Life at YESS

The Community Safety and Well-being Grant with the City of Edmonton

A Reflection from Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation at YESS

 

When I first heard we were applying for this grant, it was while we were in the midst of sorting through the hurt and emotions and confusions within our community and neighbourhood on Whyte Ave. YESS has been working directly with EPS, the City of Edmonton, and several community members to try and heal the relationships between our agency, the youth who use our services, and the neighbours who live near our shelter. It was not my first instinct to consider the Community Safety and Well-being Grant  because we were still working on some very real safety concerns on both sides. I didn’t quite know how to market our shelter as meeting the criteria for developing safety within communities as a whole; we weren’t there yet. Grants are a funny process, in that you either have to develop something innovative to convince funders to believe in your project idea, or you have to have established a system of work that is worth investing in for sustainability. Healing with the community did not feel innovative, as we have had to address this in years prior. It also didn’t feel established because I did not know if we had a framework for practice that we could market to others.

It was equally confusing to me when I found out that the City of Edmonton partners and community members had insisted that we apply for the grant, as they felt we were already doing so much to establish the safety and well-being in the community and wanted to support our cause. They spoke to the efforts of our teams to communicate with the youth, host youth forums, tear down camps in the ravine, the collaborative relationships with EPS and the City and the neighbours, hosting meetings, and approaching the issues with a trauma-informed, educational lens. While it started from hurt and chaos, the community was starting to see and understand the work we were doing daily and the efforts done to inspire changes to keep the community safe while we do our work. They had been listening and paying attention and, in the process, wanted to help us sustain this work. I was humbled and I remember the executive team pausing to reflect on this before we gave the green light to apply.

When we heard that we had been accepted as one of 26 grant recipients, we were beyond excited! It was good news and a lot of money that would directly support the sustainability of our Nexus 24/7 sleep shelter. This would help us give youth a soft place to sleep and change the trajectory of their trauma, while also having space and capacity to help educate and support the community so future integration for youth is a possibility. This meant a lot to our team. We were equally excited to attend the formal announcement event with the Mayor and the City of Edmonton counsellors at the Islamic Family and Social Services Association. My fellow Director of Finance, Eddie Gots, and I were asked to attend as Margo was off on vacation and this was our first time attending a grant event like this together. We were proud, excited, and ready to share our vision of what this money could provide to our agency!

At the event, the experience was much bigger than a press event with some finger foods and networking. It was a humbling experiencing to see the number of organizations represented within the room, showing the power and desire for collaboration within our city. The interview was conducted by the Mayor, city counsellors, and the largest collaboration recipients (Islamic Family and Social Services  collaborating with Bent Arrow) who spoke so eloquently about welcoming newcomers to Edmonton and reminding the world that, “Padlocks do not create safety in communities. Safety comes from potlucks and meeting your neighbours.” Potlucks not padlocks was a profound summary of the many projects and groups within that room and it was inspiring to be part of it. We ran into many staff whom we have worked with in the past or in current collaborations and we were all able to celebrate and cheer each other on. It was the first time, in many years, where the focus was on who was working together and how can we connect? Not who was the best or brightest in the room. People were proud of who they were partnering with and the reasons for these partnerships were inspiring. We didn’t feel diminished, we felt included and connected and, after COVID, I was scared we wouldn’t feel this way again.

When I reflect on what this grant and event meant for YESS, I think about how hard we work to establish policies and processes that educate and innovate the pathways to healing from trauma. For staff, for youth, for community members, or for partners. We belong at the table, amongst our peers, not standing on a soapbox fighting for space. And when I reflect on how the community believed in this before we did and how aligned this collaborative work was with the other recipients, I was again humbled by how transformation really does happen through relationship and collaboration. We are all partners in this system and we learn so much from the cultures of and within collaborations and we are stronger for it, not diminished.  I was inspired and I learned, and I know we will work even harder to live up to these standards. What makes me even happier is that we will bring as many people along the journey as we can. Because padlocks don’t build communities, potlucks do!

