Life at YESS

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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Into the Future

Tessa has been involved in the humanities field for 22 years. Her passion is to help high risk youth reach their goals by helping them navigate around the barriers in their lives and build essential life skills. This passion is what brought her to work for Youth Empowerment & Support Services, where she serves as Manager of the Shelter Programs, including the Nexus 24/7 sleep shelter, the Armoury Resource Centre, and the Cohort Independent Living Program. Tessa believes that collaboration is key to ending systemic homelessness across the city. Tessa received the Commonwealth Gold Medal Award from Canada’s Lieutenant General for her work with the Youth Restorative Action Project.  


Over the past 18 months, there have been many adjustments and innovations made in YESS programs. Even looking back to pre-pandemic times, why is it important for youth-serving agencies to be flexible and open to change? 

Adaptability has always been an important part of our frontline services. The youth themselves are constantly changing, and as some move on and new youth move in, this creates a shift in both trends and needs which are both influenced by a lot of factors. One year we might be seeing a big push for gang recruitment in the area and we need to pivot our efforts towards a safety and risk-focused programming in mind, another year we might see a spike in interest for going back to school and we pivot towards a stability focus that will drive success there. 

The pandemic for us wasn’t an exception to this, but it is a perfect example of what flexibility really means for us. When the pandemic first hit, one of the most urgent issues was that individuals experiencing homelessness suddenly had fewer places to physically be, in the middle of winter. Malls were closed, libraires were closed, all of the safe spaces to loiter simply weren’t accessible anymore. We knew that we immediately needed to modify our operating hours to be 24/7 between our day and night programs so that youth had a space to just exist safely. We also anticipated that there would be many new youth coming through our doors for the first time, with the closures of schools and many people losing jobs. High stress + nowhere to escape to = a breaking point in some households that were already struggling. This is exactly what we saw, a spike in new clients who very likely would never have been in our service if the pandemic had not caused this tipping point to happen. In other words, a spike in clients who were very much not prepared for life on the streets. The population shifts, external risks shift, community supports shift… it’s a fluid environment and we need to remain fluid in order to provide the best version of support for the youth who need us today.  

 

 

How do youth-serving agencies impact not just youth’s futures, but also the future of the wider community? 

A single youth does not exist in a bubble, they have family and friends, they go to school and have jobs, they pass by and interact with many people—just like we all do. They are a part of our community. Pain and suffering are not siloed, when any member of our society struggles it affects us all. Sometimes this is in very direct ways, like when someone who is struggling with severe addictions becomes desperate enough to rob a stranger. Sometimes it’s in more subtle ways, like the high cost of emergency physical and mental health interventions for people experiencing homelessness, and this affects the public budgets which we all pay for. What if we can prevent the residual trauma of events like that community member being robbed by having addictions programs ready and available? What if we can prevent the enormous cost of emergency services for homeless individuals by spending far less money on meaningful prevention and interruption of homelessness?  

If we help meet the needs of our most vulnerable, then we lift the entire community at the same time.  

 

Based on the changes you have seen in the youth sector during your career, in what ways do you think this work will continue to evolve, either in the broader sector or specifically at YESS? 

I hope to see the sector as a whole pulling away from methods that institutionalize youth. We need more services that directly aim to end chronic underlaying issues that cause cyclical homelessness. We can’t simply have shelters and independent housing—we need to focus on the transitional programs that fit in-between those two points. Programs that build life skills, that offer support rather than coddling, that guide rather than control, programs that create an environment where autonomy and self-reliance can grow and thrive, programs that promote healthy integration into community. ­­­­­­­­­ 

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Holding the Present

Marcia trained as a psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience working with youth and their families, five years of which has been spent in Edmonton working with youth who are homeless. She is motivated by her love for youth and seeks to find ways in joining them on their journeys in pursuit of healing. Her strengths include the ability to bear witness to the experience of others, facilitate containment of others, and collaborate with others in the exploration of their strengths. 


