Breaking Barriers in Mental Health Support

This article was originally published in our February 2021 newsletter, themed around “empathy and understanding.”

In January, Africa Centre and The Alberta Black Therapists Network launched their new counselling program! This program not only provides free counselling services, but is also part of breaking down barriers and stigma that still surround accessing mental health supports.

We talked to Noreen Sibanda, Executive Director of The Alberta Black Therapists Network, about this new program and its impact on the community.

Tell us about the new counselling program in collaboration with The Africa Centre.

The clinic is funded by the United Way and a collaboration between Africa Centre and The Alberta Black Therapists Network (ABTN). We are proud to offer free counselling support to the African descent community through licensed therapists who have a cultural understanding and offer trauma and healing centered approaches. Our services provide formal, 50-minute, one-to-one counselling sessions in the form of short-term intervention, utilizing solution-focused therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. The services are available over a secure video platform and can be accessed as an individual, group, or couple. We also had secured a donation from Ikea to furnish an office space that we look forward to utilizing when restrictions are lifted.

Why is now an important time for this resource to be available?

We have seen a rise in the need for mental health resources because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now more than ever people need professional support. Unfortunately, despite this desperate need, the barriers to accessing support (cost, long waiting times, stigma), still exist. This service allows people who are struggling with their mental health to connect and not have to worry about costs, as most people cannot afford to access therapeutic support. It allows our community to access services from the organizations that they already know, at no cost and from individuals that share similar lived experiences.

What is something you wish the community knew about youth mental health?

I believe mental health needs to be a part of our overall wellness. Supports services need to include healing, otherwise we are merely treating the symptoms which leads to an overuse of services.

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Message from Margo – Youth Homelessness

In the October issue of our newsletter, we bring a focus to youth homelessness. Why? It is not just because we love our jobs—we believe that this is the most strategic focus our city, province, and country can take to address some of our deepest community issues. Here are two arguments for focusing on youth homelessness separately from adult homelessness:

  1. Youth are The drivers that brought them into homelessness are not just about housing. In 2020, YESS served approximately 642* young people between the ages of 15 and 25 who had experienced housing instability and trauma (see YESS 2020/2021 Annual Report). These young people did not choose to experience homelessness. Instead, they are fighting to survive their experiences with trauma: abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, violence, discrimination, and more. Living in survival mode comes from trauma in the home, trauma within families, and trauma within their communities.
  1. Focusing on alleviating and preventing youth homelessness is true prevention. It is our belief that if these traumatic experiences are left unaddressed in young people, they will most likely create cyclic barriers to healing and moving forward with their lives in a positive way in community. But if we give youth safe space, consistent and non-judgemental support and teaching, and the time to choose their own path to success, we can prevent further entrenchment into the cycles of trauma and homelessness. Youth agencies in the city focused on intervention and support of youth in crisis are actually deemed “late prevention” services, based on the definitions in A Way Home Canada’s Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness. “The homeless youth of today become the homeless adults of tomorrow, given that Canadian Point-in-Time Count data indicates that 50% of homeless adults had their first experience of homelessness prior to the age of 25. It is time for a preventative approach. If we could do a better job of preventing youth homelessness in the first place through a focus on well- being, we might have a bigger impact on chronic homelessness amongst adults in the long run.” (Gaetz et al. 2019. We Can’t Wait: The Urgent Need for Youth Homelessness Prevention. Parity, 32(8), 6.).

And here is the most important shift required. IF we can agree that youth are different and that focusing on the prevention of youth homelessness is much more strategic as a true preventative effort (early prevention is even better), then the system of care that addresses youth homelessness must have the capacity for the intense time, expertise, infrastructure, and people capacity required to do such complex work. In short, support for youth homelessness needs to be much more than the afterthought it currently is. In this issue, you will hear about the incredible strategic and collaborative work of the Youth Agency Collaboration and their Coordinated Youth Response, celebrate the leadership of The Home Depot Edmonton stores in their support of YESS for the summer Orange Door Campaign and The Home Depot Canada Foundation in their commitment to supporting initiatives that prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada, and you will hear about our valued partners at Southview Acura and their incredible support of youth in crisis.