Read more

The Impact of Art

Madeline LeBlanc (b.1998) is a playful artist whose practice consists of drawing, dress-up, film, and painting. Creating in the spur of the moment is how she likes to work best. Her mission as an artist is to create good art that invokes a sense of play, curiosity, nostalgia, or wonder. She creates work from commonly found materials (e.g. bedsheets, pencils, common craft paint, etc.) addressing issues of affordability and exclusiveness in the art world. 

Photo courtesy of Madeline LeBlanc

Madeline has exhibited her work at The Art Gallery of Alberta, The Works International Art & Design Festival, Latitude 53, and various arts organisations. 

She was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to attend Mason Gross School of Arts BFA program at Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA) by American painter Marc Handleman and is a 2022 nominee for the Canadian Sobey Art Award by the University of Alberta Art and Design Department, Aiden Rowe. 

What was your experience on your journey from art classes at ARC to professional artist?

The journey has been a series of unexpected twists and turns (in the best way!). Having my start with art through YESS prepared me for the realness of being an artist as I created with and apprenticed the practice of the YESS artist-in-residence [at the time], Allison Tunis. 

Allison Tunis (left) and Madeline LeBlanc (right) in front of Madeline’s painting which will be hand-embroidered by Allison in a collaboration for Allison’s “Untitled Chronic Illness Project 2021-22

Allison and I had many conversations about art over workshops she held at the Armoury. Learning about her experience from being an art grad to slowly becoming a full-time artist was valuable because I got to learn the ins-and-outs of how to successfully pursue art as a career. Allison taught me how to write art applications and through her I became aware of art organisations in the city. I was lucky to have my first art show with YESS and grateful for the opportunity to take professional art courses through the YESS scholarship program. These opportunities gave me the confidence to be independent.

I do not think I would have had an opportunity of stability and resources in my life to practice art had it not been for YESS. Pursuing art at YESS was meaningful because I got to learn to be myself. I felt a level of support and encouragement that I had not experienced before. The opportunity to be something more than I was came with having access to daily meals, shelter, art supplies, and the direction of Allison and the team.

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

There’s a lot of hope. 

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 steppingstone 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. 

What’s in store for the future?

Curtains! I am working on creating my own line of homeware goods. Turning my artwork into curtains, pillows, duvets, colouring books, and wall art. I’m in the middle of prototyping fabrics and designs. It is fun reimagining how my art is interacted with by giving it a function “off- the-wall” so to speak. 

Madeline’s work with curtains and a mock-up of duvet design “Lita”           

We are excited to share the announcement of a limited-edition art print release from former YESS youth, Madi LeBlanc, who has chosen to partner with YESS for a percentage of proceeds from this sale! This partnership not only supports the valuable work that YESS does for the community, but also showcases the talent and creativity of Madi.

The art prints being released feature original artwork created by Madi while she stayed at YESS, showcasing the power of art as a form of healing and self expression. By purchasing one of these limited-edition prints, you not only receive a unique work of art, but also contribute to the ongoing support and empowerment of our youth with proceeds going to both YESS programming and Madi.

There are six prints to choose from printed in a run of ten copies. Each artwork is printed on archival watercolor paper, hand signed by Madi, and contains a certificate of authenticity.

Join us in supporting Madi and the youth who currently access YESS programming by purchasing one of these exclusive prints.

Portfolio | madelineleblanc.com

Shop | makingmadi.com

Instagram | @makingmadi

LinkedIn | Madeline LeBlanc

 

                                          

Read more

Journeys of Change and Empowerment

Being on the Board of Directors for YESS, I have had significant exposure over the past three years to the important work that YESS is doing to support Edmonton’s youth, and every time I hear of new initiatives or specific impacts of their work, I am overwhelmed with passion. With a mission to walk beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration, the opportunity is tremendous, yet complicated.

YESS works collaboratively within a network of care focused on the prevention of youth homelessness. They do this by providing youth with the necessary supports to stabilize their housing, improve their wellbeing, build life skills, connect with community, and avoid re-entry into homelessness. It’s not just about emergency shelter, but so much more. YESS strives to meet youth where they are at and works with them to build a trauma-informed support plan that the youth can understand and own themselves.

