dynamic leader in the non for profit sector with 15 years of experience, Christy Upshall became the Executive Director at Our Place Peel in September 2003. As Executive Director, Christy oversees all aspects of the organization, including the residential programs, fundraising, fiscal responsibility and providing leadership support to the management team. Christy works with a Board of Directors to ensure that the agency’s goals, values and mission are being met and b can lead the agency into further expansion.
After completing her BA from the University of Western Ontario and her Diploma in Child and Youth Work from Humber College, Christy decided to pursue a career working for a non-profit organization which supported youth. She chose Our Place Peel because it offers a one of a kind program in the Region of Peel, helping empower youth and putting the youths’ needs first and foremost.
Christy finds it very rewarding to see youth build the confidence to meet and exceed the goals they set for themselves and to look into the future with a positive outlook. “OPP is extremely important for the community as we are the only emergency shelter for homeless youth within the Region of Peel,” says Christy. “The Region has grown over the years and the need to support youth who are in need of shelter or who are at-risk is more important than ever. We have to recognize that youth are not just leaders of tomorrow but also of today and, at the end of the day, our young people will be the ones who will shape the future.”