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National Philanthropy Day: John Brooks Company Ltd.

For National Philanthropy Day 2021 we nominated 5 Days for the Homeless, ATCO, and John Brooks Comapny Ltd., to recognize their incredible support of YESS!


Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) is honored to recognize John Brooks Company Limited as a true pillar in the Edmonton community. By way of their philanthropic leadership and their commitment to the community, they have championed YESS for nearly a decade. Founded in 1938 and a national leader in Industrial pumps, spray products, filtration equipment, valves and complete system solution expertise, John Brooks Company Limited has been tireless with their encouragement and strength of confidence in the youth and our organization. John Brooks Company Limited firmly believes in giving back to affect a real difference in the community. Major donors since 2012, YESS is so grateful for the leadership, dedicated team members and vision of John Brooks Company Limited. Altogether, their generosity has helped to support programs and resources that help youth experiencing trauma and homelessness achieve goals for their relationships, their health, and their futures. Their generosity has profoundly impacted the lives of countless youth. Thank you for being a part of creating a community where we can heal together!

“Here at John Brooks Company we put a very high value on people and have been very happy to be a consistent supporter of organizations such as YESS that directly support some of our more vulnerable Canadians. Particularly in challenging times as these, it is important to support those who strive to make a positive difference.”

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National Philanthropy Day: ATCO

For National Philanthropy Day 2021 we nominated 5 Days for the Homeless, ATCO, and John Brooks Comapny Ltd., to recognize their incredible support of YESS!


Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) is honoured to recognize ATCO for their grassroots initiative with ATCO EPIC (Employees Participating in Communities) and leading the way with their philanthropic commitment over the past 10 years. The vision and dedication of ATCO EPIC has made a pivotal impact on the programs and resources that support youth experiencing trauma. ATCO continues to lead with an enhanced sense of community through their countless hours of volunteer leadership with their Days of Caring and numerous employee-led campaigns. ATCO EPIC has helped to strengthen the futures of our youth through their creative fundraising initiatives and generous avenues of support. YESS has been selected as their feature charity in 2020 and has been instrumental in raising awareness of the challenges our youth face.  Even in challenging times of the pandemic, ATCO EPIC’s passion for community is exemplified through creative virtual giving and their annual EPIC Golf Tournament. ATCO’s devotion to making a difference and employee engagement has raised over $325,000 through pledging, events and the corporate match. ATCO has been a champion for YESS with their enthusiasm to build community, provide safety and enhanced responsibility for our youth. Thank you to the ATCO EPIC team for their tireless long-term support and encouragement of our youth as they grow and empower themselves to become independent and break the cycle of homelessness.

Community investment isn’t just a corporate initiative—our employees are passionate about supporting their communities. ATCO EPIC (Employees Participating in Communities) is a long-standing employee-led program, combining volunteerism, fundraising events and individual donations. We listen carefully to what our communities tell us is important to them, and then look for opportunities to provide support that will make the greatest difference. Supporting youth, sports and Indigenous initiatives all have a special place in our hearts.”

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National Philanthropy Day: 5 Days for the Homeless

For National Philanthropy Day 2021 we nominated 5 Days for the Homeless, ATCO, and John Brooks Comapny Ltd., to recognize their incredible support of YESS!


5 Days for the Homeless is a university student initiative designed to raise funds and spread social awareness in support of the issues faced by traumatized and homeless youth. The event, founded in 2005 by students in the Faculty of Business at the University of Alberta, has since become a national event in which 21 universities and colleges across Canada support their local homeless shelters. The 2021, 5Days group, faced the additional challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented almost all of the normal events of the 5 Days campaign. The students of this group, however, were very innovative and motivated, and moved the campaign almost totally online. Their campaign was highly successful and Youth Empowerment and Support Services is proud and honored to have such a group supporting our youth.

