YWS 30th anniversary series: Marianne

YWS 30th anniversary series: Marianne

“Homelessness happens. When I walk through the doors in my high school you can’t tell I live in a shelter. We all walk in different shoes.”

(Marianne, age 17)

Each day for a month Marianne, 17, filled her backpack with a few personal belongings and stored them in her high school locker. Marianne had decided that she was not going to take the beating of her father’s fists anymore. Beatings as far back as her toddler years haunted Marianne. One morning she said good-bye to her father. He replied “good-bye, see you tonight.” but Marianne knew this was good-bye. She was not coming home tonight.

A school guidance counsellor determined that Marianne was essentially living out of her school locker and brought Marianne to the safety of Youth Without Shelter. Marianne’s life belongings from her locker were now in the bedroom she calls “home” at Youth Without Shelter.

At Youth Without Shelter Marianne was not alone, she had someone to talk to and someone who will listen to her fears, hopes and dreams. Together with her Case Manager they discussed her specific needs, created goals and a plan of action to achieve these goals. If you visited Marianne’s bedroom at YWS you would have seen these goals boldly spelled out on a list taped to her locker:

  1. Find a job.
  2. Find an apartment.
  3. Stay in school.
  4. Stop drinking.

How did Marianne do with checking off her list? With the support of the YWS Steps to Success Program she put together her resume and called employers from our job board. She stayed in school. Marianne’s case manager connected her with a support group for abuse survivors. Marianne also met with a housing program worker to review her housing options. Through the Housing Program Marianne connected with “Project Go Home” and reunited with her extended family.

A note arrived at YWS from Marianne: “I want you all to know….you mean a lot to me and you were my real and true family while I was in Canada. You never judged me, left me in my hard times…for which I really admire you! You guys make our days better and we need you.”

Note: While staying at YWS Marianne volunteered talents, sharing her photography skills. This story image is by Marianne, taken by the Humber River near YWS.

YWS 30th anniversary series: Angeline

YWS 30th anniversary series: Angeline

Sometimes I feel my mother never loved me.
Maybe she didn’t.
There’s nothing to suggest otherwise.
No early morning cuddles.
No kiss going out the door.
No warm embrace when I was at my lowest
No comforting voice to vanquish my nightmares.
But I do remember a hefty fist connecting with my tear stained cheeks and the words:
“Leave. Never come back.”
Broken and shaken
I was taken here
A place I felt was designed for the broken and shaken
Somewhere to leave us and forget us.
But maybe just maybe
We can change that and fix ourselves.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that just look at me.

Poem written by Angeline, March 2010.

YWS 30th Anniversary Series: Matt

YWS 30th Anniversary Series: Matt

“My name is Matthew and I was a long term resident at YWS.  I came to YWS 6 years ago, struggling with drug and alcohol problems and dealing with the recent loss of my mother.  I was on a path of self-destruction.  Upon arriving at YWS I was greeted and welcomed by a very friendly staff team that were willing to help as soon as you walk in the door.  Hungry and tired, I was offered food within minutes, and was shown to my room, where I was told I could rest, and when I was ready I could come down and start what was going to be the rest of my life.

I met with my case manager and my initial plan was to take the quickest route out, so I started looking for work and an apartment.  At this point in my life I really didn’t have any realistic goals, I was looking for the quickest route out of the shelter system. I think one of the reasons why I was looking for the quick route, is because, like most people, the word “shelter” to me kind of had a different meaning.  I never really looked at a shelter as a positive place, but that train of though was very quickly turned around. 

In the first couple of weeks at the house (notice how I like to refer to it as a house now rather than a shelter) I set up a meeting with the housing worker that the house has made available to us.  She sat down with me and started to explain my options (wow and when I tell you there is a lot of options I mean there were a lot of options I thought I was never gonna get outta that place) but during this conversation a program called Stay in School was brought up.  Now at the time I was kina like no I don’t think I wanna go back to school….I hated school.  But I look back at it now and thank goodness for proper guidance because if it wasn’t for all of the staff that I met with I wouldn’t of even thought of going back.  So I decided to look into going to school, and started the process for getting back into school and the Stay in School Program.  I enrolled at an Adult Education Centre and finished my high school diploma. 