Now, outside of my work with YESS, I spend my work life managing change within organizations, and as such have learned a lot about the psychology of how people move through change. It’s most often not straightforward or smooth, and never the same for two people.

I’d like to introduce one model developed by Prosci, a global organization committed to the development and education of change management methodologies and tools. It’s called the ADKAR Model, and it represents the five outcomes every individual needs to achieve for change to be successful. In other words, this model outlines the stages of change that people go through as they adopt change. ADKAR, in its simplest terms, is defined as:

  • The first “A” stands for awareness, meaning understanding what needs to happen is the first step in moving an individual through change.
  • The “D” represents desire, which suggests that the next step in an individual’s change journey is why they should change, otherwise known as “what’s in it for them.”
  • The “K” indicates the stage where knowledge comes into play, and individuals learn how to make a change.
  • The second “A” speaks to an individual’s ability to implement new skills and behaviours towards changing.
  • Last, the “R” represents the reinforcement required to make a change stick, or what’s needed to sustain a change.

I share with you this model because I think it helps understand youth’s journeys, as well as YESS’ approach to support. The idea behind the model is that people need to move through each stage at their own pace, step by step. Each person spends more or less time within each phase based on their own experiences and abilities. Consider the last change you went through—was it exactly the same for others around you?

And what I have learned in my time working with the YESS team is that the path each youth takes is not clear, straight, simple, or short. It is indeed an individual journey, and when we try to leverage a standard one-size-fits-all model, we fall short. We need to make space for our youth to build trust and find safety in working with YESS, allow them to create their own goals, and craft their own plan to achieve those goals.

And here’s where we see impact: YESS has already created a support model that allows youth to be in charge of their own plan, focusing on what is important to them and allowing the right amount of time to process as they need—an approach that takes time and energy beyond what a one-size-fits-all model might require.

So, putting that into the context of the ADKAR Model, YESS is already doing their part to support youth in their individual change journeys towards healing and community integration, allowing them to address their own unique barriers, in their own time.

Part of why I become a Board Trustee is because I hope we, as a community, can do the same. What I’ve learned through stories of youth who access YESS is that the change process is different for everyone, and every time I think I understand these youth’s experiences, I learn something more. Their journeys are evolving, and so are the perceptions of the community. People are starting to understand the impact of trauma-informed structure and processes, and I am honoured to be part of YESS’ contribution to this awareness building.

From the YESS team: It is our belief that 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.

How can we as a community continue to show up and find new ways to support youth in their unique journeys?

Read more

Meeting Youth Where They’re At

Tell us about yourself and your position at YESS.

My name is D’orjay Jackson. I am a Black, queer, gender non-conforming Shaman, country music singer/songwriter, and the Programming Coordinator at YESS. I have been practicing energy medicine for almost 15 years and I am a full mesa carrying Shaman (Munay Ki), Pranic Healer, and I am a Buddhist Practitioner of Rimay tradition within the Vajrayana lineage and carry forward empowerments bestowed upon me by my Guru into my healing and creative practices.

I started volunteering with YESS in 2017 at events and then shifted to offering my Shamanic services to the youth through volunteer programming and have now transitioned to being employed at YESS in the role of Programming Coordinator.

I am responsible for organizing recreational programming as well as cultural programming and supports, so anything from going swimming to connecting with an elder to learn traditional practices, I am the person that organizes and facilitates that. I also do things like navigate other volunteers that want to come and provide services here (like I used to do!), so organizing them, setting up the logistics, and communicating the programming to the staff and the youth. For example, coming up we have a weekly yoga class starting in October, or our pet therapy friends who bring in different animals to connect with the youth every month. I am currently working on setting up regular music programming and some other fun things! I am the one who builds the ARC rec calendar! 

I also work actively with building partnerships and connections with other agencies that work with at-risk youth in the city. I am on the steering committees for YEG Youth Connect and A4 Youth Convention and I also meet with and collaborate with other agencies to work on programming together to create more opportunities for the youth to be in community with each other across the city! I just met with Treaty 8 Urban Youth Agency and we are planning a joint ribbon skirt making class for November!