YESS has made trauma-informed care a focus in all programs. Can you speak to how this has impacted the youth experience at YESS, and how this focus has evolved in the years that you have worked at YESS?

Trauma-informed practice speaks to the integration and understanding of past and current experiences of trauma into all aspects of the work we do for the populations that we serve. Our staff at YESS receive trauma-informed care training and are therefore aware of the high prevalence of trauma in our society and the wide range of responses, effects, and adaptations that people make to cope with their trauma. As we continue to mediate these experiences of our youth through our relationship-building, creating connections, and facilitating healthy attachments, there continues to be a rise in youth safety levels, as is demonstrated in increased access our services, ease in inhabiting our spaces, and opening up and connecting with staff.

 

How does access to therapy and trauma-informed support impact youth in their current circumstances as well as into their futures?

Therapy sessions utilise a strength-based approach, helping youth discover their authentic selves, their abilities, and resources, and employ them to build and improve their coping strategies so they can better respond to cues and emotions associated with traumatic events. Therapy also provides an opportunity for youth to explore their thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behavior, and learn new coping techniques to better manage the daily stressors and symptoms they experience. Some of these skills include relaxation strategies, self-regulation, and anxiety management. Trauma-informed support emphasises working collaboratively to deliver optimum services, as well as offering chances for choice in programs, which promote empowerment, and the prospect for healthy attachment. The trauma-informed support we provide at YESS also promotes resiliency building, as we seek to improve the protective factors in the lives of our youth.

 

How does the ever-widening conversation of mental health affect the youth as well as the community?

The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults. We are then called upon to be aware of and facilitate the experiences that contribute to good mental health in youth. Factors such as a strong sense of safety in community; high self-esteem, self-efficacy, and positive sense of self-worth; and connection to spiritual or cultural beliefs, goals, or dreams provide meaning and purpose youths’ lives.

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A Look at the Past

Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation, has been working with vulnerable populations since obtaining her BA in Psychology from the University of Alberta in 2004. Jessica spent the early days of her career working in a variety of group care settings focusing on high-risk children and youth with complex cases. Her work often involved clients who had experienced extreme family violence and sexual abuse. When Jessica joined the YESS family in 2016, she focused on becoming a certified Trauma and Compassion Fatigue Practitioner to fully understand the trauma journeys of youth and staff.  Jessica brings a wealth of experience and deep understanding of the complex needs of the most vulnerable youth. 


When you asked me to look back to when I first started in this field, I was shocked to think it’s been over 20 years. Time flies when you are helping humans to grow and develop, as any parent will tell you. What I do remember from my first days in group care, was the battle between my educated ego and my lack of experience and how all first-time workers feel. We feel smart and understanding of other human behaviour, having educated ourselves on the psychology and sociology behind how to work with youth at risk, children in care or transitioning youth to adulthood. We have this profound sense of ego that we know all the tools and techniques to help kids and change the system for the better. We are smart and we are going to save lives and change the world! And then we are hit with what the real experiences of working with youth are like and that is when the real work actually begins.

They say knowledge is power, however trying to explain the hierarchy of needs to an escalated youth resulted in a chair being thrown at my head and my life being threatened in the first 30 minutes of being on shift. I wasn’t actually in any danger; the youth was escalated because I gave them space and fuel to be escalated and when the adrenaline wore off, so did the threat. I can remember, clearly, the process of writing about this incident in the hand-written logbook and shaping the narrative of what happened out of fear of my job being questioned or to prove I was a youth worker, and less about the facts of what was done. Why? Because I was afraid: of the youth, of another escalated situation I couldn’t handle, and for my job.

I bring this up not because I am a bad youth worker (although they say that those who can’t do, teach or lead!), or to indicate that this business is scary. My point here is that, back in the day, we often operated and communicated out of fear. Sometimes it was the fear of the unknown, sometimes it was the fear of action, sometimes it was the fear of our careers. Policies and procedures were reactive written laws in the homes; however, they didn’t allow for the many grey scenerios that came up. This led to a need for someone else to tell us what to do, how to act, what is expected. This fear and this structure meant that proactive problem-solving and proactive innovations were not heard or utilized.

