Lawai is 18 years old. He came to Canada from Libya to start a better life, get a strong education and build a foundation for his future.
But when he arrived, he quickly found himself homeless. The excitement from his journey had worn off, and he began to feel the loss that often comes with such tremendous change.
Lawai initially spent time sleeping on the couches of people he knew, but realized striking out on his own wasn’t as simple as he initially thought.
He then turned to United Way Ottawa partner Youth Services Bureau (YSB) and its drop-in centre for homeless youth.
He was quickly integrated into YSB’s young men’s shelter. Then in just a few weeks, Lawai moved into YSB’s transitional housing facility for young men aged 16 to 20: a place where he pays rent for his own small apartment and has the independence he strived for, but with the safety net of 24/7 support from YSB staff for any issue or problem he might have.
United Way is working to end youth homelessness in Ottawa, partly by making stable housing more attainable for youth like Lawai. Young people who experience homelessness in its many forms can access immediate supports that help them move quickly through the shelter system into longer term, supported housing.
When youth are at a crossroads, the support offered by YSB frontline staff plays a pivotal role in helping educate and guide young people on their journey.
Without intervention, youth risk becoming entrenched in homelessness. To stop this cycle, United Way invests in programs like the transitional housing program at YSB that focus on getting youth into safe housing first, so they can then address the other barriers that prevent them from finding success.
“When they come here, it is a critical point in their lives and we’re here to support them in figuring out what the next steps are,” says Taryn, Coordinator of Youth Services Bureau’s Young Men’s Shelter. “We give them the support and education they need to make informed decisions about where their paths will lead, whether that’s addressing mental health, physical health, employment or education.”
Within weeks of arriving in Ottawa, Lawai was accepted to the academic upgrading program at Algonquin College, as recommended by the support staff at YSB. They also connected him to a job fair where he found a job to support himself.
Lawai is well on his way to achieving his goals in pursuit of a better life here in Ottawa. He is also intent on experiencing everything his new city has to offer: “I’m excited about a lot of things, things that I can finally try, like sky diving—there’s just something about jumping off a plane that excites me.”
For Lawai, the sky is the limit.