At YESS, we are trying to remove as many barriers to services as possible for youth facing difficult realities. Over the years we have learned that putting too many expectations and restrictions on youth can prevent them from seeking supportive help when they need it most. The majority of youth that we see are facing very difficult situations and could be living with traumatic experiences, fear, mental illness, PTSD, organic brain disorder, and community isolation. We know that within days of being on the street, a youth can be quickly swept up into the tight community of a gang or a predator. If we do not act quickly once they are inside our programs and start to create a safe and secure environment for them, they will be entrenched into street life. Response needs to be quick, compassionate, and non-judgemental, and focused on wrapping a warm hug of welcome around these youth, so that they stay and try to work towards healing and safe and appropriate housing.
Every youth has a story. And every youth comes to us on a different path, with unique needs. That is why we try to meet youth where they are at.
YESS practices harm reduction in our shelters. Youth may be intoxicated when they come to us and we have needle disposal sites at each of our buildings. When we ask and work with a youth to set goals, we work on goals that are appropriate for them. For example, one youth may be ready to try to find employment or go back to high school, another youth may need to get clean through a recovery program, while yet another may need to just work on feeling safe enough to have a conversation with a relative.
Meeting youth where they are at also means being trauma-informed. All YESS employees are trained in understanding trauma and its effects on behavior and how we can best mitigate and de-escalate youth who have been upset or triggered by an event or happening. Youth agencies across Edmonton are becoming much better equipped to deal with the trauma that these youth carry with them, and collectively we know that unless we work together to stabilize their housing, integrate them into our neighborhoods, and help them on their healing journey, we will lose them to the streets.
Moving forward, YESS will be working more and more collectively with city agencies and funders to ensure that we walk alongside these youth as they heal and build relationships.
You can be a part of this. Your generous financial or volunteer support helps us move closer to giving better care. If you are not in a place where you are able to give your time or your money, do me a favor: the next time you see a youth who looks like they might be experiencing homelessness, who might look scared (or even scary), look them in the eyes. Show them that you see them and that they matter.