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.”

YWS 30th anniversary series: Siobhan

YWS 30th anniversary series: Siobhan

Hi, my name is Siobhan and I was a resident at Youth Without Shelter one year and five months ago.  I stayed there for a duration of nine months in which I encountered both pitfalls and triumphs but more so triumphs.

On April 1, 2015 I left YWS and am independently living in my own apartment.  Prior to coming to Canada in 2014 I did extensive research for months to be exactly sure what I was getting myself into and to be fully prepared for this drastic change in my life.  From my research there were several things I promised myself I would never do and living in a shelter was one of those things.

On July 2, 2014 I safely landed at Pearson International Airport and immediately my expectations had already been obscured.  For several hours I was unable to contact the person who I had arranged to stay with but I soon found out that person was out of the city even though we had already made arrangements.  Letting my pride get to me and sticking to my promise I decided to contact another friend who was luckily able to assist me.

Fast forward one month after, I swallowed my pride and moved into YWS.  I remember my first night there; I was scared, ashamed and felt like a disappointment which resulted in me crying.  After my intake it only took me a few hours to realize that YWS was not the typical shelter.  It was not what is portrayed on TV and definitely not what I had expected.

The people were different, both staff and residents, the environment was welcoming and I instantly felt like I was in a safe place.  As days passed I became familiar with the surroundings and the many avenues of support for residing youth.  Me being the go getter I am, I decided to take full advantage of all of the opportunities presented to me.  I took advantage of the various daytime programs and workshops, the support from my amazing counselor Zung, who also assisted me with all of my legal documents and accompanied me to my refugee hearing.

I also jumped at the opportunity to create a mural for the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport Hotel and to attend my very first and last dog sledding trip, just to name a few.  When it was time to move I utilized the housing department who did their best in assisting me in finding appropriate housing.

Up until two weeks I worked for one of Canada’s largest home services companies as a customer service representative but resigned so I could focus on personal and health issues.  Apart from that I’m an artist and writer and I’m currently working on publishing a book and on an art project in support of the LGBTQ community, targeting black and trans folds in particular.

Just to wrap it all up, I want to thank everyone who helped me personally and continue to help the youth at YWS.  To the residents here, I want to say to you: “life is like a coin, you can spend it however you want but you can only spend it once” so take full advantage of all the opportunities, because there are many, and you too can reach your peak.

Shared by Siobhan at YWS’s Annual General Meeting, September 2016

YWS 30th anniversary series: Stephanie

YWS 30th anniversary series: Stephanie

It was about two weeks after my twenty-fourth birthday that I came to Youth Without Shelter. I have never heard of the shelter from anyone. It was all done by calling the central intake number. I was scared and I felt alone. I was also very unsure of what the shelter could do for me.  I was in a dark place, consumed with fear of the unknown. I was also suffering in silence with my mental health and doing nothing to help myself. I had very low self-esteem and absolutely no confidence or direction.

I have now been residing at Youth Without Shelter for approximately three months. It has been a prodigious experience for me. I am astonished by the amount of support I have received in just one place. I struggle with several mental health issues, and I have been to many different places. But, I have never been to one place that was so heart-warming and open to be patient with me in trying to find myself and create a brighter future. The support I have received here has helped me realize many different things that I was not fully aware of before I came in. From my experience in being here, I believe that no matter what I am going through, the staff are forthcoming in helping me find the suitable services I need to deal with my current issues. I have received help in areas dealing with mental illness, substance abuse, and housing. In addition to all of the help I have received, the most helpful and inspirational part of it all is the interaction with the staff. I love when I get to meet people who are so devoted to their jobs. It inspires me to achieve my goal of one day being able to help people that will sadly be in my position in the future. It’s also comforting to be in a place where people understand that I will not be at my best all the time. Every day I am here I learn more and more. I also become more and more inspired by not only the staff, but the residents. People are very intriguing to me. Everyone has different stories here, yet somehow we are connected.

I am now on the road to recovery. I have several bumps in the road to get where I am today. And I am the type of person that keeps going and trying when I know people care about me. That’s what I have gotten out of being here at Youth Without Shelter. I am more determined to reach my goals and also more confident in myself that I will get to brighter days. Thank you Youth Without Shelter.

– Steph

YWS 30th anniversary series: Art

YWS 30th anniversary series: Art

“I knew my father was a troubled man.  He would beat me up for silly reasons.  When I was 18 two days before Christmas he decided to throw me out of the house.  Told me to pick up my things and go.”

Art managed to accumulate four or five lockers at school where he could store his personal belongings.  He found an abandoned car, locks intact, cleaned out the back, and lined it with newspapers.  This is where he slept each night.  It was winter so his feet would freeze at night, he would get up walk around and lay back down.  Art had become part of the hidden homeless. The primary cause of youth homelessness is breakdown or conflict within the home. Youth like Art are forced to leave unsafe, abusive and unbearable situations. More than one-third of young people who experience homelessness in Canada are from Ontario. Youth in your neighborhoods.

            A co-worker noticed  Art was continually struggling with a cold and not getting better.  This co-worker brought him to the safety of Youth Without Shelter (YWS).  At YWS he was given a safe place to sleep, warm clothing and nutritious meals.  The YWS Team challenged him to look beyond day to day survival to his future.  Not long after, Art was able to connect with extended family and move in with them. Art completed high school and worked tirelessly to save money to pursue further education.  He chose to enter the Social Service Worker Program at college.  He saw this as a way to give back and support others who were in situations like he had been.  Youth thrown into homelessness find themselves without the personal, social and life skills necessary to make independent living possible.

            Art chose to do his college field placement at Youth Without Shelter. While in school he worked part-time at YWS cooking and leading life skills workshops.  A university degree followed along with time in the corporate world.  Weekends you could still find him at YWS helping out.   Today, Art is YWS’s Planning and Evaluation Manager.  When youth challenge him with: “You don’t understand what I am going through you’ve never been where I am.”  Art will think quietly to himself, “Yes I do, let’s keep talking and move forward.”

YWS 30th anniversary series: Dammy

YWS 30th anniversary series: Dammy

“YWS was my first home in Canada.”

My name is Dammy, I’m 21 years old.  I want to talk about my experience in Youth Without Shelter and how they have helped me and seen me through difficult times.”

Dammy left Nigeria to escape the uncertainty of life amidst the coups.  He arrived in Canada as a youth refugee claimant.  At the airport Dammy randomly approached a man he did not know, told him his circumstances and went home with him.  That living situation did not last long and Dammy was referred to Youth Without Shelter (YWS).

YWS was his first home in Canada.  “Sometimes I just want to stay quiet.  Staff make me feel happy even when I’m sad. It is not easy to be on your own, not easy to be a man.”  ‘My first priority is school.”

With the support of the YWS Team Dammy has now been granted conventional refugee status; secured housing and moved out.  He is involved in the community as he works towards his citizenship.

“Firstly I want to appreciate all that the staff have done for me, and I hope you all keep it up.  I can’t just list everything YWS has done for me.  Starting from the case worker, housing worker and so on they never make me feel I am alone here in a strange country.  I really appreciate all your efforts to improve my life.  Thank you very much.”

Dammy expressed his thanks in the 2016 A home for the holidays video.