Built to Serve

Learn the storied history of our Whyte Ave Building

The YESS Whyte Ave building is 105 years old this year! Built in 1914, it was intended to be a fire hall with room for two pumper engines, stables for five horses, and quarters for seven men. The fire hall was never used, though, as the First World War broke out and reassigned the men and resources needed to run the fire hall.

Archived black and white photos of Salvation Army personnel outside the brick Whyte Ave building

It wasn’t until 1926 that the building was put to use again. City Council voted to rent the building to the Salvation Army for a dollar a year and it became the Eventide Home for Single Elderly Men with accommodation for 30-40 residents. The Salvation Army ran the building until 1979, completing major expansions and renovations. The building was turned back over to the city, who considered a variety of options including demolishing the existing building to make way for a modern fire hall.

It just so happened that around this same time, a group of concerned individuals—mostly those involved with social work—had started to come together to find a solution for a specific social services problem: until the age of 16, youth came under the jurisdiction of Child Welfare authorities, but would not qualify for social assistance until the age of 18. For youth in crisis and experiencing homelessness aged 16 to 17, resources were non-existent.

To solve this problem, they began to organize resources for youth in need and by 1981 they needed an official space to continue their mission. While there was no property available in the inner city for them, there was an old brick building on Whyte Ave. In order to raise funds to renovate the building and operate a shelter, they formed the Youth Emergency Shelter Society (YESS).

Through generous donations from community individuals and businesses and the hard work of many volunteers, many much-needed repairs and renovations were completed and the Youth Emergency Shelter opened its doors on April 18, 1982. We have been providing shelter and resources for youth in Edmonton ever since.

An old building that sees as much use as our Whyte Ave facility is a constant work in progress—from urgent fixes to beautiful renovations—that is maintained by our incredible Facilities team and the ongoing help of volunteers.

Current photo of brick Whyte Ave buildingSo much has changed even since YESS has occupied this building, most notably the expansion and diversification of programs and resources for youth. YESS now runs three facilities: the overnight shelter and supporting housing Graham’s Place on Whyte Ave, the Armoury Resource Centre for daytime programs, and Shanoa’s Place on the west end. It was this expansion that led us to change our name to Youth Empowerment and Support Services to better reflect the services we are able to offer youth.

One thing has stayed the same. This stalwart brick building has always sought to provide safety in our community, as a fire hall, as the Salvation Army’s Eventide Home, and now as YESS. And from day one, YESS has been a place where the community comes together to create safe, empowering spaces for youth who have experienced crisis and trauma. We know that we are not alone in this and never have been. We are all part of creating a city and a community where we can heal together.

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Letter from Margo – Fall 2019

Hello everyone, and happy Fall.

I have always thought of Fall and Winter as seasons for rest and reflection. It is the time when we can curl up in our warmest clothes, rest, and build up our resilience for the inevitable challenges that come our way.

Resiliency is a theme that runs pervasively through YESS. We teach the youth about resiliency and self care: about regulating their emotions through breathing, moving their bodies and connecting with their minds, calming their central nervous systems, and building a quiver of tools they can use when facing difficulties. Resiliency is the pot of gold we all seek. We work desperately against an invisible clock that can have trauma and challenges at every hour to help youth choose and begin to learn the techniques and thought processes that build self-control, self-regulation, self-confidence, and self-worth. (In other words, the resiliency to begin to understand that all that has happened to them is not their fault, and to face the next challenges in their life capably, and with their own interests and accountability at the forefront.) Resiliency is typically built from strong, positive attachments to parents, good teachers in positive school environments, safe and positive childhood play and interactions, and a safe, inclusive, role-modelling community. When you have not had these things, and been very hurt at an early age, your resiliency can take on a very different face. It can take on the various masks of coping mechanisms designed to comfort, protect, and hide from the harshest realities: the masks of addiction, abuse, violence, and suicide.

 And here is what I have noticed about resiliency after two years at YESS. While our city’s social workers, youth workers, and support staff are working to help the youth build resiliency, they are depleting their own energy stores, and wearing down their own resiliency. Our city’s frontline youth workers are doing some of the most difficult work you can imagine. They are often concurrently parenting, tutoring, counselling, mediating, de-escalating, and even doing CPR and first aid (ON THE YOUTH THEY ARE PARENTING). Can you imagine the trauma of walking your own teenager through a suicide plan and working each day to help them do their homework, struggling maybe with a learning disability, and then having to administer first aid or Naloxone that night? This is the reality of youth workers. This is our reality. And while the winter months can be restful and reflective, they contain the darkest, coldest months and the deep trauma of the holiday season.

Often, organizations simply do not have the funds or the capacity to provide the counselling, extra benefit support, staff overlap, and training that could truly help build a resilient staff. At YESS, we are in a position to recognize that we cannot afford NOT to take care of the resiliency of those who care for our most vulnerable. We, as a society, keep telling each other it takes a village to raise a child, because of the very fact that parents cannot do it all themselves. And now we need to walk that talk. We need to take care of the very parents who are raising our most vulnerable. 

Just as I have asked you to look closer and with empathy at our youth, I ask you now to see those who serve our city in such a deep and meaningful way and who do so without reward, recognition, and often without the help of the systems and the community they operate within. 

They are my heroes. And I am honoured to serve them. Let us care for them so that they may continue this brave work.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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