Supportive Housing

When we talk of youth experiencing homelessness, we forgot that it means more than having a roof over their head or access to food or water. The complexity that comes with ensuring that a youth is safe, secure, and supported goes far beyond the walls that surround them. The supportive homes that we offer provide a physical stability for the youth, but also help the youth understand their own complex needs in a tailored, at-their-own-pace way.

The role of a parent in our society is to patiently walk beside a youth as they navigate new experiences and skills, helping them understand that it’s OK to make mistakes and try again. Within the supportive homes, and with the help of the supportive services staff, we can provide a safe place for youth to make an effort for success and for youth to find dignity in making mistakes or struggling. Trauma is complex and is even more so when added to complex journey of adolescence. And yet, our youth and our staff don’t give up! They wake up every day and they do what they need to do to move forward and to achieve their goals. We cannot ask our youth to step into the world of independence without recognizing and addressing the many supportive steps needed to get there.

When COVID-19 hit our communities, the supportive homes became a necessity for our youth. Most individuals in the community, when asked to isolate, head to their homes, their apartments, their rooms, or their garage or RV to isolate from others, but also have access to safety, stability and basic needs. Without the supportive homes, a lot of our youth would not have safe spaces to exist. Families are complex and not all homes are emotionally and physically prepared to address the trauma of a pandemic and how it affects the family dynamics. Youth need the support, but they first and foremost need to be safe: safe to isolate, safe to express their mental health needs while isolated, and safe to still work on their goals. Our staff are trained and ready to provide this support and it has been incredible to watch them step up and adapt to the needs of the youth. And when there is capacity for us to take steps towards building skills or meeting goals, our supportive staff are willing and able to adapt the programming and resources available to them. 

Jessica Day
Director of Program Innovation
Youth Empowerment and Support Services

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Staff Interview: Delalie Mortotsi

Describe where Supportive Housing fits in YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journey towards healing.

Supportive Housing Programs walks beside youth on their journey towards healing by providing a home-like environment where youth can feel supported and cared for. This is achieved through a team effort by a dedicated group of staff who include Youth Workers and House Parents, Client Navigators, Trauma Therapists, Employment Coordinators, a Program Kitchen Coordinator, and a Transition and Cultural Worker. We work in a coordinated effort to provide youth with their basic needs such as nutritious food, clothing, and shelter. We support youth to develop skills such as cooking, budgeting, job searching, and interview skills. We walk along youth in learning strategies and helping them achieve the future they have envisioned for themselves. With 24/7 staff present, youth are given the opportunity to make mistakes or thrive with a support system in place. We are consistently connecting youth to community resources that are relevant to their eventual successful transition – whether that’s returning home, finding appropriate housing, or independence.

In what ways has the COVID-19 crisis affected youth and staff in Supportive Housing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly changed the way we go about work and life in the Supportive Housing Programs. At the beginning of the crisis, we closed one of the two houses and moved all youth into one house- moving and transitions are never easy for anyone and are especially hard for youth who have experienced trauma. However, our youth have adapted well and quickly and are now enjoying their new home. We have had to introduce extra safety measures to protect youth and staff in the program as well such as providing gloves and face masks for use in the home and community, having youth complete daily self-assessments, providing extra cleaning supports, etc.

The uncertainty of this pandemic has caused a great deal of anxiety to our youth and staff. Consistency and predictability are some of the things that help youth who have experienced trauma navigate the world a little easier, and the COVID-19 crisis has made those two things challenging to maintain in the program as things change daily. To combat this and maintain some “normality” within the home, we have continued to provide some programming within the home- we provide laptops for youth to join their classmates online school and our team have become teachers to help. We have youth trying to achieve their goals despite all odds and a great team of staff who are working tirelessly to help them meet their self-appointed deadlines.

What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

Our youth wake up every day and do the best they can with what they have. Some days they are strong and resilient and some days not so much. When someone experiences trauma and have little to their name it’s how they decide to heal that shows their strength. Our youth have a tremendous amount of strength.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Donor Interview: Earthgroove Activewear

A huge THANK YOU to Earthgroove Activewear, who made and donated 200 masks that use in our programs! Earthgroove Activewear is an incredible local brand. Learn more from founder Jill Boychuk about their mission and why they support YESS!