As I grew older and moved up the systemic hierarchy to have positions of decision making, responsibility, and leadership, I realized that the system was structured in a way that protected youth rights but also agency liabilities. There was very little support or engagement with the frontline staff and there was nothing close to interactive feedback on changes or ideas. Youth workers were almost dispensable and expected to follow along. It was a difficult time because it tied the hands of the workers who were directly trying to impact the lives of youth and it made this human process very bureaucratic. Burn out, lack of change or impact with the youth, and even staff turn over were the biggest frustrations in the system. We didn’t talk about the reasons why a youth was in service—we spoke of their behaviours and escalations. We didn’t talk about family relations, unless specifically designated to family reunification. We had strict goals for the youth, dictated by the government or guardians, that the youth had to comply with but didn’t get a voice in. Staff were injured and held accountable for serious ethical violations, without any support or understanding or compassion.

The biggest evolution I have seen is that there is a collective understanding that our system needed to evolve and change. We couldn’t keep operating out of fear of the youth and their history, we had to look at them as wholistic human beings who were hurt. Agencies started to understand that they needed to support their staff and look at their skills and capacities with intention and purpose. Engagement at all levels became important; youth, staff, and leaders all had perspectives and they all needed to be heard in order to form a policy. There was a shift in how we educate our staff, understanding that we need more than book knowledge to develop into youth workers; onsite placements increased in availability and length of time. Access to practicing skills, with support, became necessary for our youth workers. Trainings became more than a task that was checked off for accreditation; it became necessary to evolve and grow our capacities and update our knowledge and practice of tools to help.

We also started to hear and understand the word trauma and research into the brain science behind trauma and youth development became necessary. Science was telling us about the healthy trajectory of youth and comparing it to the developmental trajectory of youth who experienced trauma, and this opened up the scope of understanding the youth’s behaviours and escalations. It wasn’t willful disobedience that we needed to fear. There were needs not being met, survival skills protecting against more trauma, and developmental delays that require different approaches. We also started seeing the youth as individual humans with complex needs and goals. The language in the group homes and the policies and the history of the youth all changed to be more trauma-focused and including more context and humanity. The youth were no longer dangerous, scary, and evil people—they were scared, traumatized, and hurt kids who were locked in a survival mode.

Understanding this meant that we focused, as a system, on building relationships with the youth. Letting them tell their own stories and experiences, building up trust that we would handle them with care and grow their hope or potential. Youth workers started to get benefits and access to wellness supports that made it so they didn’t have to take on more trauma from this job. And our storytelling became more human and solution or growth-focused, rather than based on fear. Staff at all levels understood that feedback was important and necessary to be more effective and efficient with any policy changes. Agencies became teams and youth started to see more success as agencies and families truly collaborated around them.

The best part is that with the system changing and collaborating, we got excited to educate the community. We wanted their help; we were not longer adversaries. Our system staff understood that the community needed to be part of the solutions and part of the discussions and part of the knowledge. We can’t do this alone and the community can’t support if they aren’t walked beside as well. There’s a pride and excitement in engaging the community members and partners into collaborating and supporting the youth and it creates an entire city of growth and care.

The ultimate outcome of all this evolution is that the youth journey became healthier and more supported. In the past, youth were names and behaviours, shuffled and moved around according to agency needs, staff fears/narratives, or funding expectations. They were traumatized over and over by broken relationships and lack of trust; trust in themselves, the workers, and the systems. Goals were not met or if they were, it wasn’t genuine. Loss and grief for youth and staff were real and stereotypes were large and loud for our youth. With all these changes, the youth are now humans and their journey is one of understanding and empathy and compassion. We are youth-focused, not staff or agency-focused and this means the image of the youth changes. We are protective of their stories and their narratives across systems, within communities and amongst agencies. The youth journey is collaborative and at their pace because we recognize their voice and their knowledge and their pain. We acknowledge that these are their lives and we are here to fully support what they need, when they need it, however they need it. There is no fear or judgement anymore, only compassion and desire for growth and success. The stigma around youth behaviours is changing and the stigma around family involvement is changing and moving into more trauma-informed discussions. We know, now, that hurt humans hurt humans. We know that healing is dependant on relationship building and we know that the stakes are high. We are committed to a collective belief that we want to do this work, we need to do this work, and we can only do it when we grow and evolve together.

