One Big Question: Homelessness and shelter in Waterloo Region

Today’s guest blogger is Brian Kamm. In his role as Specialist, Community Investment at United Way Waterloo Region Communities, Brian hears from Partner Agencies and other community stakeholders about the realities of poverty in Waterloo Region.  “It’s easy to take sides and point fingers at who is responsible or who is to blame” says Brian, “ It’s harder to recognize challenges and work together. “

Brian hopes that this blog inspires reflection and about how we can all play our part in building a better community.


With the warmer weather, “tent cities” have popped up again throughout Waterloo Region. Individuals who are homeless have pitched tents on public or private land because they see no other choices. Tent cities are the most obvious sign of the many complex factors that make people homeless, but there’s more to it than just having a place to stay.

In Kitchener this has included a mobile protest by local activists. They began by setting up a tent city in Victoria Park. After a few days they were moved to the front of a regional building at Queen and Weber, and then to Sandhills Park in Kitchener.  That was a short stay, and the protest is now behind a leather factory. Activists are calling on the region to address their responsibilities for housing and addictions supports for some of the most vulnerable community members.

In Cambridge, tent cities have sprung up in Hespeler. Residents concerned with public safety issues, such as used needles, are calling on the municipality to enforce by-laws.

All of these groups want the same thing: a community which is safe and accessible.

“It’s not just politicians,” notes Mayor Craig to the Waterloo Region Record. “It’s not just police or legislators-It’s all of us.”

We’ve seen success when regional government, working with local shelter providers like Argus Residence for Young PeopleHouse of Friendship and YW Kitchener Waterloo, divert individuals and families from the emergency shelter system to more appropriate supports.  The Housing First model in Waterloo Region guides all local shelters.

We know people coping with poverty are dealing with a complex set of causes including significant mental health issues and addiction, often rooted in past experiences of trauma; social isolation; and a lack of affordable housing.

For instance, people that are chronically homeless may appear to be seniors – but are actually in their 40’s and 50’s.  Living on the streets they’ve aged rapidly, and are experiencing physical & mental health and mobility challenges of those decades older.  Staff at SHOW (Supportive Housing of Waterloo) underscores this reality, noting that on average people who experience chronic homelessness only live until their early 50’s.

People with the most complex challenges have in the past been labelled as “unhouseable.” In part this has been a result of agencies being strapped for resources and lacking some of the skills to deal with the breadth of issues experienced by those termed “hard to serve.” While available resources continue to be a challenge, agencies have been building on their collaborative relationships, utilizing new approaches, sharing their expertise, and strengthening the entire support network.

Sitting at a network table of service providers helps to “keep the information flowing,” as the CEO at KW Multicultural Centre explained about why they participate in local networks. Each organization has expertise in a particular geographic neighourhood, or relationships with those from specific cultures, or are skilled in the area of mental health issues.

Complexity means that issues like housing won’t have one simple solution for everyone. 

Providing more affordable housing units is critical considering there were over 3,400 households on the affordable housing wait list in 2016/2017. It also means providing preventive supports and services that address knowledge and capabilities so people do not just find housing, but also stay housed.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities’ partner agencies are part of this network addressing community challenges.  They make successes happen in the here and now – providing emergency shelter to over 4,500 people, for example. They also collaborate to build skills for future successes – like the 400 people who developed financial and literacy skills, providing a stronger base for themselves and their families.

It’s everyone working together – contributing expertise, financial resources and sharing information – that makes change happen.



Where’s your happy place?

Wellbeing is a measure of your quality of life.  It includes being able to fully participate in your favourite activities, feeling safe, and having a connection to your community.

Boiled down to a more basic level, your wellbeing is impacted by such things as your supply of quality food and water, public transit, parks and even access to the internet.

Wellbeing Waterloo Region is a community led initiative working across government and non-profit sectors to help guide Waterloo Region toward becoming the best possible place to live, work and age.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities is proud to be part of this collaborative effort, but we need your help.