“The 2021, 5 Days for the Homeless campaign, was able to fund raise over $25,000 for Youth Empowerment and Support Services. The campaign was able to exceed its goals of raising donations and general awareness towards youth homelessness support in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. 5 Days has reached campus wide appeal with volunteers from different faculties helping deliver our message in their respective networks. Our awareness content, educating students about the challenges associated with youth homeless, was able to reach hundreds of followers through our social media and events. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted youth experiencing homelessness as multiple Canadian organizations have struggled to stay connected with them due to a loss of funding, a decrease in staff, and an increase of health concerns. While the 5 Days campaign was typically conducted in person, we decided to pivot online to continue contributing to YESS during these challenging times.”

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Meet the Youth Agency Collaboration and Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response Team

To share their experiences in working with youth and as part of the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response, we talked to Gus Gusul, Management and Strategy Consultant for the Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC), and Lux, Family Resource Network Manager for the C5 NE Hub.


Tell us a bit about yourself and organization.

Gus Gusul: My name is Gus. Now, I know that legally my name is really Matthew Gusul, but no one calls me that (except my mom and the police) – please call me Gus. I am from rural Alberta growing up on an acreage a half mile south of a village named Bittern Lake that is halfway between Camrose and Wetaskiwin on Treaty Six Territory. My family came to Canada one generation ago on my dad’s side (Ukrainian) and two generations ago on my mom’s (Polish), making me a Settler.

I have spent a lot of time in university classrooms, recording studios, rehearsal halls, theatres, in the various places charities/non-profits call offices, pubs/coffee shops, and riding my bike. I have a PhD in theatre where my research was working in Tamil Nadu/Pondicherry, India to help start intergenerational theatre performances in rural areas. I have played in bands and am currently working on recording some songs I have written. I have also written several plays and have taught acting. I have worked for charities/non-profits for all my career outside of a year-long stint working for Indigenous Relations for the Government of Alberta.

I am currently hired as a Strategy and Management Consultant to help the Youth Agency Collaboration complete the final phase of our process in creating a city-wide model for the alleviation of the negative effects of poverty and homelessness on young people in Edmonton. YESS and Boyle Street are sharing the fiscal responsibility for my role.

Lux: My name is Lux, my pronouns are they/them, and I grew up in Treaty 7 territory, just outside Mohkinstsis. A proud queer and trans first generation Canadian, I have spent my adult life in the Human Services field and am currently the Family Resource Network Manager for the C5 NE Hub. The C5 is a collaboration of five non-profits (Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Boyle Street Community Services, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Norwood Family and Child Resource Centre, and Terra Centre for Teen Parents) who collectively support over 30,000 Edmontonians. The C5 NE Hub is a microcosm of the collaboration in action and was a response to a lack of services in NE Edmonton. The C5 NE Hub currently offers a community hub, employment supports, a Family Resource Network Hub, and food security programming.

How did you become involved with Youth Agency Collaboration and the Coordinated Youth Response?

GG: Last year while I was working as the Interim Executive Director of iHuman Youth Society, I was a member of the Leadership Steering Committee for YAC/CYR after Margo and Krysta (Krysta Fitzgerald, Deputy Executive Director, Boyle Street Community Services) invited me to sit on the committee. I really identified with the goals of YAC/ CYR in the efforts towards collaboration.

While working in India, I was amazed at the level of collaboration between the charities. If one group had extra milk, vegetables, laborers, or just about anything it was immediately shared with their neighbour organization; they collaborated on fundraising in the bigger cities and made sure any visiting dignitaries saw all the amazing work being done in their communities. I was more accustomed to the territoriality and competition between charities I had seen in Canada. I am excited to be working towards collaboration as I see the reality that a rising tide raises all the boats, not just mine. This past summer, I felt my time with iHuman was winding down and took on the challenge of helping with completing the final phase of the YAC Project as the Strategy and Management Consultant.

