An agency that supports LGBTQ2S homeless youth is thanking Edmontonians for stepping up and funding its new space.  

Just days after going public with their fundraising campaign to help keep queer youth off the streets this winter, the community health empowerment and wellness or CHEW surpassed its fundraising goal.

By late Friday afternoon, CHEW’s online campaign had raised $30,451 — enough money to lease a nearby space six times bigger than their current location.

“I’m so blown away,” said project coordinator Corey Wyness as he showed off the new location. “I can’t believe the response that we’ve received from Edmontonians. And I’m so proud to be an Edmontonian right now because this is finally going to happen.”

Along with the donations, came touching notes of support that Wyness shared with his kids.

“And so it’s been a lot of tears that way too, to see that people care,” said Wyness, who is affectionately known as ‘the Gay Yoda’ because, as one youth explained, he uses the force to help them.

“I’m just so thankful to Edmontonians for coming to support these queer youth. Creating hope for us is a beautiful thing. I love this city.”

Since 2014 CHEW — a program with the University of Alberta’s Institute for sexual minority studies and services — has helped dozens of youth struggling with homelessness, addiction, mental health issues and sexual exploitation.
The project is funded by Children’s Services and private donations. But their street family has long outgrown the 300 square foot basement location. 

The new location has room for cots, a kitchen, a common area and shower and laundry facilities. (David Bajer/CBC)

The new space will allow CHEW to offer home-cooked meals, shower and laundry services, job opportunities and a place to hang out and relax. 

Cots will be set up where clients, working on improving their lives, can safely get some sleep to break up long stretches on the street in the dead of winter.  

“It’s so chaotic. You don’t have any room to make those changes or you cannot because you haven’t slept in four days,” Wyness said. “You haven’t eaten you’re always living in fear. This way it’s a chance for them to go beyond that stuff.”

Edmontonians step up

Along with financial donations, people have also called to donate their time and expertise. One woman dropped off dozens of freshly baked ginger and oatmeal cookies. 

Ken Saunders says the expansion is good for the community. (David Bajer/CBC)

Over the past eight months, the realtor and building owner worked with CHEW to make the rent more affordable while holding off leasing to someone else.  

Ken Saunders, with NAI Commercial Real Estate, said there are several reasons they wanted to support CHEW.

“They’re tenants in the area, the amount of work that they do with the people that they work with,”  Saunders said. “I think the expansion is good for the community,”

CHEW hopes to open its new doors mid-October.

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