During this time I was still struggling with drugs and alcohol, in the years leading up to my arrival at the house I had developed some habits that were taking control of my life and now were getting in the way of my schooling.  But thankfully with the support system and friendly faces at the house I was able to make the choices necessary to turn it all around.  Living in the Stay in School Program allowed me to utilize all of the tools needed for someone in my position to succeed.  Some of these things included the one on one counseling to talk about weekly, monthly and long term goals, and also any other problems that you may have that you feel like talking about, transit passes are available for transportation to and from school and other extra-curricular activities.  A full computer lab with printers, and computers with internet access for completing homework, also to help complete home work there are volunteer tutors that are available in the house in the evenings to help you one on one.

After completing my high school I decided that I wanted to go further with my education but I wasn’t really sure how to go about it, but once again there was YWS to help save my butt again.  Because YWS also had students from colleges and universities doing placements I was able to talk to them about the application process and also financial support program that would help pay for tuition and text books. Not too long after finishing adult school I enrolled at Humber College into a three year program for Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology it is a Robotics and Automation Profile Advanced Diploma.  This was one of the biggest steps I have ever taken in my life and I really couldn’t have done it without the help of the wonderful team of staff and volunteers at the house.  I have recently finished my third year and am now looking for that next big opportunity, a career.  My journey through YWS has definitely been a rocky path with lots of twists and turns but when it’s all said and done I am highly grateful that I have had the opportunity to meet all of the great people that are involved here with making this possible for me and many other youth in need.”

Shared by Matt, January 2007 at the opening of the YWS Stay in School Program and Renovated Emergency Residence.

YWS 30th anniversary series: Winona

YWS 30th anniversary series: Winona

Winona’s father punished her not only with words of anger but with angry fists.  Winona knew she had to leave home for her own survival.  She set aside money each week from her pay cheque but it was not enough to afford a place of her own.  The turning point was when Winona’s brother started to join her father in the physical assaults.  Winona arrived at Youth Without Shelter (YWS) feeling the whole world was against her.  Most of all Winona found it hard to believe that there were people who would want to help someone like her.

“I came to YWS as someone who was working but homeless. No one had any idea where I worked that I was homeless.  I arrived at work in professional clothes like everyone else.  I was very focused on getting a second job to save for first and last month rent.  Right away the morning routine at the shelter had a positive effect.  The 7 am wake-up got me to work on time! The Employment Facilitator really gave me confidence. Together we created the most professional resume.  Within weeks I landed that second job.

At YWS I did not feel disadvantaged, my morale was not broken, and I was never made to feel like I lived in a shelter.  The support prepared me to be on my own out there.  I even put on weight (loved the food).  YWS helped me focus and learn to listen.  What am I doing now?  Working with Laura, the Housing Coordinator I was able to move out to my own place.  I am sharing these words while back to visit the YWS Food Bank (really helps me stretch my monthly budget) and picking up an “On The Move Package” (wow:  sheets, towels, pots, even cleaning supplies to get me started).  My advice to youth in situations like mine:  be patient, stay focused on your goals, and don’t fight against those trying to help you.”

 Winona

YWS 30th anniversary series: Tom*

YWS 30th anniversary series: Tom*

*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.

At 14 years old, he was living with his alcoholic father.  In his father’s home he became a statistic, one of the 47% of homeless youth who report being physically abused by a family member.  By his fifteenth birthday, he had become a Crown Ward and entered the foster care system.  In one year he bounced between multiple foster care and group homes.  He acknowledges that he was angry (and a challenge) because in his heart he knew that he did not deserve his fate.  When he suffered abuse in a group home at sixteen, he checked himself out of care, and took to the streets.  He became one of the hidden homeless, bunking with friends, living in alleys and doorways.

