A story of turning your experiences into inspiration for others...
In a coffee shop in Downtown Vancouver I met with the Operations Manager of Directions Youth Services, Phoenix, who shared with me interesting information regarding her work at Directions and also her own story of overcoming addiction and homelessness.
Directions is a collection of services offered to youth who are dealing with homelessness. Their valuable services provided to nearly 500 youth every year include 2 youth homes, 10k which is a floor of supportive housing in the Kettle building, their 24 hour Resource centre and a safe detox centre as well as many outreach programs. Directions meets youth where they are at and helps them to overcome the various challenges in their lives. Phoenix began her work with the organization as a peer support worker and moved her way up in the organization. Although she had never been through Directions herself, she was able to empathise with the youth as she has dealt with her own spout of homelessness, mental health and addiction as a teenager.
Phoenix shared with me that she had spent nearly 6 years being homeless after she moved out of her parents house at the age of sixteen. Her homelessness however was what is referred to as "hidden homelessness" as she spent her years couch surfing. Her homelessness began when she was just 16 years old when she left her parents house to make it easier on her impoverished family, that way she explained, they would not need to feed her. She reflected back that it probably wasn't the best choice at the time but she was doing what she thought was best for her family, a decision that I would imagine took a lot of courage.
Phoenix also shared with me that during her time being homeless she dealt with many addictions and mental health problems. Her addictions began when she was as young as 12, using LSD as a regular party drug. When she began using heroin on a daily basis at the age of 15, she became addicted in as little as two weeks and it became evident that she was self medicating to cope with her traumatic childhood.
But after years of hardwork and dedication Phoenix has now been sober for 10 years. She began to realize that her lifestyle was not sustainable and wanted to make a change in her life. The major people that had an influence on her recovery she shared, where her husband, her mother-in-law and most importantly herself. Phoenix now devotes her life to helping those that were in a similar situation to her own and I'm sure is seen as a role model amongst the youth that she works with.
When I asked Phoenix what the most challenging part of her work was, she responded with the opioid crisis and the amount of youth they have lost to overdose. Before the opiod crisis the organization would usually lose around 3-4 youth a year to overdose, suicide, getting ill or whatever it might be in a year. Now, she explained they lose a couple every month and it seemed that every other week they lost a youth to overdose. She explained that it is getting better now with all of the harm reduction that is available to people, but it is still devastating the community and has a long way to go until things are better.
Phoenix spoke of the community that exists amongst the youth of the program and how they all watch out for one another. "It's really neat how even people of rival gangs can come together and put their differences aside to share a meal" she shares. She is constantly inspired by the youth and their courage as well as the staff and their passion and dedication to the program. I really admire Directions and Phoenix for their hard work in helping the youth living on the streets and their commitment to helping those in need.