I provide one-on-one services to the youth here as well so they can access me for mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness support, which can be tailored to what the youth’s needs are in that moment. Sometimes we might do a full shamanic session with a guided journey, other times it’s more dialogue-centered while utilizing divination and writing tools, or teaching the youth about how our brains, bodies, and souls all work together, and supporting them with new tools to be in right relationship with those aspects of themselves. Other times as goals and dream arise in a session, that can turn into me supporting them by helping with connecting to them to other resources we or other agencies provide, helping them in artistic projects (even assisting in writing and applying for grants for said artistic projects) or maybe even just sending an email on their behalf because they are struggling that day, or driving them to an appointment so they are not alone. 

What does it mean to “meet youth where they are at”? How is this philosophy practiced in YESS programs?

To me, meeting youth where they are at means that we are making sure we are creating space for them to feel autonomous, and as much as possible it means following their lead and really making sure that we are working hard at setting down any subconscious and conscious bias that we have around what our youth are experiencing (marginalized intersections of identity, addiction, houselessness, gang activity, violence, and other traumas). Meeting them where they’re at is also understanding that we don’t always know what is best for the youth and ensuring we are creating space to empower them to guide us to what is best for them and then do everything we can to support them to self-actualization. How I apply that at YESS with the youth is being inquisitive and as disarming as possible (sometimes sugar is a great icebreaker!) and seeing how they might feel best supported in that moment. Sometimes they just need to come and have some quiet time in my office or playing a game of pool with them, connecting them with some fun little gemstones and rocks, helping them build a medicine bundle for themselves, or walking them through a guided meditation or breathing exercises. Sometimes just kind of shooting the breeze with them and sharing a joke for a few minutes is all it takes for them to feel seen and valued. Whatever it is, I let them LEAD!

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

I wish the community knew that the youth who access YESS belong and that they are just as important a part of our community as anyone else! I think for me specifically, what I see so much of that I can’t wait to help educate the community on, is how many incredible creative beings we have here! There’s so much talent here raw and refined alike that I just feel is not being showcased fully yet, and so definitely a big goal I have while I’m working here is to share that!

Read more

Spotlight on the Youth Education and Employment Program

The YESS Youth Education and Employment Program provides youth between the ages of 15–24 with skills and knowledge to help them identify career goals, access job-specific training, and learn job readiness skills like cover letter writing and interview skills.

This year, we are so grateful for the support of The Home Depot Canada Foundation and their grant of $150,000 in support of the Youth Education and Employment Program! The Home Depot Canada Foundation is committed to preventing and ending youth homelessness in Canada. Together with community partners across the country, they work to remove barriers, break cycles of inequity, and enable at-risk youth facing homelessness to achieve positive development outcomes and realize their full potential.

 

Staff at the Skyview, South Common, Westmount, and Windermere Home Depot locations with The Home Depot Canada Foundation grant amount of $150,000 in support of YESS

 

We talked to YESS staff members Caitlin Parker, Karley Spelrem, and Juwayriya Abdullahi, who run and support the Youth Education and Employment Program, about what they see youth learn and achieve in this program.

 

Describe your role at YESS!

Caitlin and Juwayriya: We are the Employment Coordinators. We facilitate the Youth Education and Employment Program. Before the program begins, we provide information to youth about what the program entails and complete the intake for each of the youth who are interested. We also reach out and form connections to agencies throughout Edmonton to support the youth during their placements. During the program, we teach youth for three weeks about life skills that can help them obtain employment. An example of this would be discussing employability skills and mental health. After this takes place, each of the youth complete the 12-week employment/practicum portion of the program. We support both the youth and the employers throughout these weeks. Finally, we work with the Transitional Worker to form a plan for what comes next after each youth has completed the entire 15-week program.