A high school drop-out he drifted from job to job.  Wanting a place to call his own, he camped out in parks.  One evening after not having eaten for days, he was driven to steal food and he got into trouble with the law.  A court mandated rehabilitation period followed.  Upon his release with no other options he arrived at Youth Without Shelter (YWS).

His YWS Case Manager began to help him by simply listening.  As pieces of his story tumbled out she began to connect him with resources to restore his confidence.  Goals were set for each day.  Access to a gym was arranged so he could physically tackle the stresses in his life.  He was able to secure employment.  It was in a meeting with the Housing Workers that the possibility of finishing high school first arose.  School was not even on his list of goals.

Shortly after, he moved into the Stay in School Program and enrolled in an adult high school.  When completing a school assignment he wrote:  “Without Youth Without Shelter, I would not be typing this essay right now.  Instead I would probably be thinking of how to get my next meal of where I will sleep tonight.”  Wanting to give back (and to complete his community service hours required to graduate) he offered to paint a mural in the emergency residence family room.  Little did we know of his hidden artistic talent.  Today, a magnificent beach scene continues to welcome youth to YWS.  He is now a proud high school graduate, an achievement he never thought possible.  Congratulations.

August 2012:  YWS In Transition Newsletter

YWS 30th anniversary series: Mike

YWS 30th anniversary series: Mike

He desperately needed a place to stay, and more immediately food and a bed.  He was at a turning point in his life, having been homeless for much of his teen years, calling the street home, and in and out of shelters and jail.  A phone call brought him to Youth Without Shelter.

“You’ve given me hope.  Through the housing worker, Laura’s tremendous amount of help I have been able to secure housing.  Never having acquired housing before, the process seemed foreign and daunting.  I thought finding housing impossible after all my failed attempts.  Throughout my search at YWS I always had someone to go to with problems, someone to coach me for calls to landlords and to tell me all the right questions to ask. After living in shelters so long the concept of living on my own was kind of scary but knowing I’ll have on-going support once I’m on my own gives me the confidence I need to be successful.

For years I’ve been just credits away from completing high school, yet without the knowledge of how to get myself registered.  It has always seemed so far away.  Now with the help of my case worker, Emme I’ve obtained my high school credit transcript and will be beginning school at an adult learning centre.  Now I believe I may have a shot at the normal life, I’ve been dreaming of since my life started going downhill.

The programs at YWS are so helpful in building a productive life.  Daily we have workshops covering a huge range of subjects from housing and employment to hygiene and laundry.  Everything one needs to function taught in creative and fun ways to learn.  Another program taught is substance abuse which is amazingly helpful to those with abuse problems and has hook-ups with more in-depth counseling. Now the best program I’ve seen by far is being brought out for a night to Cirque du Soleil.  That had to be one of the funnest times of my life.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me.  And to all of you who contribute to Youth Without Shelter in any way I have no way to express my gratitude to you other than to say you do more than build lives you save them.” (Mike)

Where is Mike now?  In late September Mike moved out to his own place not far from the shelter.  He regularly checks in and shares his cooking adventures with the YWS Team.  Mike is working closely with the YWS Employment Facilitator to secure part-time employment.  He is back in the classroom finishing up high school.  Mike now has his sight set on getting to college to complete a Pre-Welding Certificate Apprenticeship Program.

November 2012

YWS 30th anniversary series: Jay

YWS 30th anniversary series: Jay

Walk through Jay’s elementary school and you will see his name front and center on the honour student recognition wall. Graduating into high school Jay felt tremendous pressure to continue to excel at school.  To relieve that pressure Jay began to self-harm by cutting himself. He hid the cuts on his arms and legs by wearing long sleeves and pants no matter the weather. Jay felt his family could not understand the pressure he was under. Conflict at home escalated. One day in Grade 11 Jay packed up his clothes, left home and sought shelter at Youth Without Shelter (YWS).

