Edmonton youth shelter is continuing to operate

Apr 7 2020, 11:17 am

An Edmonton youth shelter and support service is continuing to operate with the same capacity for support, despite facing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edmonton’s Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) provides immediate and low-barrier shelter, temporary housing, and individualized services to youth ages 15-24.

Consisting of 24 beds and a daytime resource centre, YESS partners with other housing facilities to give youth longer-term placements.

According to YESS President and CEO Margo Long, it is crucial for YESS to stay open during this crisis.

“It is imperative that we stay open during this pandemic because our youth do not have other places they can go,” said Long in an interview with Daily Hive.

“They require specialized supports from specialized youth workers who can help them cognitively understand what this crisis is and how it impacts them. They are not developmentally adult and most are not yet safe to be within the adult supports, so we must remain open to help accommodate their needs.”

Programs at YESS are continuing with normal hours and services, with some staff working from home to minimize transmission risk.

Long says the change in routines makes it even more important to continue to provide support.

“Our youth are operating from a high-risk, invisible cognitive trauma level, and therefore we must continue to work with them on a specialized level to understand this crisis, to understand it’s impact and how they are impacting society,” said Long.

“We also need to help support them as their lives and routines have changed and their mental health and trauma prevents them from understanding or, in some cases, complying. Our staff and our programs are essential to help keep the youth safe and supported but also to protect the community by providing them safe places to isolate.”

YESS is also offering virtual support, including food access information, to youth who already have a place to stay.

“The biggest impact is that youth need to be part of the conversation around protecting vulnerable individuals within the community but also held to a separate but equal standard,” said Long.

“Ensuring that spaces and supports and funding are available for our agencies to work with these youth is imperative. It is scary trying to navigate a non-profit through a pandemic when fundraising and donations carry the bulk of our budgeting.”

Long says shelter and drop-in supports have decreased, but the youth they are seeing truly have no other place to go.

“There are still youth who fall through the cracks of service,” said Long.

“We have not had an influx of youth accessing, but there are more phone calls for support, more need for mental health supports and trauma supports, and there is a concerted effort to balance their needs within the new community needs.”

Those looking to learn more or donate can visit the YESS website.

“Edmontonians are wonderful people and have been supporting YESS for more than 38 years. We ask that individuals continue to support fundraising requests, including our online raffle, looking at wish lists that are posted for items, respecting social distancing and changes to donation drop-off processes, and spreading positivity and hope for our vulnerable population,” said Long.