Shining a light on Operation Come Home

Spring is on the horizon but there are still some cold weeks to get through. Thankfully, for most of us, comfort is merely a thermostat adjustment away - but for the 35,000 Canadians that are homeless on any given night, it's a different story.

Sadly, homelessness is increasing in Canada and the average age of a homeless person is younger every year. Youth can become homeless for many reasons - job loss, living in poverty, eviction, fleeing abuse at home, or managing mental health or addiction issues. Trying to navigate their way to safety can be a challenge.

Thankfully young people in Ottawa can turn to Operation Come Home (OCH), an organization dedicated to preventing homeless youth (age 16-29) from becoming homeless adults.  

In 2021, OCH helped 521 youth get back on their feet.

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Helping youth overcome “extraordinary challenges”

“Our approach to helping youth is to recognize them as people overcoming extraordinary challenges and prioritizing what matters most to them,” explains John Heckbert, Executive Director, Operation Come Home. “We recognize their strengths and help them meet their goals by building their confidence to become contributing members of their communities.”

Indeed, OCH fulfills its mission through partnerships across the city and offers “wrap-around” support services such as:

  • education (support to finish high school);
  • employment (training and certification for retail, service and other entry-level jobs);
  • securing housing;
  • street outreach;
  • drop-in centre (hot meals, food bank access, warm clothing and personal care products);
  • mental health and addictions counselling;
  • emergency services; and
  • helping runaway youth return home to their families.

“Operation Come Home has been a rock for me the last three years. I attended high school there and with their help - graduated. They have celebrated milestones with me and they have been there for me during some of the hardest moments of my life,” says a school participant and proud 2021 graduate.

While most of the youths that OCH serves are from the Ottawa region, about one-third come  from the far North, rural environments or the Atlantic provinces - which is even more challenging because they don’t know the city, region or anyone in the area.

“Words cannot explain how much they helped me,” says Troy, a former youth attendee at Operation Come Home. “After so long, I finally moved back home to be with my family. But without all the experience I had gained from OCH’s help, I wouldn't be where I am today: an ironworker, married with two great children.”

Experiencing life “in their shoes”

Homelessness is something many of us witness in our community but don’t understand very well. That’s why Joseph Muglia, Director of System Operations and Grid Automation at Hydro Ottawa, decided to get involved. 

He participated in Operation Come Home’s 24 hours of homelessness challenge as part of Hydro Ottawa’s Employee Volunteer Day program, of which Hydro Ottawa was a sponsor. Held in the winter (but paused due to COVID-19), the 24 hours of homelessness challenge gives groups of people a chance to sleep out in the cold for a night to experience what it is like to be homeless.

“It was a way for me to connect with the youth, experience life in their shoes and get a better understanding of what they go through on a daily basis and witness what it means to them when the community gives back,” Joseph says.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on OCH. The organization briefly shut down in the summer of 2020; installed plexiglass and hand sanitizer dispensers at the drop-in centre; paused or cancelled in-person fundraising events (which account for 10 per cent of its budget); and had to cap the number of youth it can receive at the drop-in centre.

But these changes also produced virtual fundraising opportunities like the $24 challenge, where individuals pledge to live on $3.48 worth of food a day – or $24 in groceries for the week.

For Hydro Ottawa employee Stephanie Boxall, the thought of sleeping out in the cold was a bit extreme, but she felt with some planning she could tackle the $24 challenge. 

“I decided to fundraise for OCH because I had a daughter heading off to university to live on her own for the first time at 17. I kept thinking in other circumstances it could easily be her, so it really hit close to home,” recalls Stephanie. 

She also thinks that everyone should participate in the challenge at least once.

“Living on $24 for the week was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” she says.

Giving back to the community

For anyone looking to give back and help homeless youth in the community, Operation Come Home would love to hear from you at: [email protected]

Their greatest needs include:

  • donations of (new) items or cash;
  • volunteers;
  • private landlords able to offer bachelor or single unit apartments for youth. 

At Hydro Ottawa, it’s important that we support at-risk youth in our community through local organizations like Operation Come Home. Your support can make a big difference.


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