When Jay met his YWS Case Manager she encouraged him to talk.  She did not judge or criticize, she listened.  Jay recalls he felt for the first time his feelings were being “respected”. He continued to attend school everyday although he found it increasingly hard to concentrate and his grades were plummeting.  As the trust developed between Jay and the Case Manager she asked him to meet with one of the shelter’s partners, an agency that specializes in youth mental health. In time Jay was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

Jay’s journey has not been an easy one. He has had periods of family reconciliation, hospitalization, new health challenges and adjusting to medication. Jay has been living in his own place now for more than two years.  Through it all he has maintained ties to YWS, calling the shelter his “safe haven.”

Jay’s story is an example of how your support is changing lives every day here at YWS. Thanks to you, Jay has a “safe haven” to turn to as he moves forward. Jay credits YWS with teaching him how to budget, so he can maintain independent living.  He attends Supper Club at YWS to enjoy a hot meal, have a chat and access the on-site food bank.  Jay has enrolled in a college photography program. He aspires to open a business designing custom skateboards.  On a recent visit to YWS Jay shared: “I have two numbers on speed dial on my phone: 911 and you, YWS. Youth Without Shelter is #1: 416.748.0110.”

YWS 30th anniversary series: He

YWS 30th anniversary series: He

The first time he had ever slept in a bed was at Youth Without Shelter.  His life began thousands of miles from Etobicoke.  His mom died giving birth to his sister.  He tried to live with his new step-mother but she wanted no part of him in her family.  For his safety he ran away.  Home became a covered space under a bridge.  Meals were scavenged out of garbage cans. From the age of 12 he lived on the streets of an African country where half the population exist below the international poverty line.  He made a living by scouring the streets for bottles to return.  He did have dreams.  He loved to learn but he knew he had no future on the street.  Gradually, he saved his money from the bottles.  He even sold the last connection to his mother:  four cattle.  At age 17 he had saved enough for an airplane ticket to Canada.

The Red Cross brought him to the safety of Youth Without Shelter.  Yes, he knew English but spoke little those first weeks.  Rarely did he smile.  He kept his room immaculate.  Treasured sleeping in a bed rather than on the pavement.  In his short life he had never experienced a living space of his own.  By quietly listening the YWS Case Manager began to build a relationship with him.  She empathized with his fortitude.  She remembered how it felt to arrive in Canada alone at a young age, far from her home, with no family and friends.

A circle of care surrounded him at Youth Without Shelter. The housing coordinator connected him to immigration resources so that was able to secure school and work permits.  His case manager recognizing his desire to learn, helped him enroll in an English literacy class.  She introduced him to a volunteer position where he could practice his English.  Slowly he began to open up.  Together they identified his goals.  He wanted to finish high school.

He moved out of the emergency residence into the Stay in School Program and enrolled in high school.  School was a struggle.  He had many gaps in his education.  Volunteer tutors helped him catch up.

Upon graduating high school he moved out of YWS and headed west for permanent work in the hospitality industry.  He now manages a coffee beverage café. Two years ago he used his vacation time to come back to Toronto and speak at the YWS Annual General Meeting. “You helped me when I needed help and became my family when I had no family.  I would not be the adult I’m today if it wasn’t for the support YWS gave me.  Thank you for taking time to look beyond my struggles and mistakes.”

YWS 30th anniversary series: Georgiette

YWS 30th anniversary series: Georgiette

Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name is Georgiette and I am proud to say that I am an ex-resident of YWS.

Would anyone agree that life is full of surprises?

I would like to share a bit about myself and my relationship with YWS.

I came to Canada at age 12, lived with my Dad. On my 16th birthday I was kicked out for having a cell phone. Things just didn’t make sense any more.

