Hamster Advocacy

If you haven’t yet, you should check out our Under One Roof podcast entitled “Community Support Services — In Conversation with CSS Manager Jon Spiller.” In the podcast, Jon talks about the services that fall under CSS. CSS is often the first point of contact that youth have with CHV.

CHV connects with youth where they are at through our Outreach teams. Outreach may meet youth on the street, in an SRO, or perhaps even the hospital. Last year, the Outreach teams connected with 462 youth.

Another way that youth can connect with CHV is through our Drop-In Centre. At the Drop-In Centre, youth can take a shower, do laundry, receive clothing, or have a hot meal. They can also connect with youth worker who can help them with a variety of resources including referrals, connect with in-house counsellors, and connect them with support to help with substance use or their mental health.

The Drop-In Centre has seen a dramatic increase in just the last few years, from daily numbers of 30–40 youth to 80—100 youth.

CSS is run by Manager Jon Spiller. When asked what he enjoys most about CSS, Jon replied, “Well, I just feel really lucky to be working at CSS. I love low barrier; I love harm reduction. But the best thing about CSS, really, is the youth and the staff. The youth are incredible characters and it’s just really nice to be a part of their journeys in life, however big or however small that is. And they’re just some of the most incredible, non-judgmental souls to other youth that are in the space as well. It’s a real honour to work with such an amazing team and it’s just a real privilege to be able to spend my time with the incredible youth who come to Covenant House.”

In the podcast, Jon shares a story that illustrates the character of the youth that people probably wouldn’t see, if they passed them by on the street. The story revolves around two hamsters, Steve and Denise, who were found, in a cage, in an alley by a youth.

Jon said, “You just never know how your day’s going to go or what to expect. An example of this is that youth found these two hamsters and brought them into the space and they were really concerned about these hamsters and really wanted to care for these hamsters.”

Jon was asked if the youth could keep the hamsters as pets in the Drop-In Centre. Jon said no. Jon went away for a week and assumed that when he returned the hamsters would have been rehoused somewhere else. But that was not the case.

When Jon returned, there was an envelope on his desk. He opened it and it was a petition by the youth to keep the hamsters. There were 30 signatures on the petition. The petition even went into details about how the hamsters had therapeutic value.

Jon said, “Honestly, it was incredible. They were even going to get T-shirts and banners because they’re determination was like, ‘Jon isn’t stopping us from having these hamsters.’ And then of course, at that point, you have to keep the hamsters. What they’ve demonstrated is that this is how you make change — you petition, you advocate. So, we now have two pet hamsters.”

You can learn more about CSS and hear Jon talk about hamster advocacy, on our Under One Roof podcast.