Karley: I am the Transitional Worker at YESS where I work with our Supportive Housing Program to transition youth out of our group homes and into independence. I also work with community youth as well as Children Services youth to transition them into our group homes. I support youth in the Youth Education and Employment Program with their transition out of the program, whether that is getting hired onto to work full-time or finding alternative job placements that work with their schedules.

 

Describe the Youth Education and Employment Program.

The Youth Education and Employment Program is a 15-week program that assists youth between the ages of 15-24 with building skills to enter the workforce. The first three weeks entails in-class lessons with the Employment Coordinators where the youth learn life skills such as resume building and how to be successful in an interview. Following that, the youth are placed with an employer for 12 weeks while being provided with the support needed to ensure they are successful at their work placements. Finally, a transition plan is created to provide the youth with a clear path for what their life will look like after the employment program is complete.

 

What are the training/opportunities/outlets that this program provides for youth who access YESS?

The Youth Education and Employment Program provides youth with three weeks of in-class training, followed by 12 weeks of work experience at a place of employment. Youth are trained in basic safety courses such as First Aid and food safety, as well as employment-specific training by obtaining licensing, that is required by employers at their work placements. Youth are led through different courses during the initial 3 weeks which include employment skills, mental health, sexual awareness, and finances. The program supports youth in their placements of choice by seeking to eliminate barriers that might cause inconsistency.

 

How is this program part of the YESS mission to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration?

Within our Youth Education and Employment Program we provide youth with training on mental health, relationships, boundaries, advocacy, health and safety, basic hygiene, cooking skills, etc. We prioritize the first three weeks to class time where we enhance each of these skills before entering the workplace. We also ensure the youth are housed or have housing set up prior to attending the program to eliminate any barriers while in the work field. With this wraparound support from Employment Coordinators and Transitional Workers, we are able to ensure the success of each youth after the eight-week mark of completing our employment program.

 

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

Juwayriya: The youth who access YESS did not choose to experience the barriers they face. They are survivors who are fighting to break the cycle of violence and trauma they have been entrenched in. They are inspiring because of their motivation to help improve their circumstances. They are resilient because they are persistent in their resolve despite setbacks.

The youth at YESS have experienced trauma throughout their lives, yet they are tenacious in their pursuit of healing, community integration, and reaching their full potential in life.

 


 

Thank you so much to the Youth Education and Employment Program work experience partners!

Atlantic Fence
Bottle Depot Windermere (Windermere, 3515 Allan Drive)
Bottle Depot Winterburn (West End, 21410 100 Ave)
Evergreen Recycling
FIND Edmonton
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore North
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore Sherwood Park
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore South
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore West
Little Caesars (McConachie Edmonton)
Pita Pit (104 Street NW, Whyte Ave)
YESS Kitchen

The Youth Education and Employment Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy

Read more

Recipe for a Legacy: Find Your Passion, Share What You Love, Enrich a Life

Captured in the rhythm and warmth of the YESS kitchen is the heart and soul of a wholly talented and imaginative culinary team focused on the delivery of daily healthy meals for young people seeking respite and comfort.

Moments of gentle conversation and spontaneous laughter mingle together with the many sounds and nuances of this hub of activity: the rhythmic whisk and crunch of vegetables being peeled and chopped; the tap-tap-tap of aromatic herbs being minced; bubbling pots; the sizzle and bounce of oil on the grill; the clinking of cutlery and gentle clatter of dishes.

A beautiful medley of old, new, and shared experiences, mingle together to craft a beautifully delicious legacy of food, nutriment, and welcome.


MEET THE KITCHEN TEAM

“Legacy is defined as ‘something that is left or handed down by a predecessor.’ And so, what knowledge has been passed on to me that I am now bringing to YESS? Hello, I’m Ryan Little and I have been with YESS since January 2021. This past March, I assumed the role of Kitchen Team Supervisor. This is the story of my legacy and how I’ve applied it during my time at YESS.”