We want to shine and empower others to shine.  We are connected to each other, our earth, and our passion to live a life of creativity and wonder. Our mission is to be part of the community and to make a positive impact to all around us. 

Earthgroove celebrates the power as women, to be bold and inspire change within ourselves and others.  We are an Edmonton-based business employing local woman to sew and design inspirational athletic wear made from eco-friendly, high quality materials. 

Graphics and designs are developed locally by female artisans who are on a mission to support economic empowerment, education, equal employment, health; they are creating long-term positive changes.

We got involved with YESS because we are a company that loves to make a difference and wants to make an impact with mental health and youth.  If we can make an impact by wearing something that matters and works well, we are contributing to society and standing for something.

The bright masks with the logo are a 3-layer premium mask with a filter and we felt the colours would brighten the environment and make it more positive for the organization.

Community matters and supporting each other and in times of need is important. There needs to be someone to stand by you and support you and believe in who you are and what matters. 

That’s what Earthgroove Activewear is about, and the company will continue to support initiatives and causes that matter to us.

Earthgroove Activewear
Owner and creator: Jill Boychuk (Edmonton)
Photographer and branding: Steven Csorba
Website creator: Abdullah/ ABN Works (Edmonton)
Graphic Designer: Lisa
Printer/Seamstress/Director: Lois Bonser, All Canadian Gear
Graphic Designer: Lisa McLeod (Calgary)
Seamstresses: Candie Moehr (Edmonton) and Lois Bonser (Edmonton)

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Volunteer Interview: Martha Doxsey

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I retired 8 years ago from my work as a preschool teacher for children with disabilities with a not-for-profit agency.  I have 2 daughters and a grandson. I enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing, reading, and crafts. I have been very fortunate in my life and have received support when I needed it, so I am very happy to be able to help out now when I can.

How did you come to volunteer at YESS?

I have been a long-time donor because I believe it is so important to help the youth who need it. I live near the Armoury and about six years ago I would walk past and notice the flower beds needed some attention. I first started volunteering in the summer weeding the flower beds. In the fall when that ended I asked about a volunteer activity for the winter and organizing the pantry was suggested. 

In what capacity do you volunteer at YESS?

Now I organize the pantry, all the canned and dry goods donations that come in. It is a perfect volunteer activity for me as I was looking for something requiring physical activity, that was in my community and supported a cause I believe in. The kitchen staff are wonderful and I am glad to be able to help them provide healthy nutritious meals for the youth and make the most of the generous donations. 

What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

I wish people saw how much potential the youth have, potential that might be wasted without the support of YESS.

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Staff Interview: Camiel Friend

Describe where this program fits in YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing.

First and foremost, Nexus meets the very basic needs of our youth (food, water, showers, clothing, bed) to eliminate the stress associated with inconsistent access to resources which meet these needs. We provide stability by being a predictable and stable environment that the youth can rely on, no matter the circumstances or what day of the year it is. The format of the program remains consistent, while still allowing for the leniency where we can truly meet a youth where they are at and accommodate any barriers they may be dealing with. We act as the first response to crisis diversion when crises arise, and function as a triage, using our relationships with the youth and the community to complete warm handoffs to other resources if Nexus cannot meet the needs of the youth. Nexus’ top priority is safety and operates with a focus on the physical safety as well as the felt-safety of every client in the program. Nexus staff build relationships with each youth through co-creation of boundaries and unconditional positive regard that allows the youth to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment that is free of judgment. Relationships are fostered and strengthened through relational practice where the youths can learn about rupture, repair, and healthy attachment via relationships with staff members. Communication initiated by staff is done in a tone of curiosity and acceptance, and any support or guidance is youth-led rather than imposed by staff. The program expectations that are enforced are intended to model healthy communication and life skills, such as respectful conflict resolution or even basic hygiene practices.

In what ways has the COVID-19 crisis affected youth and staff in this program?