L: The C5 NE Hub and our Boyle Street neighbour program, Ubuntu, became a joint CYR Hub from the inception of the response, and I had the pleasure of representing us at the table. My background is in youth work and I have a long history of working in youth crisis and housing instability, so it was a good fit. I am able to bring my experience in agency collaboration, my experience as a frontline worker, and my lived experience as a natural support of folx experiencing crisis and housing instability to this work.

How does the Youth Agency Collaboration and the Coordinated Youth Response address the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness?

GG: Youth-serving agencies in Edmonton are not collaborating well. The fault for this does not lie with the agencies but with the culture our community has historically operated in. Charities are in competition with each other. We compete for funding from the government, for donation dollars from the Edmonton public, and we compete to have young people’s foot traffic through our agencies so we can show the best data. This culture of competition has weakened the ability of youth-serving agencies to meet the needs of young people.

The main purpose behind YAC/CYR is to reform this culture of competition into a culture of collaboration where agencies work to blanket the whole city in crisis services which young people can utilize to aid them in their ability to self-actualize the goals they have for their life. The group of agencies that serve young people in Edmonton will gain in strength through collaboration. We will be better able to advocate to government and business to what our sector needs to support the young people and the frontline staff. If we unite our voice, it will strengthen our voice. If we unite our knowledge, it will strengthen our ability to serve. If we unite our efforts, we will make a positive impact on the young people’s ability to achieve their goals.

I also see YAC/CYR as an opportunity to refocus the efforts of the youth-serving sector from treating the symptoms of poverty, houselessness, and other negative effects caused by capitalism and colonialism and to look at treating the root issues of trauma and family/community neglect. YAC/CYR goal of collaboration gives the youth-serving agencies in Edmonton the ability to focus on more preventative measures. Our collaboration will work to set a standard of practice that will focus on prevention. This shift in focus will help build community and aid young people in their ability to obtain self-actualization.

L: The YAC/CYR work is based on a report completed in Edmonton using stakeholder and lived experience feedback. By utilizing participant-based and practice-based evidence to guide our work we ensure that the voices of those we serve are at the forefront of our decision making. The CYR platform leverages technology to get youth connected to a team of supports when they ask for it, rather than expecting youth to traverse the entire city, often taking several

days, to build their care team on their own, if they are able to navigate the existing barriers. We are meeting the unique needs of developing brains experiencing crisis and housing instability by reducing wait times to be connected to resources and sharing in the labour of building an appropriate care team.

That youth experiencing crisis and housing instability are kind, talented, dynamic human beings whose brains are still developing. Like any other youth they are navigating the world around them, determining the paths they will take in the future. They deserve the same space and grace we give all youth.

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The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response

In May 2020 the City of Edmonton was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the EXPO Centre was opened to support adults experiencing housing instability in their isolation and pandemic needs. Immediately, youth-servicing agencies noticed a significant gap in pandemic supports for youth aged 15–25.

The indoor public spaces and buildings that young people accessed during the day were no longer accessible, public transit was unavailable, and they were prohibited from being outside in public spaces. To further limit support for them, many agencies were closing for weeks at a time with quarantines. It was clear that much stronger collaboration and communication was needed to support youth in crisis during this time and in September 2020, YESS co-launched the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response with our youth agency partners, Boyle Street Community Services and iHuman Youth Society.

The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response (CYR) is a growing group of youth-serving agencies across the city committed to ensuring that young people receive timely, trauma-informed access to basic needs, pandemic support, and same-day virtual connections to other agencies. Through the CYR online platform, young people can access food, shelter, clothing, and housing connections from various agencies as well as access screening, testing, and safe isolation.

