Case for Support

Leading the Way: Edmonton’s First Community Youth Support Centre at YESS

It is increasingly clear that Edmonton is in urgent need for additional 24/7 crisis intervention centres in community associated with agency service hubs and trauma-based mental health clinics. Currently, YESS is the only organization offering this service. Because the need is so great and the strategy is so compelling, we have leaned in to creating the first site to demonstrate and evaluate the coordinated intake and holistic assessment components. In June 2023, YESS expanded on our successful 2021 launch of the 24/7 shelter for youth by consolidating our existing programming, recreation, and primary medical care from the Armoury Resource Centre into the Whyte Avenue location. Our intent is to address the immediate need we are seeing for youth in crisis and build a strong evaluation model for the Community Youth Support Centre that is scalable and repeatable across the city.

24/7 Crisis and Intervention Support at Whyte

  • 24/7 intake and crisis stabilization
  • 8 transitional beds/16 emergency beds
  • Holistic assessment and entry into YAC-connected communities of care
New Resources & Services (Monday-Friday) at Whyte Ave

  • Onsite medical clinic
  • Onsite mental health clinic (YESS Wellness Integration Team and CASA [future])
  • Housing connections
  • Cultural and identity supports
  • Employment and education connections
  • Programming, arts, and recreation
  • Life and wellbeing skills development



While the YESS Community Youth Support Centre is still very new, the transition has been successful, and we are seeing the beginnings of positive impact on youth. For example:

  • serious incidents (requiring EPS or EMS) in July 2023 are 60% lower than in July 2022
  • the average stay for a young person at the centre is 3.5 days and the majority are not staying longer than
    13 days as we have been either able to get them back with family or into supportive or transitional housing

The impact of this holistic approach cannot be underestimated. By providing 24/7 crisis intervention and connected support, we can break down the barriers that currently prevent many youth from accessing help or staying on the journey to wellbeing. For many, this will save lives.

In addition, this strategy will also alleviate the pressure on our emergency departments and police services and, in time, reduce chronic adult homelessness


“I would be dead if it wasn’t for YESS. This is so serious, and it is not a joke. YESS helped me realize that I wasn’t just born to be a homeless person. That has been the hardest thing for me to do, is to change that mindset. When you are homeless it feels like you are worthless… When you are homeless it feels like no one else in society cares and getting over those feelings is still a struggle. So yeah, the staff at YESS, they help save people.”
– Tom


Future Vision: 24/7 Crisis Intervention Centres in Communities Across Edmonton

The YESS model for 24/7 crisis intervention components and coordinated intake into the Youth Agency Collaboration can be added to any youth resource centre or mental health hub. Ideally, these service components would be added to the new Kickstand Integrated Youth Service Hubs planned for Alberta, and YESS has been working alongside Kickstand, CASA, and YAC for the past year to plan and build rationale for this approach.

This approach would address key aspects of the many challenges (those we can affect) that youth in crisis face: small shelters, access to necessary supports, consistent trauma-informed care, coordination among each onsite service provider, familiarity (trust), support (not judgemental or stigmatized), and holistic, accessible care. Most importantly, it will provide the 24/7 crisis intervention and support that is so needed.

This strategy could make a profound impact on youth wellbeing across Alberta and set the province as the best practice region for youth wellbeing. Because it is a model that can be consistently repurposed, it can easily be expanded adopted in other cities, provinces/territories, and countries. For example, there are integrated youth service (IYS) hubs across Canada that could have 24/7 crisis and stabilization components added.


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Ensuring Youth Get the Help They Need, When They Need It

The Youth Agency Collaboration

YESS, in collaboration with 25+ youth serving agencies (and growing) across Edmonton in the Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC), are already working together to create a connected continuum of care that ensures youth get the help they need, when they need it.

This means safer spaces, trained help, holistic wellbeing support, and bridge transitional housing that are all accessible 24/7 and in the communities where youth live.



Created in 2019 to collaborate and share experiences, information, and ideas to improve outcomes for youth.

  • Work together to build a strategic, cost-effective, and integrated continuum of complex care for youth
  • Streamline and coordinate intake, holistic assessment, and evaluation using a shared data system
  • Eliminate the need to compete for funding and build stronger connections between partners


What We’ve Learned

Working together since its inception, YAC partners found common themes and needs across their organizations from the voices of youth and youth workers:

  • Youth need the right help at the right time
  • Youth have better results when they face fewer barriers to supports and services
  • Small, community supports for youth and families are best
  • Building 1:1 trusting relationships is key
  • We don’t need to be one, we just need to act as one
Edmonton’s Collaborative Youth Strategy

The Youth Agency Collaboration has developed the following strategy to ensure that we are strategically focusing on the holistic wellbeing of young people in a coordinated and connected way that allows each community agency to address the needs of the youth in their community while still acting as one continuum of care.

