Kids or youth?
In our field there has been an on-going discussion around how we refer to those people who use our services. In the late eighties and early nineties there was a move toward using the word client to describe all persons who utilized services in children and family mental health settings. The same can be said for much of the healthcare industry. There was a clinical connotation to this word and it accurately described someone who utilized a service. While the word client permeated clinical reports and formal settings, it did not necessarily become accepted by many child and youth workers in their day to day interactions and discussions.
There were a few different camps when it came to the language we used. Some workers felt that clients aged 6-12 years old should be referred to as children. Adolescent clients were youth or young persons. Youth was defined as someone in the 18-24 year old bracket. I always said kids. Of course this was only in casual settings but I have found myself using the word kids more often than not in formal meetings and discussions. More than once I have been reminded that we serve youth, not kids; but do we?
Here is why I say kids. For me personally, I have kids. Yes, I may have called them children at some point, but they are my kids. Kids has a humanizing effect for me. The word kids evokes a higher level of empathy. There is vulnerability inherent in the word kids. The people who use our services are not a statistic or a cold file defined by a case or ID number. They are a person who is vulnerable and who is deserving of our empathy. Often times they mask their insecurity and vulnerability with bravado and a quick wit or confident swagger. Look beyond that outward shell and I see a kid who is in need. In need of someone who cares, for a warm and dry place to stay, in need of a good meal, in need of being safe. If you hear me refer to someone as a kid, please know that I have done so in a thoughtful way. Of course you are always welcome to correct me.
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:
- Find a job.
- Find an apartment.
- Stay in school.
- 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: Misery
For as long as he can remember there was only his father and himself. There was always conflict. He is the first to admit that he didn’t want any rules. However, as he matured he saw his father behave in ways towards him that he knew were not right and that he could not respect.
He ran away from home for the first time at age ten. He ran away repeatedly in his early teens—sometimes spending the night on friend’s couches, many times just roaming the streets or keeping warm overnight in a local coffee shop. Home with his father was not where he could be. He managed to finish Grade 9 and 10. By the age of 16 he had truly left home and fallen in with, in his own words, the wrong crowd.
Not long after he sought shelter at Youth Without Shelter (YWS) for the first time. His approach with staff was argumentative. How could they be much different from his father? Staff asked him to consider what his next steps were going to be. Why not write his thoughts and dreams down in a journal, suggested a case manager. This idea stuck with him. To this day he continues to write in a journal wherever he is.
Each time he has appeared at the doors of YWS the case management team have worked step by step to connect him with the resources to enable him to make a move to independence. Each time he has moved out he hasn’t quite made it work. But then something unexpected happened that totally changed his life around—he became a father.
This time his stay at YWS is more long-term and focused. He has always “felt the staff here care—you can talk and they will listen.” From staff he is hearing: it’s time to make a change, if you want to be a father and have this child in your life. His case manager is making sure he stays on track. He has put together his resume in the Steps Program. His goal is to complete his high school education. He is working on his housing options with the housing coordinator. He is always busy helping around the shelter. The staff say he has become a positive mentor to the younger residents in the shelter.
In essence his story is what Youth Without Shelter is all about: ending homelessness, one youth at a time, one step at a time. We wanted to share with you a poem he wrote in his journal titled “Misery”.
(Author: YWS past resident)
I try to forget the pain.
But yet it remains.
Driven insane by madness.
I surround myself in total
I am sad, unhappy and lifeless.
The girl that’s gone I truly do miss.
For she is the mother of my daughter.
And me the father that don’t exist.
My anger grows as I form a fist.
I take a swing, but did I miss.
Miss the fact that I’m still in love.
With the one that’s mention above.
I must be stupid to believe this.
To be with her is my only wish.
The girl I love, the girl I miss.
If only I can give her one kiss.
To prove how much I care.
How much I want to be near.
Close to her and in her heart.
The guy she with tears us further apart.
My heart is extremely broken.
I just want to be the one that’s chosen.
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
“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.