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Meet the YESS Kitchen Team!

Our kitchen team works hard to make sure our youth have access to nutritious meals in our programs. Over the past year, they provided over 70,000 meals! This is not only important for physical health for our youth, but also helps to create trust and build relationships with them, creating an environment where they feel safe to embark on their journey towards healing.

Like all of our teams, the kitchen team has had to adjust the way they work these past 18 months. We talked to Ryan Little and Reddy Manikyala about how their team has worked together to continue to do their important work.

What does it mean to nourish youth at YESS?

For us as a kitchen team, to nourish youth means we are potentially giving them a hot meal they would otherwise not necessarily have received. We want to be able to broaden their culinary tastes through a range of foods from various cultural backgrounds within the confines of what has been donated and what we have purchased.

What nourishes you, as a team?

The kitchen team gets our nourishment from knowing that our hard work creating meals is filling the bellies of our youth. The rewards of knowing the youth have tried something new and are happier without an empty stomach nourishes our hearts and minds.

What tips or ideas can you provide for community members who want to nourish their families, or organizations like ours?

We would encourage our community members to try and expand their culinary minds! Try that new restaurant down the street. Eat that meal you have never eaten. Make the recipe you have never made before. Don’t be afraid to play around with flavours. Share your new experiences with others. Take the time to volunteer or donate to organizations like ours. There is no harm in trying something new.

What is something you wish the community knew about youth who access YESS?

Our youth are very culinarily adventurous, and they have suggested meals that we have never had the chance to make before, expanding our own culinary minds. As we want to show them our favourites, they as well challenge us to try new styles of cooking and experiment with different flavours.

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Team Highlight: Facilities

Team Highlight: Facilities

Our Facilities team is essential to the functioning of YESS Programs. Through their hard work, our spaces and buildings are kept clean, safe, and maintained. We talked to Darin Maxwell, Operations Manager, about his team and the impact they create every day.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at YESS!

For the past 25 years my career has been in Information Technologies supporting educational organizations, initially with K-12 learning and then with training in the Oil & Gas sector. In April of 2020 my position, which I had held for 14 years, was eliminated due to restructuring during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was this event that opened up the opportunity for me to bring my organization and team building skills to YESS in the role of Operations Manager: a completely new career path with the rewarding opportunity of supporting vulnerable youth within the community in which I was born and raised.

What are some of the responsibilities of the Facilities team?

The facilities team maintains, cleans, and cares for YESS’s properties. We make sure our youth have access to clean secure sleeping quarters, shower and laundry facilities, and sanitized spaces in which to access the many resources YESS provides, all while minimizing their exposure amidst a global pandemic.

How does the work the Facilities team does contribute to the YESS mission to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration?

My team’s work provides the physical elements our city’s most vulnerable youth need in order to bring their best selves forward into our programs. We provide the resources for them to continue their journey towards healing and appropriate community integration rested, clean, and fed.

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

How quickly they respond with the delight and enthusiasm of kids everywhere when provided with secure, safe spaces in which to heal and grow.

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Message for Youth

Our Programs team wanted to make it clear to youth how we can empower and support them with these new banners in program spaces.

 

Do you know why we called ourselves Youth Empowerment & Support Services?

It’s because we are here to support you and empower you.

Sounds simple enough, but what does that really mean…              

Empowerment means we ask you what YOUR PATH is and we WALK BESIDE YOU.

It doesn’t mean we’ll do the work FOR you.

We don’t pick your goals for you, and we won’t push you towards what we think is best for you.