To help with future planning and to improve wellbeing in our community, it is important to know where help is needed most.

You can take the Wellbeing Waterloo Region survey by following this link.  The survey is voluntary and anonymous but your answers are important in shaping the future

At United Way, we’re asking the question “Are You the One” Here’s a concrete action you can take to make a difference not only in the lives of others, but perhaps for your own wellbeing.

And, by taking part you’ll be eligible to win some fantastic prizes.

We’re hoping to gather a wide range of responses which will form the backbone of our report to be released later this year.



Seeing is Believing

“I have a better understanding how United Way helps support many programs in the community and how our contributions go a long way.”-Seeing is Believing participant, May 2018

United Way Waterloo Region Communities is dedicated to helping people live better lives in every one of the seven communities we serve.

But how does it work? How does a donation to United Way translate through our partners?

In May of 2018,  12 volunteers from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada joined us for a “Seeing is Believing” tour so they could better understand the role United Way Waterloo Region Communities plays in delivering opportunities to thousands of our friends, neighbours and co-workers.

1 in 4 people in Waterloo Region fall in the lowest levels of literacy.


The Literacy Group, which has locations in both Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo is working every day to change that startling statistic.  As Program Manager Lisa McArthur told our Toyota champions, “Literacy is one door which opens to a much wider network of possibilities”

The Literacy Group receives significant funding from Employment Ontario as program participants try to shorten the difference between the skills they have, and the skills they need to improve their job situation and provide for their families.  But United Way Waterloo Region Communities also provides financial support.

Executive Director Chris Prosser says The Literacy Group has a very diverse group of clients with very different individual needs, and the provincial government doesn’t cover everything.  “Through United Way” says Chris, “we are able to be more aware, and responsive to each individual’s situation”

“This was eye-opening for me!”-Seeing is Believing participant, May 2018

1 in 5 adults will go through a mental health challenge in their lifetime.

While the conversation around mental health appears to be changing, there’s still a significant amount of stigma around the issue.  Our Seeing is Believing tour gave Toyota’s champions a chance to hear directly from someone willing to share their experiences.

“Christine’s story was powerful. To have made a 180 degree turn in her life and come out wanting to help others is remarkable. ” -Seeing is Believing participant, May 2018

United Way Waterloo Region Communities is a significant supporter of mental health initiatives. From KW Counselling to the CMHA Waterloo Wellington, your donations help people find the courage to take the first step, and the support to take the next one.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of United Way Waterloo Region Communities, sign up for a Seeing is Believing tour.  You can start that process by contacting us via email


Digging It-Day of Caring with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada

“It was a great way to spend a day and make a difference”-Day of Caring Participant


It wasn’t a normal work day for any of us. A group of Toyota Motor Manfacturing Canada employees and some staff from United Way Waterloo Region Communities traded in their usual employment tools for pitchforks, shovels and gloves at the Rare Charitable Reserve community gardens.  For more than 7 hours we worked our way from fruit trees to potato planting to rows of beans, squash and zucchini.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities works alongside both the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank, and the Food Bank of Waterloo Region to address the issue of food insecurity.

The Springbank Food Bank Gardens at Rare offer an opportunity for people to “get their hands dirty” and really help out. The gardens cover more than 15 thousand square feet just off Blair Road.  For the last couple of years they have produced more than 6 thousand pounds of fresh food.  Healthy and nutritious meals can be a challenge for people struggling with food insecurity.

Our group on this particular day was charged with a big job.

Last year more than 60 fruit trees were planted on the property, thanks to a generous donation from a local grower.  This time of year, it’s necessary to remove the straw around the base of each tree, and then get down to the hard work of digging out the weeds with a pitchfork.  After that we loaded up wheelbarrows full of compost (created from a huge pile of leaves donated by a nearby resident last fall) and spread that around the base.  Fresh bales of straw were brought in so we could cover that nutrient rich compost, and give these trees a great start on their summer. 

