Paula never imagined she would be homeless, but at 15 she spent her first night on the street. She found herself roaming the streets for shelter on what felt like the coldest night she had ever experienced, terrified and unsure of where to turn. Someone had told Paula about YSM’s Evergreen Centre for Street Youth, but she never expected what came next.
Beaten down and exhausted from the lack of sleep, drop-in staff quickly welcomed her in, inviting her to enjoy a warm meal. They noticed her wheezing and led her to the Health Centre, where she was examined and given a puffer to reverse the effects that the cold, winter night had taken on her lungs. Finally feeling safe in her surroundings, Paula dozed off in a corner for some much needed rest.
When she woke, staff took the time to listen as Paula recounted the events that led her to Evergreen. With no option to return home, they worked with Paula to help her secure a place to stay, complete high school and took her on as a peer mentor. Above all else, staff made sure Paula did not lose faith. Realizing she had some barriers and determined to change her future, she attended counselling sessions to work through the things were keeping her from realizing her goals.
Paula received on the job training as a housing peer mentor at YSM’s Evergreen Centre, helping others like herself to navigate the system. She also went on to become a housing peer mentor at YSM’s Evergreen Centre, helping others like her through the same system she once knew nothing about. She was a proud recipient of YSM’s student awards program, which helped her with tuition as she worked towards realizing her goal of becoming a social worker.
This past year Paula found herself back at YSM, 17 years after she first stepped foot in YSM’s Evergreen Centre completing a placement within our Cornerstone department, working with families in need. She continued on with YSM after she completed her placement and is now in the last year of university. Paula is also focused on getting into Ryerson’s Masters of Social Work program.
In an effort to pay it forward, Paula was more than happy to lend her talents in YSM’s manifesto video. She also endeavours to use her experiences to spread hope and empower herself and others – writing, performing Spoken Word, doing keynotes and facilitating workshops. She has reconnected with her family in the years since and despite the path that had been laid out for her, Paula defied odds with her resilient attitude and rose above to a bright future. YSM is honoured to be able to walk alongside Paula in support of her journey out of poverty.