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.


YWS 30th anniversary series: Sean

YWS 30th anniversary series: Sean

I was 16 years old, scared, full of anger. I never felt so alone.

Sean’s relationship with his Mom was one of conflict. A single mom, Sean resented her, blaming her for his dad not being there. Because they were not getting along Sean at 16 moved into a rooming house. It was in the rooming house that Sean was introduced to crack, and his struggle with addiction began. “I’ve done things I am not proud of, sold my parents wedding rings, all for a fix.”

After a stint in rehab, Sean found his way to Youth Without Shelter (YWS): “I was 16 years old, scared and full of anger. I never felt so alone.” “It was scary on the streets alone, acting tough but I was alone.” The year was 1996.

That day was the beginning of the rest of my life. YWS took me in with open arms.” Sean struggled with the structure and rules of YWS and his addiction. Over an eight year period Sean was in and out of YWS multiple times. But the YWS Team never gave up on Sean. “They cared, they wanted to help. It was like you have all these parents pushing you to do good.” Sean committed himself to YWS’s programs participating in day programs (today’s Steps to Success Program): “I learned so much about myself during life skills. I eventually took over the kitchen on the weekends, making the most amazing brunches.”

Today Sean is an event planner. Recently Sean shared with the YWS Team that he has been accepted to the Child and Youth Care Worker Program at Humber College as a mature student. He would like to give back drawing upon his life experiences, and maybe do his student placement at YWS.

You can hear Sean share his story in the new 2016 A home for the holidays video

“Many things have changed since my last stay in 2004 but the one thing that never changes is the YWS vision: Ending homelessness, one youth at a time, one step at a time.”

YWS 30th anniversary series: Melony

YWS 30th anniversary series: Melony

Melony was born in Trinidad and Tobago. She lived with her Mom, brothers and Step-Dad. As a youth she was persecuted for her sexuality, she had a girlfriend. Melony tried to run away but when she did the police located her, and raped her. She made the decision for her own safety to leave Trinidad and Tobago.

Melony arrived in Canada to live with her Aunt, who she really did not know. Her living situation quickly turned difficult as her Mom had shared with her Aunt that back home a girlfriend had been part of her life. The Aunt who had a daughter of her own seemed to feel that Melony would influence her daughter. Living together became intolerable.

Melony found her way to Youth Without Shelter(YWS). “They became my best friends, helped me with anything I needed.” “If you want to be independent YWS helps you be independent. No one does it for you. They will guide you, but you must do the work to be independent.”

Melony has now transitioned to her own place and received training in the administrative field. She is writing a book about her life experiences which she hopes will support others with their life journeys. You can hear Melony share her own story in the video on the YWS home page.

Youth Without Shelter (YWS ) celebrates 30th anniversary with 30 Stories of youth empowerment

Youth Without Shelter (YWS ) celebrates 30th anniversary with 30 Stories of youth empowerment

Youth Without Shelter’s (YWS ) 30th year of empowering youth with the skills and resources to transition to independent living.

Starting today and over the next 30 weeks YWS will be sharing with you on our website blog 30 stories for 30 years, stories of youth who have called YWS their home.

“The race is not for the swift but for those who endure to the end.” It is not about how fast you can to get to the finish line in life, it is about getting there at some point in the future. What if you did not have a race? What if there seemed to be no way out? What if it felt so dark I could not see where to start?

I am proud to say, I always have had a race, a dream, a pathway to success! I do not know how that journey would have begun but at least I knew some day I would full-fill that dream.

But today I am delighted to talk about how my race began. To start off I could say it was a struggle staying at home. I had to fight to go to school everyday. Not to mention the thought of going home was unbearable. All through the day all I could think about in class was not going home. It was so hard to get reading assignments and schoolwork done. I would often go to the library to study after school but it was just for a couple of hours because I would have to make my way back home as the streets got too dark. I would also try to sleep as soon as I got home from school so that I could stay up in the nights when it was quiet. But trying to sleep was also a challenge because the environment was very noisy. I barely passed the first semester (a pre-college prep program to help me get into my practical nursing program).

In the second semester I decided I wasn’t going to fail because I needed the grades to get into my program. So I was talking to a friend about my situation and she referred me to a social worker. This social worker introduced me to the Stay in School Program, where she brought me to complete the application. I breathed a sigh of relief. Better days are coming. But you know in life you got to have patience so that took a little while due to the fact that I was on a waiting list for the Stay in School Program. I humbly waited at school. I tried to connect with students that I noticed were more focused. I eventually made friends with this girl who was really good on the materials in class. We then started to get closer, whereas after class we would stay back and review the materials. After getting to know her more she offered I could stay with her until we were done with this semester. That was like hearing “It’s dinner time for me.” She offered me a nice bed to sleep on and a quiet environment. Each day we attended school together, we kept focused, we studied our notes headed to and from school on the bus. This living situation helped me greatly so my marks started to improve.

While staying at her house for about one and a half months I got a call from YWS. I was so happy…..I moved into the Stay in School Program. I was welcomed by staff with a nice bed, clean sheets and other items that I needed. I felt comfortable and at home. This program has had a tremendous impact on my school life whereas I stayed focused and continued studying. At the end of the semester I can proudly say I got accepted into the practical nursing program. This is the program I always wanted to go into. When I was younger everyone around me would call me nurse. I tend to be caring, loving and considerate. I was offered a part-time job to look after an elderly individual. It was always a pleasure to go there to make her life happy, clean and comfortable.

I say all of this to explain that the opportunity to get into the nursing program would not have been possible if I did not have the help of Youth Without Shelter.

On behalf of all the Stay in School Program residents I would like to express our great gratitude to each and every one of you for making our races a reality.