My grandpa told me for three months, “You’re working with criminals and drug addicts—you need to quit.” He was worried about me volunteering at the Old Strathcona Youth Society. One day, we had an incident and ended up closing early, and as I was waiting for my ride home, it started to snow and get dark. All of my winter gear was in my car, which wouldn’t start that morning. For an average person, this would have been a bad day.
But as I was standing there shivering and resenting my life—having a pity party—two of the youth I worked with came by. Both under 20 years old and homeless with a million issues much worse than my own, and one of them gave me his scarf, and they waited with me so I wouldn’t be alone. They kept me safe and tried to help me stay warm. I was supposed to be taking care of them.
My grandpa ended up picking me up, and forever after that, he says, “Why is everyone so harsh on the homeless? They’re such good people. They have good hearts.” If I can change the mind of a fairly conservative 80-year-old man, I feel like I can show the rest of the world how amazing the homeless youth population is. It’s funny how a terrible day has become one of those profound moments that has really shaped who I am as a nurse and a person.
In my fourth year of nursing school, we had a leadership class and I decided MacEwan needed to have a booth at Homeless Connect, an initiative that brings local agencies together to provide free services to the homeless population. The first year we did it, we focused on pediatric health and did temperature testing. Even though I knew I wasn’t saving the world, I really wanted us to be there was because I think working with the homeless population made me a better nurse. I hoped the project would grow beyond my involvement and it has, and the students are now doing blood glucose testing, which can be a life-saving intervention.
It’s really hard not to become jaded when all you see is someone coming down from a high, screaming and swearing, but that's only one percent of the full picture. I was fortunate enough to get to work with people on a level where I wasn't trying to start IVs or do an assessment. I worked at the youth society for four years and I never once heard a story where I didn’t think, “Wow, if that was my situation, how could I not be worse off than you? You are such a strong survivor to have even come this far.” That’s the message I really wanted to share with the nursing students.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.