As a child, I was gifted with a love for cooking from my dad. He was always willing to try something new and recreate the meals that he had seen on one of his cooking shows. He loved sharing with others what he thought was good. I can remember big family meals that he had cooked for everyone, and it brought us together regularly. These values were ingrained in me from early on. When I started to help him, he would encourage me to “play with flavours” and “try everything at least once”. You never know that you do or do not like something unless you try it. It is a standard that I hold many people to, even to this day. Growing up in a rural Manitoba community allowed me to also learn a wide range of cultural foods from our neighbours. We would have perogy and cabbage roll making parties; we would share the Bannock that we made with others; and our community potlucks were another staple that grew my passion for food and cooking.

That is where it all started for me. Then, as a teen, I took a job in the kitchen at our local small-town diner and that passion continued. In my early 20’s, I went to culinary school and further refined my skills, focusing on flavours and playing with new and existing cuisines. Once I had finished there, I worked in steak houses, catering, hotels, Mexican, southern, east coast, fine dining… You name it. I have done it. All of this expanded my knowledge and continuously kept me passionate about my job. With the pandemic, I found myself – along with countless others – looking for a job. Then, YESS came along.

YESS has been a great learning experience for me. I have gotten to share my knowledge of food with the youth. I’ve even gotten to experiment with foods and flavours that I have not had the opportunity to work with before. In the kitchen, the food pantry is donation based, and we plan our menus according to what donations we have. We do purchase small amounts of food to supplement what we need to finesse the meals. We are open to all feedback, and regularly get feedback from the youth in attendance. There are times the youth do not love the food we offer, and that is okay. For me, the takeaway is that they tried it! We have also been able to do special requests for birthdays and other celebrations, and that allows us to get to play with food that we would not otherwise cook.

The legacy I bring to YESS is my knowledge of the different styles of cooking that I have done; the home recipes that my dad taught me; and the dishes taught to me by neighbours. I want to share all of that, and I want the youth to get to enjoy the foods I love. I want them to talk about the meals that we make, and for them to give us their opinions. Their opinions are very important to me and help me to continuously grow as a chef.

When the youth or I move on from YESS, I want my legacy to simply be that I shared what I loved. My hope is that the youth loved it as well and want to share it with others.


Greetings! I’m George Richter and I have been a YESS Kitchen Team Member since September of 2021. I feel that my defining legacy will be found in relationship building. I recall many favourite memories of food experiences that I have woven into meal preparation and cooking, so that it becomes one full experience for the youth.

Just recently, I had a steak dinner with my friends to celebrate a success with his work. There were laughs, smiles and great times. There are also those times where food is associated with bad memories. Memories of making ends meet, struggling with isolation, fearful of change or new experiences.

I think that our job as cooks is to create a positive space where the youth can be themselves and be able to get the essentials that they need to thrive as human beings.

Some foods may be triggering to youth or may be off limits with religious or dietary restrictions. We must face those challenges and be prepared for all kinds of curveballs we might face.

A personal story, linked to food, was when I first came to Edmonton. With no social circle and feeling isolated, I got a job at a Mexican restaurant. I made some great friends and learned how to make great tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas. All those became the foods that brought me comfort.

From that job, I started having a social circle and started thriving more as an individual. I associate the process of my discovery of Mexican cuisine a lot with where my passion began, and I wish that to be my legacy to the youth. It could well be that they experience something similar – an unexpected friendship and connection when in a dark or unfamiliar time – and are able to turn that into the start of something positive.

Outside of food, I foster a culture of collaboration, positivity, and fun – which cannot be said for many places in hospitality. I find that the team we have here supports each other well and there is a comradery that I have not seen before joining YESS. It is my wish that this culture continues even after any of the kitchen team moves on and that we continue to strive for creating an inclusive space where we encourage everyone to do their best every day.


Hello, I am Damodar Manikyala, known as Reddy by everyone. I have been at YESS for the last three and a half years as a kitchen team member. Before joining YESS, I worked with many hotels, and restaurants, in addition to 10 years on cruise ships. Altogether, I have almost 20 years of cooking experience ranging from fine dining to batch style cooking.

My passion is cooking. I enjoy cooking food for others and playing with flavours, while at the same time, making nutritious food to keep us healthy. I believe in eating healthy food rather than spending money on medicine when we get sick.