The trees won’t be producing any fruit this year.  Supervisors at the garden say they will be far better off, and more robust if they are given another year to settle in before becoming productive.  But in 2019 these trees will be providing fresh fruit to kids and families who might not otherwise be able to afford such important parts of a healthy diet.

After a break for lunch we headed off to another part of the garden to plant what some call one of the world’s most versatile foods–the potato!   

Thankfully someone else had already done most of the weeding (most of us were done with weeds for the day!).  After a little bit of raking, and the creation of a couple of trenches we simply dropped in the potatoes, covered them up, and applied some water.  Nature will take of the rest.

The rest of the afternoon was filled by creating more beds and planting them with a variety of other vegetables.

All of us on the day have had some experience gardening but everyone agreed it was a different feeling to know the work you had invested was going to pay off for some people who really need the help.

Thanks to the great team at Rare, and our partners at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada we know plates, and bellies will be full of nutritious food later this year.

If you’re interested in bringing a team in for a volunteer opportunity we can help.  We’re currently re-invigorating our Days of Caring initiative, and we’ll have more information on that in the next few weeks.

Is Technology a Force for Good?

“Tech for Good”

That was the theme of the True North conference held last week in Waterloo Region.

For many of us, the life changing aspects of technology might only extend as far as the smartphone we carry everywhere.

Has that been a force for good?  If you look at the issue, every major technological innovation has both good and bad connected with it.

At one point, the automobile, as noted in this article was a “toy for the rich” but it soon became a powerful force, as one historian put it “freeing people from the limits of their geography”

On the other hand, the Association for Safe International Road Travel says more than 32 hundred people are killed in car crashes each day around the world.  Technological innovations in other industries have improved productivity, but have also eliminated jobs.

Former Governor General David Johnston opened the second day of the conference unveiling the Tech for Good Declaration. 

  1. Build trust and respect your data.
  2. Be transparent and give choice
  3. Reskill the future of work
  4. Leave no one behind
  5. Think inclusively at every stage
  6. Actively participate in collaborative governance.

You can read the full declaration and the accompanying explanation at the link above.

But it really comes down to another sentence from Mr. Johnston.

“Do the right thing. Not just the thing right”


True North described itself this way:




Technology is inevitable. But what does it mean to be human in a tech-driven world? As we speed towards an unknown future, there are fundamental, difficult and sometimes scary issues that will divide and unite us.

True North is a two-day conversation about the intersection of humans and technology. It’s an opportunity to imagine and re-imagine the impact of technology — the good and the bad. To examine the values that guide technology innovation. And to redefine tech as a force for good.

As Bozoma Saint John, the Chief Brand Officer for Uber told True North attendees, “The intention of technology is to make life better”

But she also noted, as we all go through our lives “There are rare moments of empathy. How often do we miss them?”

Last week’s conference covered a wide range of topics. Beyond the workshop creating the Tech for Good declaration, participants also heard from industry leaders like Shopify’s Loren Padelford who says his company’s e-commerce technology is doing good by empowering people to create their own businesses.

There is, as we said earlier, good and bad in everything.

Where do we go from here?

We’re looking for a few good ideas. Forever Fund grant applications now being accepted.

Expressive Arts Therapy for children and their parents.

A Friendship Connection program which brings teens together with seniors.

Those are two programs being powered by the Forever Fund. The fund, a part of United Way supported by an endowment, looks for innovative programs which touch on two specific issues.

  1. Mental health supports for children and families
  2. Innovative initiatives for seniors at risk.

Expressive Arts Therapy:

Created by YW Kitchener-Waterloo,this program is targeting families living in supportive housing.  At one time or another all of the participants have experienced homelessness. That’s a traumatizing experience for anyone, and it’s not unusual in this particular target group to see major depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse.

1 in 3 homeless mothers has attempted suicide-Raising the Roof, 2016

The project hopes to change the impact of poverty on the children and families taking part by providing an emotional outlet. The delivery of the program will move through supportive housing locations in Waterloo.