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge amount of anxiety and fear for both the youth and the staff, as we all collectively endure this global trauma. It has fundamentally destabilized the youth’s felt-safety by disrupting their physical, relational, cultural, and legal permanency. Their routines have been forced to change as the places they typically hang out in are unavailable, government offices are closed, cultural practices or events have been cancelled, and they are consistently reminded of the importance of isolating themselves from loved ones. The number of resources available to our youth has greatly decreased, including day programs and housing options, causing feelings of despair, helplessness, and being trapped. Since the precautions for the pandemic have been implemented, we have seen an increase in mental health concerns, leading to more frequent emotional disregulation and outbursts, an increase in suicidal ideation and drug use, as well as a decrease in connection between youth and staff.  The policies that are necessary to reducing viral exposure such as social distancing, reduced contact between staff and youth, and wearing masks have created systemic and environmental barriers which prevent relationship building and maintenance. These policies are enforced in a more black and white manner than program policies typically are, changing the environment of the shelter from authoritative to authoritarian, which has the potential to cause strain on relationships. This may also amplify the youth’s existing feelings of rejection, loneliness, and loss. Last but not least, the widespread communication that we must isolate for the safety of others only acts to reaffirm the youth’s internalized worthlessness, which has long since been established by the experience of having their needs consistently disregarded and being marginalized by society.

What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

They are humans who deserve the same amount of respect, compassion, and regard as any other human. They are young adults between the ages of 15-25, each being a unique individual with their own goals, talents, and personalities. They are smart, funny, kind, caring, strong, and incredibly resilient. They do not deserve the traumas associated with homelessness or addiction. They do not deserve to be judged or disregarded by society.

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Monthly Donors: Liu & Associates

Tell us a bit about your organization.

Liu & Associates LLP is a CPA firm established in Edmonton for over 25 years. We have two partners and professional staff. We have an office in both Edmonton and Calgary and have clients both in Canada, Hong Kong and China. Mr. Raymond Liu, CPA CA, HKCPA, RFP, CFP and Mr. Dwayne Loewen CPA CA are our partners. We are proud to have them head our firm. Our firm as always tried to balance what we have been blessed with what we can give back. We support four foster children in addition to our support of YESS.  Recently we made and sent 98 masks to the Michael Garon Hospital in Toronto. Most years at Christmas we will make a donation of new jackets and winter gear to the food banks to distribute and in the past, we have sometimes brought food to be prepared by cooks at YESS so that the kids could have a holiday meal.  

What inspired you to start giving to YESS?

Children’s issues have always been something we hold closely to our hearts. We started our relationship with YESS many years ago. At the time, we had provided new bedding (pillows, sheets, blankets) for all the beds at the time. We had also established a farmer’s market in our building’s parking lot where stall revenue was to go to YESS. The Blanket Project came to be when we had visited the facilities and the starkness and reality of the situation struck deeply in the heart of the staff sent out on the visit after seeing the room where all the cots were set up. The bunk beds were clean and the room was immaculate and above grade, but as is necessary for such rooms, it was not a place that was there to nurture. The room did its job well. It provided shelter. This leaves us to provide the children/young adults with more. Compared to the what our own kids had at home (along with the family and love that surrounded them) it would have been impossible to go on from that moment and do nothing to help. The thought of our own children being brought so low in life that they would need YESS was heartbreaking. We were also told that at the time, there was no budget for the kids to have a meal before they had to leave the facility in the morning (unless a donation of food or money happened to be at hand). This led to our firm’s pledge to provide a small breakfast for the kids before they had to leave each day.

What made you choose monthly giving as your way to give?

We actually do weekly giving. We wanted to ensure that the money went directly to the breakfast plan. It also was psychologically and fiscally easier to split out our giving than to have to pay out a large amount at once.

What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth? 

The children/young adults who use the facilities at YESS aren’t destined to carry on to become the homeless and unfortunate people of our society. They could have a very different future. One that includes going to school. Working. Contributing to society’s benefit. We could give that to them. Just give them a chance. 

Canada is a middle class society, this means that (I know not all of us, especially at this time, but) most of us could contribute the price of a lunch for two ($30) at least once a week to give these kids the chance without missing that lunch.  Some fortunate among us, especially because of COVID-19 (saving money on gas from working at home, eating at home instead of lunching or dining out) may even be in a better position to give. I would say to these people that if you particularly want to help, if you are feeling helpless, then give. Give the chance of a life, a career, hope, family, and purpose. 

