Toronto’s homeless youth population is surging, presenting harsh challenges as the colder months approach. Joseph Merante is the regional director for Trek for Teens, an organization which seeks to support youth homelessness. In a recent conversation with The Click, Merante explained his journey as an advocate and efforts by his organization to combat the stigma around homelessness, raise awareness, and help those who have no place to live.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The Click: Can you talk about your initial exposure to Trek for Teens, and how you decided to get involved with the organization?
Joseph Merante: I learned about Trek for Teens through my partner, who introduced me to the organization. My interest started during a high school research assignment when I was tasked with selecting a charity to research, and I chose ‘Youth Without Shelter.‘ When I realized that people close to my age were just dealt a bad hand, whether that be experiencing mental health issues or struggling with their families, I knew I wanted to get involved and make a meaningful impact on the lives of young people.
Homeless youth presents a significant challenge in Toronto. How would you define success within the context of the organization?
Success would be having a fundraiser or donation drive and receiving generous in-kind donations such as clothing and non-perishable goods. Reaching a large audience at our events is also how we measure success because the larger the turnout shows us we are actively completing our mission to raise awareness about homeless youth in Toronto.
A success story goes back to one event we hosted: a trivia night. While we didn’t achieve the expected outcome, we did have an abundance of leftover food. Instead of wasting it, my team distributed the food to homeless individuals in a tent city at College Park. Though unplanned, it was a small act of kindness that made a big difference.
What has been the toughest obstacle your organization has encountered and how did you overcome it?
The biggest obstacle we face is to garner engagement. To put it bluntly, youth homelessness is a very ugly issue that people don’t want to acknowledge. So, it can be difficult to get people to step outside their bubble and see the reality in our community. All we can do is continue to try our best to engage our community with our mission and hope they want to contribute to the cause.
What makes Trek for Teens unique in how it addresses youth homelessness?
Trek for Teens is a gateway to learning about youth homelessness. Our events aren’t limited to donation drives, we also get creative by hosting marathons and fashion shows. These events are an excellent opportunity to combat the stigma against homeless youth, and raise awareness of what is happening in our community.
If someone is looking to get involved with Trek for Teens or help homeless youth in their community, what advice would you give them?
The best advice I have is to be passionate about it, and if you want to help homeless youth in your community, you’ll find a way to do it. On any given night in Toronto, there are between 1,500-2,000 homeless youth between the ages of 16-24. As the colder months approach, this is going to be getting even worse.
As winter approaches, the need to support homeless youth in Toronto becomes more critical than ever. By getting involved, we can all make a difference, no matter how small the action may seem.