Blog

Letter from the ED

At YESS, we are trying to remove as many barriers to services as possible for youth facing difficult realities. Over the years we have learned that putting too many expectations and restrictions on youth can prevent them from seeking supportive help when they need it most. The majority of youth that we see are facing very difficult situations and could be living with traumatic experiences, fear, mental illness, PTSD, organic brain disorder, and community isolation. We know that within days of being on the street, a youth can be quickly swept up into the tight community of a gang or a predator. If we do not act quickly once they are inside our programs and start to create a safe and secure environment for them, they will be entrenched into street life. Response needs to be quick, compassionate, and non-judgemental, and focused on wrapping a warm hug of welcome around these youth, so that they stay and try to work towards healing and safe and appropriate housing.

Every youth has a story. And every youth comes to us on a different path, with unique needs. That is why we try to meet youth where they are at.

YESS practices harm reduction in our shelters. Youth may be intoxicated when they come to us and we have needle disposal sites at each of our buildings. When we ask and work with a youth to set goals, we work on goals that are appropriate for them. For example, one youth may be ready to try to find employment or go back to high school, another youth may need to get clean through a recovery program, while yet another may need to just work on feeling safe enough to have a conversation with a relative.

Meeting youth where they are at also means being trauma-informed. All YESS employees are trained in understanding trauma and its effects on behavior and how we can best mitigate and de-escalate youth who have been upset or triggered by an event or happening. Youth agencies across Edmonton are becoming much better equipped to deal with the trauma that these youth carry with them, and collectively we know that unless we work together to stabilize their housing, integrate them into our neighborhoods, and help them on their healing journey, we will lose them to the streets.

Moving forward, YESS will be working more and more collectively with city agencies and funders to ensure that we walk alongside these youth as they heal and build relationships.

You can be a part of this. Your generous financial or volunteer support helps us move closer to giving better care. If you are not in a place where you are able to give your time or your money, do me a favor: the next time you see a youth who looks like they might be experiencing homelessness, who might look scared (or even scary), look them in the eyes. Show them that you see them and that they matter.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Meet Our Youth: Gabriel’s Story

The Power of Play

When Gabriel first came to YESS he was dropped off by his friend’s mom. He had left his parents’ home, angry after a disagreement and without anywhere else to go. He confided in his friend, whose mom brought Gabriel somewhere he would be safe and have access to resources that could help him mediate things with his parents, find appropriate housing, and support him in his goals.

After staying in our shelter for a month, Gabriel moved into our long-term residence, Graham’s Place. The homelike environment provided Gabriel with the resources he needed to focus and grow. Still a high school student, Gabriel already has plans for the future and knows how hard he needs to work to get there.

“I would like to be an electrician,” says Gabriel. “Although I currently live here in Edmonton, I don’t necessarily need to live here my whole life.”

While helping Gabriel identify his goals and finding resources to support him, our youth workers learned that Gabriel was a huge soccer fan and player. They knew that getting Gabriel back into his athletic interests could be a huge help for him.

“Youth who have experienced trauma, neglect, or abuse are often in a state of constant vigilance against the possibility of recurring trauma,” says Dolphin, YESS Relationship Worker. “When we are on guard against bad things happening to us, we’re not concerned with learning new things. We’re concerned with our survival.”

Whenever we can get youth to participate in recreational activities, we try to take advantage for the many benefits we know it can provide. Play and physical activity help relax the brain’s stress response and make it more engaged with learning. When our youth are able to play, it means that they feel safe and are releasing their stress—key developments in the work we do with our youth.

Finding Gabriel a way back into soccer was a perfect next step. Dolphin found a team and a coach who saw Gabriel’s potential and wanted to make this opportunity possible for him. They have waived his fees for the season.

“Sports and athletics give youth an outlet to release and take in their emotions,” says Rob, Gabriel’s new coach. “It’s our duty to make sports more accessible to kids.”

In February, Gabriel played his first game with his new team. He has experienced some other breakthroughs too.

“I was able to resolve the issues with my parents,” Gabriel says. “I spoke to them and asked them how they were doing. We decided not to dwell on the past, but to look forward to the future.”

Reconciliation will still be a long journey, and it is so important that youth like Gabriel have somewhere safe to stay where they can continue to be supported in their goals, whether that’s for their education, their career, their sobriety, their mental health, or their family life. Positive experiences at YESS helped pave the way forward, and Gabriel’s hard work has brought him a long way.

“If I could say thank you to one person who helped me become who I am today, it would be my dad. He helped me a lot and provided for my needs,” says Gabriel. “I would also say thank you to YESS because they helped to build my relationship between me and my dad.”

With goals for his education and dreams for his future, we know Gabriel is on the right track to a positive future and healthy independence. We’re so proud that we’ve been able to cheer him on every step of the way. Go, Gabriel, go!

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