Canadians, Edmontonians, give a lot. It’s prevalent in all the different charities and Go Fund Me movements around. It’s important to not forget these kids who are always there and always in need even when some terrible tragedy hits that takes our attention away.

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Staff Interview: Tessa Mulcair

Describe where this program fits in YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing.

The Nexus overnight shelter meets a youth’s basic needs in order to allow the youth to focus on their bigger goals rather than survival. Developmentally, youth are meant to working on figuring out their identity; who they are and where they fit in the world. They should be solidifying their values, their social skills, their competencies, their passions, and preparing for life as an adult. It takes tremendous mental and emotional effort to navigate this time in all of our lives. There is no energy to work on those important milestones if you haven’t eaten in days, if you are worried about freezing to death in the winter cold, if you have to protect yourself from the constant threat of physical attacks, or if you are traversing addiction or mental health issues. Nexus is able to provide safety, shelter, food, clothing, toiletries, and other basic needs so that the youth can focus on all of the psychological, social, emotional, and physical development that their bodies are naturally throwing at them. Nexus staff are also able to support the youth in their journeys at a personal level. Staff have a deep understanding of trauma and systemic barriers which effect all of our youth. We do not guide the youth’s journey as it is not for us to decide who a youth will become and where their journey will take them, instead we walk beside them, we help them to understand their options, help them to remove barriers and allow them the space to figure out for themselves where they want to go.

In what ways has the COVID-19 crisis affected youth and staff in this program?

The world is wrestling with adjusting to new norms, none of this is easy for any of us. In that way, our youth are very much struggling with the same things all of us are. Many of their places for respite have closed down, like libraries and other youth-supporting agencies. Many youth that had found jobs have now lost them. Many who were seeking work are now on hold indefinitely. Many who had excitedly managed to get into their own home are now at threat of losing what they had worked so hard for. Many youth have had their education plans disrupted after months or years of trying to get back on track. Many youth that have made positive strides in their mental health and addiction journeys are now falling backwards.

It takes incredible resiliency for our youth to move to past the barriers in their life to attain their goals, so one of the most heartbreaking parts of the COVID-19 crisis for staff has been to watch these hard-fought gains suddenly slip away, sometimes completely out of their reach, and through no fault of their own.  

What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

I wish people understood the complexity of each individual youth’s journey. There is no single way that youth become homeless and no single path that will remove them from homelessness.

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We Heal Together, We Thrive Together

Happy Spring, everyone!

May 4, 2020 marks a significant day in Alberta history as our government starts to open restrictions surrounding public gatherings and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At YESS, we are cautiously optimistic. We have worked very hard with our youth agency partners to ensure young people experiencing homelessness in our city have the basic needs, supports, and safe isolation spaces they need.

Within the span of six weeks, we have created screening and isolation protocols for our staff and youth, expanded our cleaning protocol and hired external cleaners, rearranged schedules and staffing to have our overnight shelter and daytime Armoury Resource Centre offer a safe space 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are working collaboratively with our agency partners to create a coordinated screening and referral process. 

We have everyone who can work at home doing so, and we are working directly with our partners at AHS, EPS and Children’s Services to ensure we are following the most recent protocols and recommendations. This will not change until the risk is gone. As of today, we still have no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 amongst youth and staff.

The reality, however, is that we still need to be very careful. We have a population of young people who are typically run down and immunocompromised and our staff are essential services who must keep themselves and their families healthy. This has not been easy on any one and I believe this quote from one of our Overnight Shelter Supervisor says it all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge amount of anxiety and fear for both the youth and the staff, as we all collectively endure this global trauma. It has fundamentally destabilized the youth’s felt-safety by disrupting their physical, relational, cultural, and legal permanency. – Camiel Friend, Nexus Overnight Shelter Supervisor

Our one job remains: to walk beside youth on their journey towards healing and appropriate community integration. And, interestingly, our message doesn’t change. We can only do this together, all of us. Even in this time of physical distancing we cannot do this in emotional, mental, or spiritual isolation. We are in this together and we will only heal together.

