Marie Josée

Does having a home mean more than a place to sleep—a place that is safe and secure? Does having a family mean unconditional love, shoulders to cry on and endless support? If this is true then I never really had these. My home was my jail. I lived in a rural area—very isolated. My father was abusive to my mom, brothers and me. My parents’ main source of income depended on their crime, whether it was theft or selling drugs. This was my reality.

At school, things weren’t any better –I was bullied every day. My grades started to fall; I was skipping a lot of school and smoking pot, which led me to getting suspended and eventually expelled. I felt like “I” was lost within myself, my mind clouded by negativity, anger, sadness and pain which was too overwhelming. My anxiety and panic attacks made it hard for me to communicate or even socialize. I remember looking out my window and wishing I was somewhere else—wanting to run away, but where? To the forest that surrounded us?

Things changed dramatically after I revealed to my mom my father’s sexual abuse. I was only sixteen at the time. After moving in with my maternal grandparents, I was still going through a lot of problems. I felt like just dying, like nothing mattered at all. I couldn’t even go to school and see my friends because my grandparents lived too far away. That’s when I first got involved with the Youth Services Bureau (YSB). My mom brought me to the YSB’s Young Women’s Emergency Shelter. Through the shelter I got involved with the Downtown Drop-In.

Everything was new to me—I wasn’t used to the city. This was the beginning of my “street life”. I met some street-involved youth and we quickly became friends. They accepted me and didn’t judge me. I started using heavy drugs like ecstasy, crack, and speed; basically anything I could get my hands on. This helped with my anxiety and made me forget my problems.

I started sleeping on the streets, in abandoned houses, motels and friends’ houses. To support my drug use I had to panhandle for most of the day, sometimes even committing crimes to get what I needed –which led me to having a criminal record and doing some time at the William Hay detention center. I was on a destructive path and could barely recognize myself. I was also going in and out of hospitals for suicidal thoughts and harming myself.

Through my struggles, the YSB Drop-In was always there to help, sometimes just for someone to talk to, or for basic needs (food/shower). The shelter connected me with my worker from SASC (Sexual Assault Support Centre) who I still see to this day. They also supported me through the court process against my dad. After about a year and a half of crisis, I decided that I’d had enough and wanted to make some changes. I got myself clean off of drugs and into stable housing.

I wanted to give back to YSB for everything they gave me so I joined the Youth Engagement Program. I’ve been involved with the Program for almost three years now and have gone from being a member in my committee to the leader position. The committee has helped me work toward my goals and keep me on the right track. Through conferences, workshops and more, I have learnt so much and have found my voice.

I feel like part of my community, which is important to me. YSB believed in me and pushed me to challenge myself. They saw me as a person when I felt invisible. YSB is more than an organization; it’s a family, a home and a friend. I have grown so much with them and have regained my self-confidence. I see myself as a worthy person who can achieve anything in this world, thanks to them. I now live in YSB long-term housing, have finished my high school, and I am currently in college.