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Our Programs Student Placements

Student Placements

Kimberley O’Doherty

Salvation Army

Sutton Youth Shelter

 

 

 

Agency Profile Assignment

 

 

by

Kimberley O’Doherty

029-415-072

for

Prof. Kennedy

SSW247

February 11, 2009.

 

 

            After many emails and telephone conversations I was fortunate enough to obtain a placement with the Salvation Army Sutton Youth Shelter in Sutton, Ontario. I say fortunate because I had spent many hours researching and then contacting many other agencies to no avail. I was beginning to think I would not find a place until I spoke with a fellow mentor at Ski Hill Blues, a volunteer organization that I devote time to. She is involved with the Salvation Army and suggested I try the Sutton Shelter. My mother always says things happen for a reason, and I think she is right. This is a wonderful place, not the biggest or the flashiest, but certainly the warmest I have ever been; both to the clients and the frontline workers. I found a good home for this semester.

            The shelter is officially called Sutton Youth Shelter, and it is overseen by the Salvation Army. It is located at 20898 Dalton Road, in the small town of Sutton West, Ontario L0E1R0. They may be reached by telephone at 905-722-9076, or by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

            One of the newer shelters to begin operating under the Salvation Army’s guidance, it is located in a former elementary school. After a one million dollar renovation funded by York Region, Sutton Youth Shelter opened for business in March of 2006. It was carefully designed to provide assistance for homeless youth in the region between the ages of 16 to 26. The agency’s Mission Statement is proudly displayed on a plaque mounted on the wall of the office for everyone, clients and counselors both, to see.

                        “Sutton Youth Shelter will give provision to the physical

and spiritual care to youth in York Region. We will encourage, model

and teach community in Christ to meet the holistic needs and develop

the gifts of youth that we meet, through compassion, support and

Christian love.”

“A safe place for new beginnings…”

            The Sutton Youth Shelter is funded by York Region and supported municipally by the towns of Sutton West/ Georgina. It is also thankfully supported by the generous donations of many members of the community. Open 24/7 it operates on a first come first served basis, unlike other shelters that may require a referral. In addition to the 16 short term emergency beds, there are also 10 transitional beds available for extended stays up to one year. Clients can apply for these spots to live while they upgrade their education/skills and search for gainful employment. Emergency beds are signed off on a daily basis. They are used for those coming in off the street and needing a place to stay. There is a 6 month limit.

Transitional beds are separate from the emergency beds. They are used by clients that have proved they are responsible enough to live on their own and take care of themselves, but still need help in obtaining enough money to actually move out on their own. Think of transitional beds as the step between staying in emergency beds in the shelter and having your own apartment off the premises. These clients are expected to continue looking for a job as well as housing. They are welcome to all of the assistance that the emergency clients are given. They are given one year to find themselves a steady job and a place to stay.

Sutton Youth Shelter has several programs in place to assist their clients in re-entering society. Since these clients are quite young, 16 to 26 years of age, these programs closely resemble skills and principles most often taught to children by their parents. Since the majority of clients lack a strong family upbringing, the frontline workers at the shelter must fill that role.

The shelter provides any resident, emergency or transitional, the assistance they require in order to find housing and employment. Their counselor helps them find employment and housing postings in the local newspaper as well as in the surrounding areas. They teach them how to communicate with a potential landlord, and they assist them in gaining the confidence needed to actually go and inquire about the listing. Whether they simply point out possible housing or actually accompany them to the meeting depends on the individual need of the client. In fact this is what the transitional program is all about. It helps bridge the gap by allowing the residents more freedom and responsibility while at the same time requiring them to pay rent. The amount of rent they pay is based on the amount of salary they earn. Once housing is found the shelter helps the resident with the moving process. The counselors want the best for the resident so they make sure he/she is ready to leave and live on their own and they ensure the client has sufficient income in place to cover not only the rent but also the other necessities.  In some cases they also help provide the resident with some regular household items like towels, bedding and some clothing. Though they would often like to give more, the amount given is dictated by the amount they have to give.

The shelter encourages their residents to continue with attaining the highest level of education available to them, whether it is constructing a plan to continue and graduate high school, start and complete their GED (General Education Diploma) or even perhaps continuing on to college. They provide the equipment and knowledge needed to guide the client through the school system as well as the time and an appropriate working space in which to do it.