This May we are launching our first all-online campaign. One of the other significant effects of this pandemic is that we have had to pivot our fundraising efforts, along with all of our charity partners. I know this is a very difficult time for many people, and so we ask only that you think of us and help where you can. I have been so impressed with how our community has risen and joined hearts to take care of each other. I hope that this is only the beginning of that effort because when we heal together, we thrive together.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Catch Up with YESS Champion Boston Pizza

Boston Pizza has been a long-time champion of YESS and youth in Edmonton! For the past few years, they have focused their donations to the YESS overnight shelter, which has an immediate and positive impact on the prevention of youth homelessness. At YESS we focus on prevention and diversion out of youth homelessness, ensuring that the youth who access our programs have the connections back to family or safe housing situations as well as life skills, emotional regulation, relationship building, and trauma healing support to help them safely and appropriately integrate back into the community.

With the 2019 Boston Pizza Charity Golf Classic, Boston Pizza donated $15,000 to our overnight shelter program! In addition to supporting our programs, Boston Pizza also supports the spirit of connection by providing pizza dinners for movie nights and other special events we host with youth in our overnight shelter, daytime resource centre, and supportive housing programs. Moments when our youth can come together like this are truly special.

Boston Pizza was also among the restaurants who stepped up to provide meals for our youth while our Whyte Ave kitchen was being renovated!

Over the years, Boston Pizza has donated  $125,000 to various YESS programs and impacted the lives of thousands of youth. They have demonstrated amazing leadership in the cause of youth homelessness, and we are honoured to have them as part of our community walking beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration.

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Major TLC for the YESS Kitchen

In December our Whyte Ave kitchen underwent a major renovation. This kitchen is instrumental in providing nutritious meals for the hundreds of youth who access YESS every year across our overnight shelter, daytime resource centre, and supportive housing programs. Providing meals is a huge part of our trauma informed care practice and is an important aspect of creating an environment of felt safety for the traumatized youth in our programs. This renovation was made possible with a grant from The Home Depot Foundation, who are committed to supporting initiatives that prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada, and an amazing donations from our friends at the Community of Christ Church.

“This is a great expensive gift for Christmas!” says YESS Chef Reddy Manikyala. “Along with the new kitchen team members, our kitchen is now running smoothly and able to make all new creations. The kitchen looks 100% commercial now compared to the old one. We also got a new grill and we plan to make good use of it.”

This renovation project was an incredible opportunity for all of the YESS departments to work together to keep the agency organized, across Kitchen and Facilities, Programs, Funds Development, and Administration. We also got to work with incredible collaborators at Allegiance Mechanical Inc., Amalgamated Food Equipment, The Carpet Studio, Interspace Construction, Nordic Mechanical, Tricom Electrical Services, and WHA Industries.

While no renovation is ever easy, the hard work has already paid off as the Whyte Ave kitchen takes on another role in the lives of youth: classroom. YESS Chef Tiffany Sorensen is our Program Kitchen Coordinator and leads the culinary practicum for youth in the Youth Education and Employment Program.

“The new kitchen renovations have made a world of a difference not only for us as chefs, but also for the student chefs that are part of the Youth Education and Employment Program,” says Tiffany. “The youth in the placement can now learn out of a more professional work space, and with the new equipment we have more options to cook and teach on. Youth are able to learn a variety of cooking techniques and can receive hands on training with using commercial equipment like the grill, griddle, steamer, and gas stove. The renovations are really helping to give the youth a more realistic experience with a variety of skills and will set them up for success to work in future kitchens and/or restaurants.”

As Reddy said, this renovation was an amazing Christmas gift that will be an incredible asset to our youth and our programs for years to come. We have found that cooking and sharing meals has always created an incredible sense of community, and it means so much to grow that community with all the partners who made this renovation possible!

A HUGE thank you to these restaurants who provided breakfast and lunch for youth in our programs while our kitchen was being renovated!

Meals are a huge part of creating felt safety for our youth and it meant so much to us to see so many restaurants step forward to help!


Barb & Ernie’s Old Country Inn

Boston Pizza

De Dutch

El Cortez

High Level Diner


Oodle Noodle

Original Joe’s

The Parlour



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