UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE AND NO JUDGMENT
The youth who come to the Day Centre are greeted by a team we refer to as our “front-line services.” They are the ones who observe the impacts of homelessness up close — and the first caring faces someone new to Dans la rue sees.
So what’s the first contact with the Day Centre like? The counsellors start by filling out an information sheet with each youth and asking them what their three most pressing needs are. Among the most popular answers: food, a shower, clothing, help with a physical or mental health problem, assistance in applying for government-issued ID and guidance in finding a place to live.
This experience varies from one youth to the next, depending on how open they are to interacting with others. The idea is to let them proceed at their own pace. What they are going through can be tremendously difficult, not to mention exhausting. Before they can do anything else, they need the chance to stop, rest and think.
If it’s their first time at Dans la rue, our front-line team tells them about the history of our organization, about Pops, so they get to know us a little better and start to feel a connection. They are also informed of the rules at the Day Centre.
A front-line counsellor has to be ready to roll with the punches. Every day is different. Every youth is different. And their needs are as unique as they are.
SPOTLIGHT ON OUR FRONT-LINE COUNSELLORS AT THE DAY CENTRE
Homeless youth are constantly on the move. Their time at the Day Centre is just part of their daily routine. In our services, they find a safe presence and start to forge special connections with the people who work here, who are often the first friendly faces they see in the run of a day. The ties that emerge are deeply meaningful and often remain etched in their memories for a lifetime.
“We make a difference by being here”, says Émilie Vaillancourt, team leader and psychosocial counsellor, who has been working with Dans la rue for 18 years now.
The core front-line services team who greet youth at the Day Centre have remained pretty much the same over the past few years. It is this constant presence that is the foundation for building stronger ties. I talked to Jules Clouâtre, Émilie Vaillancourt, Mary-Christine U.-Ladouceur and Clément Roquet-Morrisson, who have between seven and 25 years of experience at Dans la rue. I arranged to meet with them to hear what they had to say about their experiences with the youth we serve and to get a better idea of what providing these emergency services is like.
A COMFORTING, REASSURING PRESENCE — DAY IN, DAY OUT
This stability means that the Day Centre counsellors have gotten to know some youth very well over the years. The resulting familiarity makes it easier to help them. For some, their first experience with Dans la rue was when they ran away from home or foster care. Later on, losing an apartment or a job, breaking up with a significant other or coping with a mental health issue can undermine the balance they have worked hard to achieve. Whatever the circumstances, youth know that the doors to our services are always open.
“No matter what they are going through, they can come back to us to develop a game plan for moving forward”, explains Mary-Christine, a psychosocial counsellor with Dans la rue for the past eight years.
“We see lots of victories in the course of a day, but some of them can be tenuous, we make sure they always know they can come back. We become their safe space”, says Clément, assistant team leader with seven years as a psychosocial counsellor under his belt.
FLEXIBILITY TO MEET A WIDE RANGE OF NEEDS
The counsellors all say that mental health problems are something they have to deal with every day. Ongoing training helps them determine what youth needs and provide the most suitable form of help.
“They push us to keep broadening our skill sets and our services”, says Jules, who has 25 years’ experience as a psychosocial counsellor at Dans la rue.
The front-line team is always on the lookout for potential problems so they can take swift and decisive action in a crisis and nip potential problems in the bud. Flexibility and creativity are two essential qualities in managing various situations and rolling out tangible solutions within short timeframes.
“It’s almost like we’re on patrol, constantly looking for ways to address their needs”, says Mary-Christine
One thing is for sure: the face of youth homelessness has changed in recent years. Far from the stereotypical “street kids” and “squeegee punks” that may spring to mind, the homeless youth who use our services these days are, increasingly, immigrants, refugees, students and individuals searching for their identity. Today, their needs are different, which means we have to embrace new approaches and create programs suited to them in order to help keep them from becoming entrenched in street life.
A LIFE OF PAIN
With every youth, counsellors strive to alleviate the suffering caused by the circumstances they find themselves in. The path that has led them here is inevitably a painful one, with many old wounds to heal.
“We’re not all the same. What some of these youths have gone through is mind-boggling. But our job is to listen to them without judgment and find ways to help”, says Émilie.
There can be plenty of setbacks and disappointments along the way. Building trust takes time and respect. As they push forward, youth can start to appreciate the opportunities available to them through the counsellors. They learn new ways to put their insecure living conditions behind them.
“We’re here to help get them back on their feet and encourage them to keep going, despite the obstacles”, says Mary-Christine.
The goal in all this is to keep youth the central focus of all our services and make them the priority at every turn. Backed by this approach, they can move past their vulnerability and develop their self-confidence. Our front-line counsellors are a rock they can lean on. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to them for the tremendous work they do in making youth feel welcome, safe, supported and valued, in good times and bad.