Staff Interview: Tessa Mulcair

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

ARC exists to help youth overcome the barriers standing between them and their goals. These goals are sometimes simple, like needing access to food, shelter, and clothing, but are more often quite complex.

When a youth who is struggling with difficult realities like homelessness has big goals, they will face obstacles that most of their peers are not encountering. Most youth have ambitions like getting and keeping a job, living in a home that is safe, or finishing their education, however, attaining these are not straight forward.

Perhaps the youth can’t apply for jobs because they don’t have ID and their parent is refusing to release their SIN or Alberta Health Care number to them. 

Perhaps they save up enough money to get an apartment but they have an awful credit score, no supports in their life that are willing to co-sign, and they have a criminal record from the time they were starving and stole some groceries, so no one is willing to rent to them.

Perhaps they are having difficulty focusing in class because they are dealing with trauma of an abusive home, they haven’t eaten in two days, and don’t have the basic school supplies or internet access that their peers have.

All of these examples are on the easier side of the barriers our youth face, without even diving into the really hard stuff like mental health issues, addiction, gang recruitment, human trafficking, health complications, and internal obstacles like hopelessness, isolation or fear.

No two youth are on the same path. Each has their own complex past, their own strengths, and their own collection of barriers preventing them from attaining their goals. There is no magic formula that our staff could use with every youth, because every youth is so unique. Instead, we strive to walk beside the youth so that we can understand who each youth is and what each youth wants for their own life, only then can we figure out how to meaningfully help them in their journey.

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

ARC programming has been greatly effectively affected by COVID-19. We have moved to having essential staff only on site in order to protect our youth, who we know have added health vulnerabilities. Because of this much of our in-house programming has stopped or moved to an online format. Staff are constantly searching for ways to meaningfully connect with youth despite distancing. All field trips and recreational activities have ceased because of closed facilities and cancelled events. Our in-house employment program had to be postponed. Much of the work we typically do with youth to meet their goals has also been slowed or halted, with many places we would do referrals to offering limited services or refusing new intakes. In too many cases, that progress is not simply halted but actually moving backwards, youth are losing opportunities they have fought hard to line up.

It feels like our world in on pause, but that’s just not a luxury that our youth have. Staff have to get creative and look for solutions, how do we help our youth move forward when all the doors are closed around them?

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

I have been actively involved in the youth work field of 20 years, and I still meet youth with stories that are novel, shocking and heart-wrenching. Sometimes just surviving is worthy of a gold medal. I wish you could all see the incredible resiliencies and strengths that every one of our youth has, it’s a privilege to work with them.

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