The Friendship Connection:

Developed by Community Support Connections-Meals on Wheels and More,this is a new take on the well established and popular Friendly Visitor program.

“Join our team to deliver meals and smiles” is the first line on the Friendly Visitor website.

The Friendship Connection takes this idea to a much higher level, where a volunteer forms a group with multiple seniors as opposed to a one-on-one connection.  It will also integrate the passion and talents of post secondary students looking for meaningful career related experiences.

For seniors, they won’t need to wait as long to enter the program. Once the group is up and running, they will be interacting with not only the volunteer, but with a group of their peers. Lack of contact with others is a serious issue for seniors.

More than 1 in 3 women over the age of 65 live alone- Statistics Canada

Without a local network of family or friends, a senior can soon become isolated or withdrawn.


United Way Waterloo Region Communities is now looking for applications for the next round of Forever Fund support. Once again grants will be considered for programs in the streams mentioned above.

It’s a simple three step process.

Step 1: Contact United Way Waterloo Region Communities about your interest in a Forever Fund grant by emailing Brian Kamm.

Step 2: If your program or initiative fits, you will receive additional criteria and a link to the online application portal.

Step 3: Submit your completed application package to United Way Waterloo Region Communities by 5 p.m. on Friday July 13th.

Your organization could be the one making a concrete difference in the lives of children, families or seniors!





June is Seniors’ Month

We’ve heard for years about the impact of the baby boom generation. In Canada,the boom years spanned from 1946 to 1965.

During those 20 years more than 8 million babies were born–an average of more than 400 thousand per year. To put that in perspective there were 377 thousand births in 2008, when Canada’s population was double that of the boom years.

The baby boom generation has driven almost every major change in our society from food to fashion to entertainment. Now, as many of those people retire, or at least start to think about it, they will continue to have a big impact.

Census numbers from 2016 indicate 2.3 million people over the age of 65 live in Ontario.  By 2041 that total will double to 4.6 million, making up 25 per cent of the province’s population. Life expectancy has risen dramatically in Canada over the last 50 years.

Many of them will continue to work. A Vanier Institute study suggests almost half of all people expect to continue working past the age  of 65. (That same survey says the average retirement age has increased to almost 64)

Health and finances are the major concerns for people of any age, but those issues are magnified for seniors.

The effect of demographics on every aspect of public and social policy is remarkable. Our local communities in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo are all working to become more age friendly.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities invests in many networks and programs which help people of all ages.  That includes the 2-1-1 information network which offers an easy path to discover information about the myriad of programs for seniors in any area. If you’re not sure where to start looking for help for yourself, or a senior in your life 211 is an ideal launching point.

You can click here to see a list of the agencies we fund, and the networks to which we belong.

Paper Chase: Shred for a Cause

“Everything we do in the digital realm – from surfing the Web to sending an e-mail to conducting a credit card transaction to, yes, making a phone call – creates a data trail. And if that trail exists, chances are someone is using it – or will be soon enough.”-Douglas Rushkoff, author of “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus”

The discussion and concern about privacy and security of our personal information is growing.

The rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica and the information it may have gathered and passed along from millions of Facebook accounts has resulted in a wave of Terms of Service emails as companies scramble to protect themselves.

But as much as the author Douglas Rushkoff warns of the trail we all leave on the internet, identity theft often begins in a very low-tech way.

Pieces of mail taken while on a dumpster diving expedition can lead a savvy thief to a treasure trove.  Not only does it threaten your personal security, it but could result in financial ruin.

Identity thieves are a crafty bunch and their motivations can be wide ranging, from posing as a doctor to getting into an Ivy League school.

On May 26th, Shred-Tech in Cambridge will hold its 11th annual “Shred for a Cause” day.

In partnership with Preston Towne Centre, the company will bring in a shredding truck to give you the opportunity to destroy all those personal documents.