YOU are expert of your life.  Our staff are the experts in resources available for you.

Together we can overcome obstacles and barriers.

We are a TEAM.

Supporting means we KEEP YOU GOING.

Sometimes this means being your cheerleader.

Sometimes this means holding you accountable.

Learning from mistakes or decisions can be a messy process and sometimes has negative consequences.  We don’t follow through on these because we’re mad at you, we do it to help you learn and grow.

You won’t always get it right and neither will we.

And that’s ok, that is human.

We GROW together.

Having the tools and experiences to meet your goals makes you stronger.

You set the GOAL, we’ll help you get there.

Shower? Laundry? Job? School? Healthy relationships? Housing? Leadership?

Whatever your goals are, big or small, we are here to connect you to resources and coach you through it.

We are here to advocate for you and help you navigate tricky systems.

You are an important part of YESS, the city, and your community.

You deserve RESPECT and OPPORTUNITY.

We are actively fighting against structures and stigmas that divide society instead of unite it.

Your experience is unique and we believe that diversity strengthens us.

Your contribution to society is important, your voice matters.

In short, Empowerment & Support means that we care about you.

It means that we are in your corner and we are rooting for you.

Whether you’re here for a few days, a few months, or a few years, please know that YOU are why we exist.

You are welcome here.

– The YESS team

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Cohort Independent Living Program

Cohort Independent Living at the HI Hostel

YESS’ new Cohort Independent Living Program is a one-year pilot project to address some of the direct barriers and stressors affecting youth in shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through Federal Reaching Home Funding administered by Homeward Trust Edmonton, YESS is leasing the Hostel International Edmonton Building in Queen Alexandra to provide youth, aged 18-24, who are ready to practice independence and transition to other housing, the opportunity to live together in “youth cohorts” of up to three. The creation of these youth cohorts allows youth to be unmasked and to not be physically distanced from each other for the first time in 12 months. The hostel is also divided up into four wings, which have been allocated to specific demographics, such as Tier 1 and 2 Isolation Wing; Sober School and Employment Wing, etc. We have already seen success with this program as youth have been able to relax and build stronger relationships with their cohort. Youth have co-created this program along with Manager of Shelters, Tessa Mulcair, and have created many of the rules and processes in the program. Youth also fill out a self-assessment of knowledge and life skills when they enter this program and then choose a key support worker to help them work on a personal plan throughout their stay. The program started April 12, 2021, and will end March 31, 2022.

 

Nexus Shelter moves to 24/7

The Cohort Independent Living Pilot Program has also opened up beds in the Nexus shelter and created the opportunity to make the Nexus Shelter 24/7. Since April 12, 2021, the Nexus shelter is open day and night for drop-in youth. For the first time in Edmonton, youth have a safe, youth-worker supported place to sleep during the day. To accommodate day space at the shelter, it has changed capacity from 24 to 16 beds, with 2 staff. The intention is to keep the Nexus shelter 24/7 and improve the process as we learn what is needed.

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Safety at YESS

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a huge importance of safety in YESS programs, following health and safety guidelines that created physical safety in an unprecedented time. Of course, physical safety has always been a priority of YESS programs as we provide access to basic needs like shelter, food, clothing, etc. We also have an aspect of providing safety that is less immediately, but no less important. We also have an aspect of providing safety that is just as immediate and important as physical safety: we have to create a sense of “felt safety” for the youth, so they trust us to help them with their trauma. This critical work comes from a focus on building healthy relationships and trust, that they will feel safe in our programs.

Director of Program Innovation, Jessica Day, answers some questions about both kinds of safety, how important they have been in the pandemic world, and how we evolve practices that continue to meet youth where they are at.

 

Tell us about the current day-to-day realities of YESS programs, a year into the pandemic?