An Innovative Implementation: “Youth Community Support Centres”*

One of the priority YAC innovations is creating community-based 24/7 crisis intervention, intake, and holistic wellbeing assessment services that are co-located with resource hubs for youth across Edmonton.


*Naming is functional and utilitarian for communication and concept purposes and the “centre” does not need to be a completely new entity but could be the addition of the crisis intake component to existing youth resource centres or Integrated Youth Services Hubs

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YESS is Evolving to Better Address the Challenges of Youth in Crisis

Based in Edmonton, YESS helps young people ages 15-24 who are in crisis because of family or community breakdown, mental illness, traumatic experiences, and often all of the above.

We provide safe spaces for young people to get immediate 24/7 crisis help, sleep safely, and access the basic necessities for survival as well as build the tools and life skills they need for wellbeing and healthy adulthood.

We have evolved over our 40+ years of operation from an overnight emergency shelter to an expert in youth crisis intervention and support, as well as a collaborative partner in a community of youth care leveraging 25+ Edmonton youth agencies focused on youth wellbeing.

Our goal, first and foremost, is to ensure that young people have the help they need when they need it, and this means addressing a significant gap in the care system: 24/7 crisis support.


“I think that sometimes when I tell people that I stayed at YESS they feel sorry for me; although, I don’t look at my time there like that. To me I have a better life because I stayed at YESS. It wasn’t a “step-down” it was a stepping stone to me being able to create a better life. I had a team of people believing in me and cheering me on. I’m thankful for the experience.”



Who We Serve

  • Approximately 700–800 young people in crisis each year
    • 45% are Indigenous
    • 10% are newcomers
    • 35% identify as 2SLGBTQIA+
    • 75% do not have Children’s Services involvement
    • 25% of youth at YESS are supported with government funding
Our Current Services

For youth 15–21:
• 24/7 intake and crisis support

• 16 emergency beds
• 16 supportive transitional beds

For youth 15–24:
• Onsite medical professionals (3x a week)
• Onsite mental health professionals
• Meals, clothing, hygiene products, and facilities
• Internal supports and connections to external agencies for life skill development
• Programs and program connection (art, recreation, community, culture, nutrition, health)


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The Need for 24/7 Youth Crisis Intervention is Clear

Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) has seen a steady increase in suicide, overdose, psychosis, and complex mental health crisis since 2019.

The number of young people in mental health crisis showing up at the YESS 24/7 shelter has increased by 30%.


“…the highest number of social disorder calls occurred between 3:00PM and midnight, with mental health calls for service peaking between 2:00PM and 10:00PM. Social disorder calls peaked from Friday–Sundays.”

“Based on an analysis of dispatched calls to the front line, trends with social disorder and mental health calls for service were identified. A significant gap has been identified regarding the availability, based on timing, of most social agencies compared to when social disorder calls or mental health calls are received.”

Edmonton City Council. Analysis of the Delivery of Social Services Type by Edmonton Police Service: Responding to Social Disorder & Mental Health Calls for Service. November 16, 2020.


“Wait times for care in the ER, both from ER team members and mental health professionals, were seen as unacceptable to respondents. Caregivers were concerned about wait times when worried for their child’s safety, especially when their child had attempted suicide or was experiencing suicidal ideation. Participants noted a lack of mental health services offered during the evenings and weekends, and expressed frustration that an appropriate mental health provider was not always available for youth. Parents also stated that the long wait for getting support in the community is very frustrating and inhibits recovery.”

Suen, Victoria Ph.D. Helping Kids & Youth in Times of Emotional Crisis: Phase 1 Final Report. Addiction & Mental Health and Emergency Strategic Clinical Networks, 2018. p. 19.


Currently, in Edmonton, youth have very little access to 24/7 crisis intervention other than emergency departments and police services, neither which are equipped or intended to support youth in crisis. More and more young people are needing:

  • 24/7 crisis intervention, stabilization, and personal, individual support
  • safe places to sleep during the day or night
  • specialized and trauma-informed mental health and medical treatment services
  • an intentional continuum of aftercare to ensure their wellbeing

Almost all mental health supports and services for youth are available only during daytime hours and many are only available Monday to Friday. Currently, YESS is the only place in Edmonton that will intake youth in crisis 24/7 and provide a place to sleep during the day or night, and we can typically only support 16 youth at a time. Furthermore, while youth agencies work hard to support young people, youth often slip through the many jurisdictional gaps in the current system of care that divides services and funds based on a youth’s symptoms such as addiction, mental health, homelessness, criminal involvement, and disabilities, which only creates more barriers for youth and decreases the likelihood that they can or will seek help.

We have seen a significant increase in youth in crisis over the last two years and a decrease in the funding and support for the agencies who support these youth.


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