“I see myself on top”

3 MIN READ

When Ciizzy was kicked out of her home for the first time, she spent three months staying with friends and sleeping on the couches of people she knew. When she was forced to leave home for a second time in March 2020, it wasn’t so easy to find people to take her in.

“I literally had nowhere to go. I hit up a bunch of my friends and I was getting the same answer: COVID, COVID.”

– Ciizzy.

The social challenges that people face on a regular basis—like homelessness—have been amplified during COVID-19. The pandemic has shut down support hubs and public spaces that once provided warmth and basic needs, and is keeping people further away from one another.

With her support system concerned about increasing health precautions, Ciizzy soon found herself with nowhere to turn.

The steps to independence

Ciizzy’s education and personal life began to suffer as she had to spend more energy thinking about finding a place to stay, and worrying about her next meal. Fortunately, referrals from friends and teachers helped guide her to United Way East Ontario’s partner, Youth Services Bureau (YSB) and its housing and emergency services.

Ciizzy’s journey to independence began with her first steps into YSB’s young women’s shelter. Counsellors and caseworkers help connect young women like Ciizzy with services designed to support them as they work towards their unique goals.

After two months, Ciizzy moved into YSB’s transitional housing facility. Now, she has her own bachelor apartment that operates on subsidized rent, allowing for the independence she has strived for with the added benefit of 24/7 guidance and support.

“Coming to YSB was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, it’s also been one of the best things.”

“When I learned from YSB that it’s okay to ask for help and there is nothing wrong associated with it, that’s when I grew, my life changed in a very positive way.”

– Ciizzy

No young person chooses to be homeless

Youth experiencing homelessness might have had a difficult home life or been a victim of abuse. Substance use, mental health challenges and other barriers can impede an individual’s ability to transition to living on their own.

In 2017, more than 800 young people aged 16-25 used emergency shelters in Ottawa, and the pandemic has made it even harder for homeless youth to meet their basic needs. Without a safe place to call home, youth are incapable of self-isolating—putting themselves and others at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Without intervention, youth facing homelessness are at risk of becoming entrenched in a cycle of homelessness.

Moving forward, together

“United Way and YSB share the same goal which is to see every young person achieve to the best of their ability. Their funding and shared vision allow us to do the work that gets these kids into the next stages of their lives.”

– Mike Wade, Assistant Director, Community Services, Youth Services Bureau

United Way invests in culturally and age-appropriate programs that provide housing and wrap-around services like employment training, mental health resources, educational achievement and more. We also advocate for evidence-based solutions such as the “Housing First” model. We work with our partners to get at the root of the issue while creating long term solutions that work to end youth homelessness for good.  

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve also collaborated with partners at our COVID-19 Community Response Table to ensure youth experiencing homelessness have proper technology so they can continue their education, stay connected to friends, and access vital social services. 

For Ciizzy, United Way and YSB’s help means she can focus on chasing her dreams. “People always ask me, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years?’” she said. “I see myself on top.”

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