Most of us have recently finished our tax returns.  Those documents–from banks, credit cards and more are obvious targets.  As this article points out there are many other pieces of paper you might not consider problematic but can be valuable in the wrong hands.

On Shred Day a grocery bag full of papers will cost $3 to dispatch into confetti. A bankers box will cost just $7.

All proceeds from the day go to United Way Waterloo Region Communities.

According to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, the cost of identity theft in 2008 was more than 7 billion dollars.  And it’s a crime which has been growing.

It is difficult to stay up to date on all the latest scams and fraudulent practices, but a simple step such as destroying personal papers offers some level of protection.





A Waterloo Region wide volunteer centre brings benefits.

One stop shopping for volunteer opportunities in Waterloo Region

Volunteer Centres in Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo combine services.

May 9, 2018 (Waterloo Region)

There’s now just one place to go for residents to find volunteer opportunities and for community organizations to recruit volunteers in Waterloo Region.

After a successful partnership covering three decades, the Volunteer Centre of Cambridge, run by United Way Waterloo Region Communities, and the Volunteer Action Centre of Kitchener-Waterloo have pooled their resources and expertise to better serve both member organizations and volunteers. As part of the transition, the latter organization has rebranded as the Volunteer Action Centre of Waterloo Region and has updated its website and social media handles to reflect its wider reach.

The Volunteer Action Centre believes all parties will benefit from a region-wide system, increasing exposure for both potential volunteers and the organizations in need of their support. The Centre’s online database now houses volunteer opportunities from nearly 200 organizations across Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Wellesley, Wilmot, Woolwich and North Dumfries.

In addition to its office at 151 Frederick Street, Suite 500 in Kitchener, ON, the Volunteer Action Centre is also excited to offer in-person support for volunteers and members at a new satellite office in Cambridge, ON every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This new service will be offered out of the Region of Waterloo’s Employment Resource Centre located at 150 Main Street, Cambridge, ON.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities is proud to invest in volunteerism locally and will continue to provide funding for the Volunteer Action Centre’s work across the Region of Waterloo.



About the Volunteer Action Centre

The Volunteer Action Centre, established in 1984, has a mission to build and develop community capacity for volunteerism. The centre supports nearly 200 community organizations to recruit, retain and recognize volunteers, and provides professional development related to volunteerism. The centre also collaborates with municipalities, businesses and post-secondary institutions to strengthen community engagement.

United Way Waterloo Region Communities is the largest funder of social programs in the region outside of government.  Working in collaboration with our partner agencies we are striving to provide everyone the best opportunity to reach their full potential. Find out more at our website.


Keep in touch with Volunteer Action Centre Waterloo Region


Twitter:   @volunteerWR

Instagram: @volunteerwr


About United Way Waterloo Region Communities


Congratulations to the 2018 Spirit Award Winners

2018 United Way Waterloo Region Communities Spirit Award Winners

Rising Star 

The Rising Star Award recognizes a new or returning campaign and/or Employee Campaign Manager that has demonstrated outstanding initiative and immense growth throughout this year’s campaign efforts.

2018 Recipient:   Peak Realty

Peak Realty has become a valued partner in a United Way effort to expand its presence across Waterloo Region. By granting United Way office space in Ayr, Jason Bunker, Marlene Brown, and the entire team at Peak Realty are helping forge numerous close relationships in the Township of North Dumfries.  They have also facilitated important introductions to community members and groups, providing crucial feedback and advice on the issues unique to the region’s rural communities.

Labour Community Partnership

The Labour Community Partnership Award honours a labour partner whose members have shown dedication to their community through exceptional financial and volunteer support, exemplifying the sustained and rewarding relationship between the labour movement and United Way.