We are open and we are available, and we are adapting to meet the youth needs. That’s been the motto of YESS since the pandemic started and we continue to be predictable and adaptable for the youth and with the youth as it continues on. Every day, in every capacity, our youth are mandated to wear masks, socially distance, and comply with regulations. Their world is smaller now because all their safe spaces (not just agencies but homes, families, friends, buildings) are all closed to them and they have no access to any sort of reprieve. Groups and activities that helped motivate them are slowly coming, but the constantly changing AHS restrictions are creating instability for the youth. At YESS we are watching and listening to the youth as they adapt to their new world and we are trying our best to respond to their new needs. A pandemic does not slow down the need for youth to be supported as they transition through trauma—it increases! Family violence and domestic disruptions are a real and intense side-effect of the pandemic world and we have new youth who cannot “hide” at school or in day programs or avoid home life at the rec center or a friend’s house. So at YESS, we immediately responded by opening our doors and allowing youth space to exist and spend their day in safety. A year later, we are now starting to adapt our programs to focus on the life skills, self awareness, and community integration work we had in place before the pandemic. Why? Because our youth do not want to sit still. They are tired and drained and mentally unwell in this pandemic and, sadly, many of them are hitting rock bottom as they simply exist. Youth need hope and purpose and possibility in order to keep moving forward and this disappeared as the pandemic grew. We are now opening up the Armoury Resource Centre to focus on accessing community resources and building up trust with the community supports. We opened our sleep shelter to be a 24/7 sleep shelter where youth can come and go as they need sleep, and not be restricted to sleeping within set hours. And we are opening up transitional homes that focus on introducing youth to case planning, goal setting, and creating environments of growth.

 

What particular practices are used in YESS programs to create a safe environment for youth?

What set us apart in the pandemic was the immediate and non-negotiable approach for staff and youth to comply with AHS protocols. We were open and honest and consistent with our approach and it worked. Having already spent many years focusing on building trust and relationships, we were able to receive compliance from the youth with very little struggle. The youth understood, very quickly, that there were very few places left open to them with the pandemic closures and our overnight shelter and our daytime resource center adapted immediately to meet their needs. We opened to cover 24 hours between the two spaces, and this allowed the youth a reliable and predictable space to exist. Now, we are focusing on adjusting our programs again to help our youth have more than a place to exist, but a place to build hope and possibility again. We are showing them that it is possible to believe they can thrive, to have hope they can get out of this existence, and create space for them to have self-awareness and confidence. Whether is it space to complete school online, space to build up independent life skills, or space to practice their culture and spirituality, we have morphed back into the programming that our youth are asking for. These practices were in place before the pandemic but now, the youth are more motivated. And the need is even greater.

We now have a 24/7 sleep space at the Nexus Overnight Shelter that is open to the youth, whenever they need it, as often as they need it. The drop-in approach to sleep has given our youth the safe space to sleep when they need it most, not when it’s expected of them. Some kids need to sleep for 2-3 days to catch up with the amount of sleep they are missing. Youth are trying to survive and stay alive to stay safe, and we are gently telling them it’s okay to sleep and rest. And it’s working because when the youth get the sleep they need, they are more motivated to achieve their goals.

We also opened up a Cohort Living space that gives youth an individual room and an individual cohort within which they can unmask and breathe. Youth need social interaction and peer support, as much as they need resources, and this cohort space allows them to reconnect with similar youth and have those home-like interactions that were missing in the restrictions. Now they can unmask to watch TV, or cook together, or complete work together, just as our community does.

 

What is the difference between safety and “felt safety”?

Safety focuses on being protected from harm or hazards. To be safe, we implement processes and protocols and tools that will prevent accidents, exposures, or harmful situations. Every home and organization and workplace has safety protocols to help avoid injury or various levels of risk—fire extinguishers, eye washing stations, first aid kits, drills or alarms, etc. These are necessary to help individuals feel safe and protected from potential risks and allows them the capacity to do their work or live feeling protected.