The CYR includes youth-serving agencies, schools, and secondary service partners such as Children’s Services and the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). In January 2021, the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response was given an Indigenous name by Elder Kokum Rose Wabasca: kanaweyim oskayak (pronounced CAN-ah-WEEM oh-SKY- YAK), which means “taking care of the youth.” And, as of February 2021, young people can access or get information on kanaweyim oskayak by texting or calling 211. The Coordinated Youth Response, kanayweim oskayak, is also a pilot project to practice coordination and integration between agencies within our Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC) work to build a long-term, city-wide plan for a collaboration, integrated network of care model for the prevention of youth homelessness.

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National Philanthropy Day: No Room in the Inn

For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!

No Room in the Inn

Since 1999, the Edmonton & District Council of Churches has sponsored an ecumenical Christmas fundraising initiative called No Room in the Inn. Each year, church congregations and individuals from many denominations join together to provide financial support to a housing provider for the homeless or people at risk in the Edmonton Capital Region. The annual campaign raises from $40,000 to $70,000. Over the years, the project has raised (cumulatively) over $1 million from the community for twenty different housing projects in the Capital Region! Rooted in values central to Christian faith and identity, their annual campaign expresses to vulnerable persons in our community that they are loved and cared about as valued members of our society. YESS was awarded funds from their 2018 campaign to completely renovate the bathrooms in our Whyte Avenue Nexus program to provide a cleaner environment with increased privacy and dignity. This will help the traumatized youth assisted by YESS to understand they are important and to help them integrate back into the community. Thank you to each member of the Edmonton & District Council of Churches for your generous support!

 

“No Room In The Inn is a Christmas fundraising initiative sponsored by the Edmonton and District Council of Churches. The name, drawn from the biblical story of Christ’s birth in a stable, reflects our focus on creating or improving housing for those in need. We often support small renovation projects for groups that might otherwise not be able to afford them. EDCC has long been aware of the good work that YESS performs in the community, and we were especially taken with the request from YESS knowing what a significant benefit they would receive from our relatively modest contribution.”

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Thank You to Southview Acura

Thank you to the team at Southview Acura for their commitment and continuous support for our youth.

Their dedication to give back has been essential in creating opportunities for our youth to be integrated back into the community.

Thank you to Southview Acura for your generosity and leadership.


Tell us why you choose to support YESS?

We choose to support YESS as we believe ending homelessness in our community starts with ensuring our youth receive the support and services they need to be successful young adults and integrate into our community. YESS’ mission “To walk beside traumatized youth on their journey towards healing and appropriate community integration” deals with the underlying issues by helping young people find a stable and secure environment to heal. We believe this is a crucial step towards a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

How does Southview Acura give back to the community?

Every year Southview Acura selects several charities that are near and dear to our hearts. Through monetary donations or by collecting supplies we do our best to support our community. This year we have been lucky enough to support Big Brother and Big Sisters, SCARS, Edmonton Food Bank, Basically Babies, Little Warriors, and The Christmas Bureau.

Why is it important for Southview Acura to support the community?

The community of Edmonton and surrounding area have been extremely loyal and supportive of Southview Acura for many years. Our clients are truly the most caring and hard-working people. It is our privilege to give back to the community.

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Thank You to The Orange Door Summer 2021 Campaign!

Thank you to the Orange Door Campaign for raising over $74,000 in support of Youth Empowerment and Support Services. We’re incredibly grateful for the Home Depot Canada Foundation and the local Home Depot Edmonton stores leading the way to end youth homelessness in Canada.

Words cannot express how much we appreciate the community support in donating $2 at the till and making a difference. 

Thank you for being part of the community walking beside youth on their journeys towards healing!

THANK YOU TO

Home Depot Clareview
Home Depot Sherwood Park
Home Depot Skyview
Home Depot South Edmonton Common
Home Depot Strathcona
Home Depot West End
Home Depot Westmount
Home Depot Whitemud
Home Depot Windermere

Home Depot Clareview

Home Depot Skyview

Home Depot Strathcona

Home Depot West End

Home Depot Westmount

Home Depot Whitemud

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