Legacy for me is taking what I have learned through my experiences and sharing them with my colleagues. Teaching them the simple and easy methods of cooking that save time and energy while at the same time being delicious to eat.

Though we never get to meet youth directly, our prepared meals will make them talk about our food and the passion that we show towards the food to keep everyone healthy. That is the legacy I want to leave for them.

Read more

YESS Celebrates Indigenous History Month!

by Shantell Martineau, Programming Coordinator

 

Can you tell us about the Ceremony you just went on with the youth?

YESS was invited to bring Youth to the land for 6 days of Ceremony. It was a Fasting Ceremony. There was an opportunity to be of service and help. Helping roles looked like dishwashing, cooking the feast, chopping wood, set-up/take-down, and supporting the lodge helpers. The roles to fill provided access to knowledge, companionship, leadership, and growth opportunities for both the Youth and Staff. Entering the lodges, singing the songs, feeling the drums and rattles, feasting together, and hearing the teachings of the Ceremony were all accessible for Youth. Seeing Youth connect with Elder, be inquisitive, receive helper protocol, explore the land, and support each other along this journey was a gift. Learning along the way that Ceremony can be explored. Not everyone is ready to enter the lodge, but maybe sitting around the lodge and hearing the singing and prayers and teachings is enough. I personally learnt that meeting the needs and readiness is enough. 

What do you wish more people knew for Indigenous History Month?

I wish more people knew about the sacred connection Indigenous Peoples have with Mother Earth, with Creator, with Spirit, and with all Creation. Connection to ancestral lineage that gives strength and resiliency. I wish more people could see us as we see them, our relations, our brothers, our sisters, our equals. I wish more people could witness the natural learning we enter while we connect on the land. We gather with the land, we pray with the land, we celebrate and hold Ceremony for the land. I wish more people could understand and respect this truth. I wish more helpers step forward and support Indigenous Peoples right to advocate and to create spaces for this connection to grow stronger. I wish this help could be witnessed and felt every day of the year but starting with a Month is still a good way to grow.

Read more

YESS Celebrates Pride Month!

by Tessa Mulcair, Manager of Shelters

 

This month we held a youth Pride event with some of our community partners. We won’t lie, we’ve been missing the Pride parade around here. The majority of our youth are 2SLGBTQ+ and many have faced isolation and rejection from their families for it. The Pride parade was a time where we could not only celebrate our youth, but also surround them with thousands of people flying rainbows and letting them physically see that they belong in the community.

While there was no parade this year, there was a block-style festival held at Grindstone Theater. These types of events, though they are inclusive and accessible in nature, can be intimidating for people who are not quite sure where they belong in society. When you hear “You’re not a paying customer, go away” the other 364 days a year, it can be hard to suddenly trust that if you sit down to watch a free drag show or concert you won’t be shooed away. So, we created an event just for marginalized youth to kick off the festival and set them up to know that they belong at Pride too.

Together with CHEW, OSYS, and iHuman we created a space where youth could get their rainbow on – literally, with a Pride swag station. They could get decked out in free rainbow gear and glitter, or simply grab a flag, either way the goal was to make sure they would fit right in at the festival. We had Fox Burger swing by with their food truck and generously provide an amazing meal, so they would not feel left out if they could not afford the festival food options. Kind Ice Cream provided us with their rainbow “Gay OK” ice cream, of course it was a big hit too. Youth could create their own patches and buttons on the spot so that they could reflect their identity exactly how they wanted to. We had a selfie station where they could get an instant-print picture with friends or our fabulous guest drag queen, Karmic the Kween. We also had guest appearances by local queer icons MLA Janis Irwin and MP Randy Boissonnault. And finally, we held a “reverse parade”, making signs and waving our flags on Gateway Blvd to celebrate with those driving by our little event, pulling in a hint of that community support we know is so strong.

We’d like to give a huge thank you to all those that worked to pull this event together, our youth felt the love and support.

Read more

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.

Read more

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. ­­­­­­­­­ 

Read more