The Sutton Youth Shelter has a “no tolerance” policy when it comes to alcohol and drug use. If a resident comes to the shelter under the influence they put him/her on restriction; privileges and even their room is taken away from them for at least the night; this keeps them separate from the other residents. As well, if they are severely under the influence the police may be called. The shelter may also help find them a more suitable place to stay if this behaviour continues. Since the shelter realizes that some residents may have a substance abuse problem they also provide programs designed to help them through these issues. They host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, Anger Management etc. every week. All residents and counselors are welcome to all meetings without judgment, and in some cases it is required in order to have any restrictions lifted.

The shelter also provides some programs to help the residents work on their social skills. Every Tuesday is movie night, where a couple of the counselors plan a trip to the movie theatre in the area. The residents are required to pay for most of the cost, and their level of participation is based on their past behaviour and their willingness to follow the rules of the shelter while on the trip. Every Saturday is movie day, where the frontline workers bring in DVDs and all the residents are invited to watch and play games in the recreation room. The residents are also encouraged to come up with programs or activity ideas for the shelter, in fact a trip to Ottawa was put together by a couple of the residents and they went just last Tuesday.

The most important programs, in my opinion, are the ones that focus on teaching the residents life skills. They range from routine chores to sewing sessions. Each resident is responsible for their own belongings, their locker, their bed and their shared room. It is up to each of the residents to keep their rooms tidy as well as look after their own personal hygiene. Each day they are assigned a chore, from shoveling the snow to emptying the garbage and recycling; from early morning dishes to late evening dish washing. Transitional residents do not have chore duties, instead they are expected to do their own grocery shopping and prepare their own meals. If they choose to participate in the other activities they must ask a counselor and complete a chore. There is no such thing as a free ride! (This is a hidden life skill in itself.)

The most important life skill is the ability to follow rules. For the residents, the first challenge is to follow the shelter’s rules. This may be particularly difficult for some residents because they are accustomed to living on their own and doing as they please with little regard for others. It is expected that if the residents wish to stay in the shelter and continue to get assistance from the front line workers they must follow the rules. If they choose not to, they will find themselves on restriction, excluded from all shelter activities and they do not receive their PNA (Personal Needs Allowance) for that week. If they change their ways and live by the rules their restriction would be lifted and they may receive their PNA on the following week. If the poor behaviour continues then the counselors may have to call the police (if problems escalate) or the client may have to find another shelter that can better suite their needs.

Social Work’s Purpose: Social Functioning.

The shelter’s main mission is to provide a safe and warm environment for those in need. They provide the guidance and protection needed to create not only a healthy physical life but also a healthier emotional or psychological life. They provide the basic needs that everyone needs to succeed in today’s world; food, shelter, medical care, support, acceptance and hopefully a new purpose in their life. They provide everything that is needed to begin a new, positive and productive life as a valued member of the community.

 

Social Work’s Purpose: Improved Social Conditions.

Every day frontline workers struggle, together with the community, to not only provide a safe place for youth to come to, but to also promote healthy lifestyles and behaviors. By teaching the youth that arrive at the shelter more effective ways of dealing with different situations,  teaching them the appropriate ways to interact with each other, their elders, their superiors and all of those in their environment, the counselors are improving the social conditions of their clients as well as the surrounding community. They work together with the community to raise awareness of their cause and hold yard sales to try and get the community to take a hand in helping. At first the shelter was met with some resistance however now the community seems to want to be a part of the young people’s lives, they want to be a part of making their community healthier and stronger.

The Sutton Youth Shelter is co-ed and houses youths from the age of 16 to 26. Potential residents can be sent from other shelters, the parole board or they can just come in off the street. Upon entering the shelter they are assessed, and it is up to the frontline workers to decide whether or not they meet the requirements. The main requirement is that they have no other place to go to. Sutton Youth Shelter doesn’t often turn people away. If over booked they will do their best to find another safe place for the youth to go to, if they cannot they will usually come up with the space so that the youth at least has a place to stay the night. The clients come to this shelter because they have no other place to go; there are many reasons for this. They could have an abusive environment at home (physical, emotional or psychological), they may not be allowed to remain at home, or they may not have a home to go to at all.

The typical client comes to the shelter without any particular goals; they have nowhere to go and no one to talk to. Their primary goal is to simply find a safe place to sleep. After this point it is up to the counselors to encourage the client to look ahead and imagine that they have a future. They are then encouraged to set some reasonable goals for themselves in regard to education, employment and housing. As I previously mentioned while staying at the shelter they are also free to involve themselves in as many activities as they would like, such as movie night, crafts and games night.

