When a scared and mistrustful kid comes to our health care clinic, our caring nurses gently help them to open up about their health challenges. Learning to trust the intentions of adults again and accept their help is a critical step for a youth to heal and move forward.
“I was surprised by the warmth at Covenant House when I started here,” shares our nurse Mary. “I had worked with vulnerable and marginalized youth before, but here there is a real sense of partnership and community.”
Nurse Elisa agrees, “Staff do a great job of modeling healthy, positive relationships to our youth who have sometimes never seen functional, respectful relationships before.”
Elisa, who used to be an emergency room nurse, finds that she is able to connect with youth in a deeper way at our clinic. As an example, she explains the power of a foot bath. Many of our youth have foot problems due to living on the street. They are walking all day outside, often in poor weather with worn, dirty or ill-fitting shoes. Offering a youth a foot bath in Epsom salts is a nurturing act that disarms a fast-moving kid. While they sit for twenty minutes relaxing in the water, their breath slows, their muscles release and their thoughts become more tempered. A foot bath becomes an opportunity for youth to share their stories with Elisa.
One day, Portia, 17, opened up to Elisa that she was relied on “sugar daddies” to survive. “I’ve got to stop living like this,” she confided. Like many girls who find themselves stuck in the sex trade, she struggled with an addiction to crystal meth. Bright and introspective, Portia dreamed of something better for herself. Portia checked into a detox facility and is responding well. Despite Portia’s tragic history at such an early age, Elisa is very hopeful for her. “She is so smart and confident, and she wants so much more for herself. I have a lot of faith she’ll go far in life.”
Justin was a youth who came to Toronto from the prairies to reconnect with his father. A couple of years earlier, he started to experience psychotic episodes. When he came to us, he had been off his medication and was not doing well. Elisa helped him call his mother out west. When his mom answered the phone, she was beside herself with joy and relief. She spent a long time speaking to Elisa directly. Justin’s mom was able to fax a complete medical history to Elisa, so he could receive the care he needed. Elisa was moved that Justin’s mom cried tears of gratitude. After Justin stabilized on medication, Elisa arranged for him to return home to his mom.
Mai was a shy and sheltered kid who lived alone with her unstable and emotionally abusive mother. She left home at 18, but she arrived here terrified. Mary treated her for anxiety and depression, as well as some chronic stress-related physical issues, and connected her with one of our visiting psychiatrists. But Mary also made sure to give her some extra TLC. She walked her around the shelter, helped her with her schedule and made sure to check in with her frequently. The other day, Mai was delighted to tell Mary that she was beginning to feel better and she had made a good friend in our crisis shelter.
“We play a strong advocacy role for youth,” Mary says. “There are so many barriers to young people. We will help them navigate government services, so they can get a health or drug card. With youth’s consent we call hospitals to coordinate care with other members of the healthcare team.”
Our nurses will accommodate youth who are nervous in a clinic setting by meeting with them in our kitchenette, on some stairs or in another part of our shelter. They will give a youth who is living on the street a bagged lunch, a shirt or a pair of socks. It’s a gesture of caring that can mean a great deal to kids who spend their days living in isolation and fear.
“Our youth are so guarded and let down by people, and then they trust us enough to open up and get the help they need—it’s so rewarding,” explains Elisa. Mary adds, “It’s a privilege to care for young people. We get to witness their triumphs. They come to us at the lowest point of their lives. Watching them unfold and overcome is a beautiful thing.”