Partnership allows CHEW to increase hours, explore Calgary expansion

Partnership allows CHEW to increase hours, explore Calgary expansion

The CHEW Project's partnership with Boyle Street Community Services and Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) has helped it emerge from challenging times, expand hours, and now even consider an outpost in Calgary.

Starting in April, Taproot reported a "perfect storm of factors," which included new mandates for numbers of staff that had to work at all times, had forced the Community Health Empowerment & Wellness Project, or CHEW, to limit its hours for the queer youth clients it serves to just two days a week.

In response, CHEW partnered with Boyle and YESS. Boyle took over day-to-day operations and YESS, an organization that works with vulnerable youth, provided CHEW's staff with training.

Taproot caught up with CHEW three months into the new partnership. Glynnis Lieb, executive director of the Fyrefly Institute for Gender and Sexual Diversity at the University of Alberta, which oversees CHEW, said the organization is now open three days a week and is in the process of hiring two new staff to allow it to expand its open days to five days a week. "It's been in a big part thanks to our new partnership with Boyle as well as YESS," Lieb said. "Boyle has assigned one of their shelter managers to oversee the floor at CHEW and YESS has been providing specialized training."

The partnership has also led to better care for the youth that access the service, Lieb said. "(There is) cross-pollination across shelters and, of course, because Boyle has multiple different specialized sites and supports, they're able to cross-refer youth who fit our program and vice versa … It's been so beneficial to be able to share those resources and knowledge, and they're doing an absolutely fantastic job of running the floor service."

The Fyrefly Institute has also received funding through a Calgary charity to establish a CHEW chapter in that city. "We're looking at replicating the model we've now established with Boyle and YESS here, and partnering with a community organization in Calgary to do the same thing," Lieb said.

Though the Fyrefly Institute is based in Edmonton, it has a presence in southern Alberta. The institute started Camp fYrefly, a summer camp for 2SLGBTQ+ youth, in Edmonton in 2004, and the camp has now expanded to Kananaskis in Alberta, as well as to locations in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

A social service expanding instead of shrinking goes against current trends. Outloud St. Albert, a support service for queer youth, ceased operations in May. The Bissell Centre and Jasper Place Wellness Centre have both had to adjust services after municipal funding ran dry — Bissell in March, and Jasper Place last August. "It feels really good to be not just talking about the problems, but actually doing something," Lieb said. "That's the big thing, because we spend a lot of time talking about how people are struggling."

Boyle Street Community Services, meanwhile, had its development permit revoked for a second time for a health hub that it's trying to build in Ritchie at 10119 81 Avenue NW. The subdivision and development appeal board said the property lacks natural surveillance that could prevent crime. The co-hosts of Speaking Municipally, Taproot's civic affairs podcast, discussed the board's decision on Episode 267.

Photo: The Fyrefly Institute oversees the CHEW Project, a centre for vulnerable 2SLGBTQ+ youth. (University of Alberta)