Elaine was about 12 years old when her life started turning upside down. She had been living with her dad since the age of 10, when her mother walked out on her.

Elaine“We started hanging out at this club for youth 13 to 17, even though we were only 12. I ended up meeting this guy one night… we had nowhere to stay, because I told my dad I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, but she said, ‘No, I don’t want you staying here,’ and he offered to let me stay at his place. He lied and told me he was 20, when really he was 25, but I told him I was 18 as well. I didn’t know he had a history [with drugs]… and he got me into that because I started staying with him.”

After knowing him only a week, Elaine had moved in. Within a month she had told him her real age, and she found out his. This didn’t impact the situation at all. “He was a big liar. He had just gotten out of the penitentiary after doing three years there.” He met her parents, and soon her mother entered her life again.

“I guess she wanted to do anything possible to make me happy, so we lied to my dad, and told him I was living with her when really I was living with this guy.”

Being a drug user led her to the streets of Ottawa. One day, her boyfriend was arrested. A friend told her about YSB. “I was really hungry, I hadn’t showered, and I was too young to go to [Centre] 454, and my friend said, ‘You can come here!’”

“There are a lot of resources [at YSB]. Now especially, because I’m pregnant, and clean, and trying to get my own place, I need this place—it’s like the foundation of my life. Not only that, it’s a safe place to meet new friends, and a safe place to be if you have had problems with other youth.”

What led to this change in her life? “I got arrested in December 2007, and I spent a year [being released and re-arrested] over and over. Finally, I got arrested in September 2008, and did four months, and got released in December 2008. And that’s when I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’

“There were a lot of times when I was trying to get clean, but I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it for someone else, like my parents. When I got out of jail I was trying so hard to stay away from crack and morphine, I started drinking a lot, and not following probation… luckily, my probation officer at the time was a worker I had had at another social service, and she let a lot of stuff slide, which is something I really needed at that time because I was still recovering.”

“One of the biggest things that has changed has been the fact that my family never trusted me. They never really wanted to be around me for too long, and I avoided visiting them because I didn’t want them to see me high, so I never got to see my little brother. I follow through with what I say I’m going to do, and they see that I’m doing better. Even though I’m still looking for housing, everything has gotten so much better now, and they trust me, and they want to be around me – my dad actually called me yesterday just to see how I was doing. I’ve been totally honest with them about everything.

“I regret dropping out [of high school] more than anything. If I had never dropped out I would have graduated by now… I could have gone to prom; I could have graduated with all my friends. I see them, and they tell me they’re going to Ottawa University, and I’m like ‘I should be there. I could have been there!’ But everything happens for a reason. I’ve been clean for 15 months now, I’m off probation which is a huge accomplishment for me. I want to do Graphic Design at Algonquin, and then start my own interior/exterior design and fashion business.”

One thing she wants to share? “If you need the help, ask for it – don’t be scared. I know it’s really hard – it was really hard for me, to just ask for help. If you do ask, you’ll get ten times more than you expected and end up where you want to be!”