When I arrived at YWS, I realized that I would have to eat, sleep, shower or anything else you would normally have the freedom to do were now limited to when you were told, I was angry. I didn’t think the staff understood or even cared about how we felt.

The girl who was a great student, teen leader, student member and simply a decent teen that most parents would be proud of, became stubborn with a great wall built that I thought no-one could climb.

It took a few staff members to pen my eyes, reminding me that I do have potential and it’s not the end of the world. Things could get better, but I would go out and get it. I started to forgive again and engaged in all that YWS had to offer; housing info sessions, art, cooking and many more. I even received a scholarship due to an ad I saw posted at YWS, and decided to take action. It didn’t both me as much anymore that we had to share 8 rooms with 29 people. I knew better things were to come if I allowed them to help me and I did.

After 9 years of not giving up and trying to be productive I am happy to say that I am now pursuing a career at Humber College in the Social Services Worker Program so that I, one day might have the opportunity to pass on the lifelong gifts that I have received from such a wonderful support system.

I would like to say thank you to the amazing people at YWS for providing me with the tools necessary to make positive change in my life and hopefully others. I can’t say it was easy and quite frankly the journey, has just begun. But, I haven’t given up and don’t intend on doing so.
Though my stay at YWS was quite brief, the life values and skills I have learnt will remain forever, Had it not been for their support, I would not have known a lot of valuable info until later in life. I can’t say I was the best experience ever, I mean what 16 year old wants to be told what to do and when. But I can say, however, that I took a lot away with me once I left; I knew my rights as a tenant and as a person, how to cook different foods, more advanced computer techniques, being able to write an effective resume and I learnt a little valuable thing called time management.
I can go on all night about the good and bad experiences I had at Youth Without Shelter or as I have come to learn, it should be called “Youth With Support” but I will leave you on one last note:

Saying no to drugs and easy money, made me stronger
Days of hunger taught me to cope with pain
All sorts of abuse, taught me to forgive
Loneliness encouraged me to build confidence
Being neglected showed me how to love.

Shared by Georgiette at YWS’s Annual General Meeting, September 2013. Georgiette now holds a Social Services Worker Diploma.

YWS 30th anniversary series: John

YWS 30th anniversary series: John

“Homeless to fullness” are the words John chooses to describe his stay at Youth Without Shelter.  “When you hit rock bottom the only way is up.”  John found himself homeless.  A family situation had reached such a stressful point that he felt he had no choice but to leave home.

Each night John would ride the subway until it would shut down and then move to a local fast food restaurant until the morning came. When John needed clean clothes he would wash them at a friend’s house.  A youth worker at the breakfast program where John was volunteering told him about Youth Without Shelter.

John quickly focused on accessing the resources available at the shelter and developing his goals for the future.  Working with the YWS employment facilitator he was to able continue his participation in an employment program.  “The transit fare provided was a life saver.”  John’s advice to youth “YWS has so many supports to offer you. But it is you who must take the steps to make the changes in your life.”

John’s stay at YWS was not a long one.  Within weeks he found a place to live through the housing program.  Today John is employed full-time in a business doing a little bit of everything:  administration, accounting, inventory, and logistics.  “I am a product of YWS.  Yes I did the actions, but you were there with the supports.”

In 2015 John told his story through the YWS A home for the holidays video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLGp6IfsjOU  At the breakfast where the video was premiered John shared:

“They call us unmotivated, they call us lazy, they call us unproductive.  But guess what, you can call me John!  And I have a mission.  My mission is to help others create an impact and leave a legacy that inspires generations to come.  Since I left the shelter I’ve been working on an online platform for social innovators to connect people who are like-minded who are interested to invest their time, energy and resources to social projects.  It is like crowd funding meets LinkedIn.  I’m not mad, I’m just passionate.  I challenged myself now I want to challenge you to do something that was written about or worth writing about.”