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Support services group finding new ways to help at-risk youth through COVID-19 crisis
Youth Empowerment and social services provides social services for youth aged 15 to 24 who don’t have appropriate housing or care. (YESS)
EDMONTON -- The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many doors to close – but staff at Edmonton’s Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) say for them, closing isn’t an option.
YESS provides social services for youth aged 15 to 24 who don’t have appropriate housing or care.
Through YESS at-risk youth are able to access supportive housing, a 24-bed shelter at night as well as a daytime drop-in centre. Youth members also have access to food and life skills programs.
The support service’s focus is on prevention and diversion out of homelessness.
As of March 16, the non-profit organization has implemented a work-from-home order for non-essential staff.
The move is meant to help ensure both youth workers and youth are protected from COVID-19.
“We’ve really had to modify our daytime resource centre to really just make it the minimum amount of services and keep self-isolation distances,” Margo Long, YESS president and CEO, told CTV News through video chat.
“As well as trying to figure out what we’re going to do with symptoms and identifying kids who need to be treated or quarantined,” she said.
“The problem with our youth is that they’re very immunocompromised,” said Long. “Lots of them have been living outside, are malnourished, may have concurrent disorder, a lot of them have been smoking intoxicants or nicotine, so that makes them more vulnerable.”
Long says YESS has been working with the Expo Centre, now a venue to help vulnerable people through the coronavirus crisis, to provide COVID-19 testing and isolation for its young members when needed.
"Which is a big relief for us,” she said. “We’re really having to collaborate and work together with all of the youth agencies in the city to come up with a better way to coordinate access and cover some of the gaps right now.”
In recent weeks, to protect both staff and young members from COVID-19, YESS has had to close its public in-kind donations of all clothing and household items.
The group says it's hopeful its business partners continue to donate food so they can keep feeding their youth members.
YESS receives some funding through Alberta Children’s Services, but according to Long, that only accounts for a small portion of what’s needed.
About 80 per cent of the social service provider’s funding comes through donations from businesses.
With many businesses facing their own challenges through the COVID-19 crisis, the nonprofit organization has been looking for new ways to stay funded, including an online raffle.
“Unfortunately we tend to forget our vulnerable youth,” Long said. “I’m worried that that’s going to happen once again. These are young people that don’t have homes to isolate in, parents to take care of them.”
You can donate to YESS by going to its website’s donation page.