Nicole Tilley, a Choices for Youth (CFY) staff member, is the Team Lead at our Emergency Shelter. Nicole was one of the first staff members hired to work at The Shelter and has been supporting the young people who pass through its doors for almost 20 years. Before starting her career with CFY, Nicole worked with other youth-serving organizations. When she heard that CFY was opening The Shelter for young men she was eager to join the team. CFY was still finishing construction of our Carter’s Hill Place building when Nicole interviewed for her position at The Shelter.
“It was an exciting thing at the time because Carter’s Hill Place was built to be a centre of multiple services for youth, so that youth could access whatever services they required. It was initially a number of different organizations for youth all in the one building, and Choices was a small part of that at the time.”
Throughout her tenure with CFY, Nicole has witnessed firsthand the growth of both The Shelter and the organization as a whole. She has also observed the evolving needs of the youth she serves.
”It’s been very interesting because when we started, CFY was just the supportive housing program, and then The Shelter came on board. When I started there were fifteen staff and two programs/services. All the other programs came to be from seeing the needs of youth. We’ve grown a lot in 20 years, and it has been amazing to watch.”
Nicole credits CFY’s willingness to listen to youth and tailor their programming to fit their individual needs as one of the reasons for the organization’s continued success.
“Someone comes into The Shelter and it’s about housing, obviously. But they might also be looking for employment, or they might want to start in a training program, or they might be looking at something like The Lilly or RallyForward for that extra support and we can now do that within the organization, whereas prior to that we had to look to the broader community.”
“One young person came to the door, he was coming back to be re-assessed to be admitted to The Shelter, and he said, ‘Hey Nicole, I’m home.’ I thought that was very sweet but sad at the same time – That he would think of The Shelter as ‘home’ but also that he didn’t have any other support in his life.”
When it first opened, CFY’s Shelter was truly innovative for its time. It was the only shelter in St. John’s for male and male-identifying youth, and the team took a more informal approach, meeting the youth where they were and developing relationships while providing services to meet their needs.
The dynamic that The Shelter team has cultivated over the years allows them to develop relationships with the young people they support. These relationships assist staff when engaging with youth, who ultimately know that The Shelter team is looking out for their best interests.
“I always say that it’s our relationships with the young people that save us. At the end of the day, I think most of them realize that we are trying to do the best that we can for them. Even in difficult times and challenging situations, there are times that young people will come back to us and say, ‘I know why you had to make that decision.’ And if you do it with kindness, they know. Even if we have to make a decision that they don’t like at the time. That’s our approach and I think they respond really well to that.”
The needs of young people in NL have certainly evolved to become more complex in recent years. Nicole’s experience at The Shelter gives her a great perspective on the unique set of challenges facing young people today.
“It’s an unprecedented time. I have never seen the housing market in particular being in such a crisis. That has impacted young people more than other people looking for housing. We used to have a maximum 30-day stay, in and out, and now we have young people for months because there is simply no housing, and the housing that is available is unobtainable for them.”
Nicole has learned a lot about herself after nearly 20 years working with young people at The Shelter. A lot can change in 20 years, and Nicole has become comfortable navigating change and how it affects The Shelter’s day-to-day operations.
“There has been a lot of change. Prior to coming here, I don’t think I was good with change, but it’s something that you adapt to. As the organization has grown, and different people and perspectives come to the table, we have to adapt, and we have to adapt to meet the needs of the young people. When circumstances change, we have to change with it. Sometimes that’s difficult.”
Nicole has certainly experienced many trials and tribulations while working at the CFY Shelter. She believes in the work that the team is doing and their ability to build and maintain relationships with young people. Having strong relationships with young people allows The Shelter team to help them take small steps each day to continue making progress.
“The Shelter is oftentimes the place where young people are introduced to Choices as a whole. For whatever reason they have become homeless, and we have been able to offer them a bed at The Shelter and then open up a whole world of resources that they didn’t know existed. And that work is being done every day.”
“There was one particular individual who had come to the Shelter multiple times. We were doing whatever we could to try and have him apply for Income Support, so he could at least have some income. We had never been able to assist him in doing that, as much as we would offer. It just wasn’t one of his priorities. Eventually, during one of his admissions, I was able to have him apply for Income Support. That was one of my proudest moments.”