In the few short weeks I have been at the Sutton Youth Shelter I have mostly been involved with social programs. These programs might include movie night, dinner preparation or Saturday activities (board games and movies). Although I am new to this agency I have been invited to participate in all shelter activities and programs. In fact they have even asked me for my ideas. Since I have just started I have not yet had the opportunity to actively join all aspects, though I am looking forward to doing so. At the moment I find myself to be more a part of the Social Skills and Life Skills programs. I am there to help the residents with any questions they may have; I help out with dinner and the preparation for Movie Saturday. I have also inquired about possibly holding a “Rock Band Competition” on a weekend. I can only imagine how much more I will be able to do, and possibly how many group activities I may be able to start when their gymnasium area is up and running. I am looking forward to being a part of this agency because I believe it’s truly giving the youth a helping hand, a new start, and a kind place to get it from.

I feel that the social skill programs are the most important ones, often it is these social skills or lack thereof that make the difference between living on your own and living in a shelter. These social and life skills programs are what enable these youths to move from shelter life to community life. Through these programs they learn to follow the rules, take responsibility for their actions, appreciate the needs and thoughts of others and ultimately discover that there is a place for them in the same society that previously rejected them.

One very important issue we face daily at the shelter is drug use. This is in spite of the strict no tolerance policy in place when it comes to substance abuse. If clients come to us addicted, we find them a more appropriate place to detox; if they come to us clean and wanting to stay that way, we have Al Anon and Narc Anon to help support them. If rarely,the client has never experimented with drugs or alcohol, we gladly counsel them on the benefits of staying that way. This is an uphill, lifelong battle for everyone, client and counselor both, due to the never ending presence of drugs in our society. The same society that prescribes antidepressants and pain relievers for everything that ails us sends a mixed message to teenagers when it comes to illicit drugs. When vulnerable youth feel they have nowhere to go and no-one to support them they may turn to drugs /alcohol to help ease the pressure and disappointment in their lives. This provides a welcome release from their daily worries but is fleeting and detrimental at best. A client, who overcomes the temptation and finds some sanctuary at the shelter, will find it very short lived when he/she ventures back out in society and resumes the friendships that perhaps tempted him/her in the first place.

Drug use is the thorn in the side of the frontline worker who strives daily to encourage and support the client in their quest for respectability. All the life skills sessions and education in the world will not ease the suffering of the drug or alcohol addicted. Employers do not want to hire them; landlords will not rent to them. They cannot gain the self respect needed to succeed, since the lack of same is what keeps them on the drugs in the first place; it is a hard cycle to break. Any progress is always tenuous at best.

But given the right environment, exceptional support and guidance, and firm policies, success can be had. The Sutton Youth Shelter is helping to curb this problem by enforcing strict policies with a firm hand, and a kind heart. They do not allow intoxicated clients access to rooms. They are offered a cot in the hall to protect the other residents, and encouraged to attend support meetings. Life and social skills are taught and reinforced by positive role models so that the client can reduce his/her chance of repeating the destructive behaviour upon re-entering society. That is after all, the reason we’re here, isn’t it?

To some I may sound a bit starry-eyed and it is certainly true that I have no experience whatsoever with being homeless. However I have had my share of difficulties during my life that I continue to struggle with to this day and quite possibly well into the future. I am constantly shocked at how callous and self-centered people can be when it comes to aiding others. If it were not for the rock solid support of my family I might very well be living right alongside those at the shelter. So I understand how important it is for these vulnerable people to have a support system, and in the few short weeks I have been at the Sutton Youth Shelter I think these kids have found it. I marvel at how compassionate the director Rochelle, volunteer co-coordinator Corriene, and frontline workers Craig, Jeff, Rory and Oona to name just a few, can remain when faced with the daily struggles of their clients; and understand completely their appreciation of even the smallest victories.

I am extremely pleased they agreed to have me.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 BIBLIOGRAPHY American Academy of Child& Adolecent Psychiatry. 01 January 2009 .

Kennedy, Kevin, Denise Ramsarran and Lorinne Lam. Anthology Of Readings. Seneca College, n.d.

Salvation army give hope today. 9th March 2006. Feburary 2009 .