Street Youth

Paula'S STORY

"YSM has been a thread in my life for the last 17 years."

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.

Street Youth

Life as a youth on the street is dangerous. It’s a place where you can be robbed, raped or arrested. No youth wants to be on the street, yet faced with domestic abuse, LGBTQ discrimination, or falling through the cracks of the foster care system, street youth have chosen what they feel is the lesser of two evils. Living short-term with friends, in city shelters or sleeping under bridges demands survival skills that most adults don’t possess. Many street youth look for a way forward but street culture is harsh – a place that is cold, hot, and soul destroying.

RISE Model for Street Youth

RISE Model for Street Youth

The four pillars in our RISE Full System of Care model offer street-involved youth a positive journey from surviving to thriving.

Our goal is to help this specialized population make positive steps forward, ultimately resulting in a life that has been transformed. The the journey begins at our Evergreen Drop-In Centre. About 4,000 of the approximately 6,000 street youth in Toronto visit YSM’s Evergreen Centre.

Youth on the streets enter YSM’s Evergreen Centre to meet their basic needs. The centre seeks to create no barriers to entrance and service. This often starts with a delicious no-cost meal but may also include receiving clothing, using a washroom or a shower or using a phone. The centre is a safe place from the streets. Many choose to grab a nap, free from danger. Others can observe youth that seem to be in a better place than they are, or they just hang out. Every aspect of the centre is carefully designed for youth. We respond to each youth’s life situation as it is, without judgement, but with dignity and respect for their life journey.

Trained and passionate drop-in staff engage street youth – while there is no pressure to disclose any details or to commit to any discussion or engagement, they often find ways to create a connection. As much time as it takes, trust and even friendship is built. The goal for drop-in staff is to encourage youth to begin their journey towards healing and hope. Staff support the early stages of confidence building often providing trauma-informed counseling and engagement with other confidence building activities like art therapy. Psychiatrists working at YSM’s Evergreen Centre report that 90% of street youth they engage with show signs of PTSD. YSM’s Evergreen Health Centre is completely privately funded and can, as a result, offer an array of services such as foot clinics, STD testing, chiropractic therapy, general medical needs and full dental services. No paperwork is required or fee charged. The staff contingent is supported through a committed group of medical professionals that in total provide services valued at over $2.5 million through 8,400 visits to the centre.

YSM’s Evergreen Centre provides a broad array of services including employment, health, dental, counseling, addiction support, young parent supplies and training, housing access and supports. Other trusted agencies work closely with YSM staff in expanding the services to meet other important needs. Pre-employment training and job placements through YSM’s Employment Services see 440 youth a year move forward with their lives through the stabilizing experience of paid, regular employment. YSM Housing services works to house youth and to rescue them from a life of homelessness. YSM’s Genesis Place along with other valuable partners provide places for youth to live despite the affordable housing shortage in downtown Toronto.

Once transitioned from surviving to thriving, street youth are invited to engage in their community. YSM’s Community Development program is built around working with people to affect positive change where they live, and many of them are ready to lend their voices in the last stage of the “RISE” journey with YSM. Our role, in partnership with others, is to support their voice.

Because of our deep desire to know that we are doing our best to help people, YSM has established a robust model to inform the ways in which we support people. This is our Transformation Integrated Measurement and Evaluation System or TIMES. By investing in a holistic approach to supporting people in their journey we develop better responses, set shared goals with partners, and ultimately know if we are helping people make positive steps and move out of poverty.

Meet Our Community

Meet Our Community

Adults Experiencing Chronic Poverty

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Street Youth

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Families In Need

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Community Development

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