Home­less teens con­nect

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - ClairE ThEobald

Se­bas­tian Levesque, 17, couldn’t help but smile as he loaded his pock­ets with snacks and pam­phlets Thurs­day at the fourth an­nual YEG Youth Con­nect at the Boyle Street Plaza.

“It feels pretty great,” said Levesque. “They ac­tu­ally want to help, and there’s not that many peo­ple in this world that want to help other peo­ple.”

Levesque said he has been home­less since he was 12, but never re­ally had a sta­ble fam­ily or home even be­fore that.

“I’m try­ing to ac­tu­ally start my life, be­cause six years on the streets is not go­ing to be too easy,” said Levesque, ea­ger to learn about hous­ing and em­ploy­ment ser­vices avail­able from the ap­prox­i­mately 35 agen­cies gath­ered at the event.

“I’ve got big dreams, and I’m look­ing to ac­tu­ally make them come true,” Levesque said, adding, “I’ve got no con­nec­tions, I’ve got no way to start up. I’ve got to build it up from the ground.”

Levesque was just one of about 300 youth be­tween the ages of 13 and 29 who are ei­ther home­less or are on the brink of home­less­ness at YEG Youth Con­nect, where they could meet so­cial ser­vice providers while get­ting a free meal, a hair­cut or pos­ing for a photo.

“The event is meant to con­nect youth with youth serv­ing agen­cies here in the city of Edmonton,” said Michael Peters, YEG Youth Con­nect co-chair. “We know there is a mul­ti­tude of agen­cies pro­vid­ing such great work; the bar­rier we want to over­come is hav­ing those youth con­nect to those agen­cies.”

Ac­cord­ing to the last Home­ward Trust Home­less Count in 2016, up to a third of those who are home­less in Edmonton are un­der the age of 25.

Peters hopes that by invit­ing youth to in­ter­act with so­cial ser­vice providers in a less for­mal set­ting, youth will build fa­mil­iar­ity with those who can pro­vide sup­port and em­power those youth to seek out those ser­vices when they are in need.

“They are com­ing in on their own terms, they are the ones ap­proach­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties, so they get a chance to lead the way, and I think that helps build their con­fi­dence and hope­fully in­crease the op­por­tu­nity of them ac­cess­ing those sup­ports long term,” said Peters.

David Shep­herd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Cen­tre, said it’s not enough to cre­ate path­ways out of poverty, there needs to be strate­gies to “work to close off the paths that lead there.”

Levesque said a com­mon thread amongst many home­less peo­ple is ad­dic­tion. He strug­gled with and over­came the abuse of hard drugs in his early teens.

De­spite the chal­lenges he faces, Levesque is op­ti­mistic about his fu­ture — hop­ing to one day be able to up­lift other home­less peo­ple — and of­fered en­cour­ag­ing words to other youth like him strug­gling to sur­vive on the streets.

“Do not ever give up; you are stronger than you think. You can’t give up,” Levesque said. “Life will get bet­ter.” @ClaireTheobald

Ed KaiSEr

Hair­cuts was one of the ser­vices of­fered to home­less teens at the Boyle Street Plaza on Thurs­day.

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