“Felt safety” is subjective: it focuses on creating an environment where an individual feels safe, but is not necessarily physically safe. For our youth, who are in survival mode, where they “feel safe” is not necessarily a safe and appropriate environment. They are lacking trust that adults will “take care of them” or “keep them safe and protected” and yet, instinctively and developmentally, they need to be taken care of. When a youth is traumatized, what feels safe changes for them. “Felt safety” is built on emotional and psychological trust. When we are feeling unsafe, we are scared and anxious and fearful and our bodies are in a tense state of survival. For those who are on healthy developmental trajectories, we can recover and adapt quickly to feeling unsafe and manipulate our bodies and spaces to align with our sense of trust and our well-being. Our youth, who are traumatized and not on a healthy trajectory, adapt in unhealthy ways and manipulate environments and their bodies to align with their broken sense of trust and well-being.

To truly create a sense of “felt safety” for youth, staff, or community members, we have to follow our trauma-informed care framework. We have to be predictable, consistent, and transparent. Our policies, protocols, interactions, and expectations have to be non-judgemental and tailored to what each individual youth is feeling or needing. “Felt safety” is NOT universal: it is unique to each person. Therefore, we have to be open and honest and empathetic to the youth and their individual experiences. As “felt safety” is subjectively emotional and psychological, we have to give space and compassion to each youth as they define, redefine, and comprehend their own safety.

If we want to truly walk beside the youth as they transition through their trauma, we have to establish safety on both levels. They have to learn and trust that we will keep them safe from harm and risks, even if self-induced. They have to learn and trust that we empathize with their survival mode and mental health needs, even if dark and heavy. They have to learn and trust that we will be open and available for them when they need us, whether for sleep, mental health support, food, basic needs, independence, or pandemic reprieve.

Trauma broke their trust and took away their safety. We have to work to help them build it back.

 

What is one thing you wish the community knew about the work being done at YESS?

I wish the community knew how scary and hard this pandemic has been for our youth. They have had no reprieve from the mandated restrictions, no safe space to take off the mask and reset themselves. Their world has closed in on them; jobs are gone, school is gone, families are not stable, agencies are closing down or restricting services, the community is in lockdown, and they are not safe or really welcome in the adult homelessness sector. They are scrambling to find hope and purpose in a world that is already difficult and full of barriers.

I wish the community understood that YESS is working tirelessly to support the youth and adapt our programs, but we are not alone. Collaboration is no longer an idea that may work to help reduce barriers, but a necessity to surviving this pandemic. We are working with other agencies to align our available services and create a network of support and open the world of hope, trust, and potential back up for our youth.

We need the community to remember that they are a really important part of the youth’s success. I know the pandemic has made it hard. We are restricted into our individual bubbles and our scope of empathy is focused on our own families and our own circumstances. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we ARE a community. That we need each other and the only way to survive the pandemic and restore trust and faith in our future is to collaborate, connect, and find ways to be compassionate as a whole. Whether it’s donating money to support our work, reaching out to find ways to virtually support, or whether it’s shining kindness and empathy on new people in our neighbourhoods… we have to come together and heal together in order to thrive together.

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May Message from Margo

Hello everyone, and welcome to May!

This month’s newsletter theme is safety—one of the key principles of trauma-informed care. Safety is an incredibly important focus at YESS and it is at the forefront of our minds as we experience a third wave and all of its fallout in our communities. Safety is not just focusing on emergency procedures or proper handling of things that can cause harm. In trauma-informed care, safety and “felt safety” is created with predictability, consistency, and honesty. When we create safety, we build trust. We show that we value the humans we are influencing or looking out for, and we show that we can be trusted to do what we say we are going to do. This issue highlights an interview with Director of Program Innovation and creator of our Trauma Programming, Jessica Day, describing the concepts of safety and “felt safety” in our programs. We spotlight our new Manager of Operations, Darin Maxwell, and donor friends, James Flett and Judith Dyck. Our Community Spotlight features the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) and an interview with Meital Siva-Jain, their Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Initiatives Team Lead. And last, but not at all least we have another incredible recipe for breakfast tostados from YESS Chef Tiffany.

Stay safe out there, folks, and take care of each other.

Read the May Newsletter here

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