2023 Community Champion Award

Yvonne Kelly

Photo of award winner, Yvonne Kelly with B. Hognestad (CLCYR)

Yvonne Kelly is the recipient of the 2023 Community Champion award. Yvonne was nominated for the award by Community Legal Clinics of York Region. Yvonne was introduced by Benjamin Hognestad, staff lawyer at the clinic.



My colleagues and I at the Community Legal Clinic of York Region are so pleased to lift up and celebrate our community champion Yvonne.

Yvonne is a tireless advocate and a true inspiration. As we said in our nomination, Yvonne’s good work spans decades. I’m sure many of you in this room know Yvonne or are familiar with one of her many facets. It would take me all afternoon to give you a full rundown, but I will try to give you a proper taste.

Yvonne is a social worker by training. She currently works as a community and partnership developer with York Region District School Board working to help low income students and their families. But this is only a small part of Yvonne’s work. Yvonne is both the co-chair of the York Region Social Planning Council, and the chair of the Ontario wide umbrella organization Social Planning Network of Ontario. And where we work most closely with Yvonne is with the Affordable Housing Coalition of York Region, and our most recent collaboration – an ad-hoc committee on encampment advocacy.

Yvonne is a housing advocacy powerhouse – here are some highlights:

  • In 2020, The Affordable Housing Coalition made submissions for York Region’s municipal comprehensive review, at the invitation of York Region’s Chief Planner for Planning and Economic Development.
  • In 2022, the housing coalition created a pledge for election candidates specific to the housing crisis, and Yvonne was out in the media writing multiple articles in local media making noise about the housing crisis.
  • A month ago, she helped release a comprehensive report on displacement in both the urban and rural contexts through various social planning councils and the University of Waterloo. You can grab a copy at the Social Planning Network of Ontario’s website.
  • And just last week, we collaborated on an event at the Newmarket Public Library to bring together all the various stakeholders and community members to share ideas and organize around supporting our neighbours in encampments. The room was full, with representatives from York Region’s Homelessness Initiatives division, community action tables, Public Health, Blue Door Shelter, Grassroots Harm Reduction workers, Fire Department, and a solitary Markham city councillor who decried the lack of other elected representatives. We’re working on getting more politicians out next time. During this event, we had a large and diverse audience to share all the exciting things happening with encampment litigation – Waterloo, Hamilton, Kingston, and hear from workers on the ground, share ideas and connect.

We are optimistic that these collective efforts are having an impact on the landscape in York Region and creating an appetite to respond differently to the housing crisis and support our neighbours living in tents. Yvonne describes her own work as “bringing people together to find common purpose” and there is no better way to describe it in our opinion. We are so happy to get to acknowledge her work as our ACLCO community champion. Thank you Yvonne!

About the Award

The Community Champion Award is given by the ACLCO each year to an individual or an organization that champions the causes of our clients and communities. Our goal is to celebrate those who stand up for the most marginalized and disadvantaged in our communities. Community Legal Clinics are very well placed to identify and recognize these champions. This is an Award from the clinics to our allies and community partners and is presented to the recipient at the ACLCO AGM.

The impressive list of previous winners includes: Omar Khan, an advocate for youth, refugees, newcomers, and seniors in Thorncliffe Park (TP), and Flemingdon Park (FP) in Toronto; Susie Neves, a Parent Support Worker working hard for equal access to resources for students in the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood in Toronto; the Ethno-Racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario; Aline Akeson, a tenant and ant-poverty activist; Fred Franklin of the Toronto Refugee Affairs Council; Kerry Lee of the Safe ‘n Sound’s Homeless Initiative; the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups; The Dream Team; Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change; Steve Mantis, injured worker advocate; the ODSP Action Coalition; the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), and Linking Hands.

The Community Champion Award is a way of recognizing those who advocate and fight on behalf of our clients, often in the trenches with clinics. It’s also a way of raising the clinic system’s profile and improving the linkages with our friends and allies.