2018 Recipient: Elementary Teachers Federation Waterloo Region, and Elementary Teachers Federation Waterloo Region-Occasional Teachers

These two chapters of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario have been supporters of United Way for many years, cementing the bond between United Way and the labour movement. In addition to their direct contribution, both units sit on a joint committee with the Waterloo Region District School Board, shaping an even bigger campaign. Through their networks they also encourage members to become United Way champions in the schools, helping to create the next generation of philanthropists 

Spirit of Community

The Spirit of the Community Award honours an individual or group that personifies exceptional community spirit, team spirit and spirit of generosity through their significant overall partnership with United Way

2018 Recipient: John Neufeld

John Neufeld knows what it means to be an outsider. John’s family moved to Canada, from Russia in 1981, when he was just seven years old. He says “the playground was not a gentle place”. From that difficult start, John has carved out a legacy of caring, including 11 years working in the foster care system. Today, John is Executive Director of House of Friendship, which serves more than 40 thousand people through more than 15 separate programs. As a long time United Way partner, we are honoured to have John speak on our behalf as frequently as he does, and on the importance of working as a team to ensure everyone has access to the help they need.

Outstanding Workplace Campaign (large workplace)

The Outstanding Workplace Campaign Award recognizes the Employee Campaign manager and workplace that have shown outstanding efforts in informing and engaging employees in a larger workplace.

2018 Recipient: KPMG

 KPMG is an example of a United Way supporter where leadership leads to understanding and on to commitment. In 2017, KPMG experienced 20 per cent growth in its campaign, remarkably retaining 100 per cent of its donors from the previous year, and adding some new partners. KPMG also experienced a 68 per cent increase in employee participation.

Outstanding Workplace Campaign (small to medium workplace) 

The Outstanding Workplace Campaign Award acknowledges the Employee Campaign Manager and workplace that have shown outstanding efforts in informing and engaging employees while increasing donations in a smaller workplace with fewer than 100 employees.

 2018 Recipient: Lackner-McLennan/Erb and Erb Insurance

 In 2016 Lackner McLennan Insurance acquired Erb and Erb Insurance brokers. Together, these two companies have a combined 170 years of service to Waterloo Region. In this past year staff from both operations was moving into a new building and forming a single organization at the same time they ran their United Way Campaign. Despite that challenge they increased their support by 25 per cent!

Outstanding Volunteer Contribution

The Outstanding Volunteer Contribution honours an individual or group for outstanding volunteer service, celebrating the selfless spirit in which volunteerism is offered 

2018 Recipient: Norma McDonald-Ewing

For more than 10 years, Norma McDonald-Ewing has been the volunteer chair of our Community Impact Council. By establishing diligent processes and review, Norma and her team ensure donor dollars make a significant difference in the community. In addition Norma has been a committed champion for United Way in her personal and professional life, making connections and always willing to share her wisdom and guidance.

Outstanding Agency

Outstanding Agency Campaign Award is presented to an agency or workplace that displayed outstanding leadership and dedication during United Way’s annual campaign. 

2018 Recipient: Community Support Connections: Meals on Wheels and More.

The mission of Community Support Connections-Meals on Wheels and More is to “enable people to live at home with independence and dignity”. CSC delivers much more than just meals. Working with more than 500 volunteers, the organization makes a daily difference in the lives of more than one thousand clients. Through a variety of special events, as well as a United Way poverty simulation session, CSC was able to increase its campaign by more than 25 percent.

Community Leader

The Inaugural Community Leader Award recognizes an exemplary public leader who, through extraordinary contributions and outstanding commitment, has driven the spirit of community through personal involvement and initiative.

 2018 Recipient: Ken Seiling

 For more than 40 years, Ken Seiling has served his community. He’s been a teacher, and museum director—a church organist, choirmaster, and a hockey coach!

First elected as a Woolwich Township councillor in 1976, Ken became Mayor two years later and took a seat on Regional Council. His council peers elected him Chairman in 1985, and for the past 20 years he has been elected by the public to the same position. In addition to his duties as Chair, Ken can be seen at hundreds of events touching every corner of Waterloo Region, lending his support to dozens of worthy causes. United Way is proud to count Ken as one of our long-time supporters, and commend him for his work in helping to lead our Region into an era of innovation, while maintaining the community spirit for which our area is so well known.