'I had no hope': Winnipeg-based Youth Crisis Stabilization Service marks 20 years of helping kids

Four Winnipeg-based non-profits are marking 20 years of helping youth in crisis this week. It’s work Devon Ross says saved his life.

Roughly 1,600 young people and their families find help through service every year

Macdonald Youth Services, Marymound, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata and Project Neecheewam celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Youth Crisis Stabilization Service Friday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Four Winnipeg-based non-profits are marking 20 years of helping youth in crisis this week.

It's work Devon Ross says saved his life.

The now 24-year-old was 15 when police dropped him off at Macdonald Youth Services' Youth Crisis Stabilization Service (YCSS), a support system run in partnership with Marymound, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata and Project Neecheewam.

"I had no hope — I didn't want to be alive," Ross said of the day he was brought into the service. "I was greeted with a smile and a hug — it didn't matter what I did, it didn't matter who I was.

"I didn't always have a voice as a young person and they allowed me that voice."

Ross says he was in a dark place at the time— he was using hard drugs and alcohol, and had been since the age of 11 following his father's suicide.

He says his situation got even worse when he was abused — sexually, emotionally and psychologically — by someone who came into his life under the guise of helping him shortly after his dad's death.

"He told me that he would be there for me … and he basically tore that trust away from me."

From client to volunteer

Ross now sees he was in crisis the night he was arrested and brought to Macdonald Youth Services, and says he wouldn't be alive today if police had have taken him to jail instead.

"My life was chaotic," he said. "I had started committing crimes, I wasn't listening to my mom, I was causing a lot of ruckus at home, I caused a lot of issues for the other two children — I did not make it easy for my mother at all as a single mom."

But he found a different kind of support at YCSS than he'd experienced through the mental health system, he says.

The intake worker he first met at the service started off by telling him his own story.

"I didn't think that anyone else went through the same things that I did. It made it easier to share my story with him."

That first meeting started off a 10-day stay at YCSS for Ross and led to his next nine years of recovery.

Once that initial crisis situation cooled, he was given therapy, support work, and the tools he needed to move forward.

Today Ross is sober, works full time as an operations manager with a Winnipeg trucking company and volunteers for Macdonald Youth Services in his spare time.

20 years of community work

Ross's story is a perfect example of why the YCSS was needed 20 years ago and why it's still needed today, says Charles Reed, clinical co-ordinator of youth crisis services with Macdonald.

The service, which provides a 24-hour crisis line, a mobile crisis team and crisis stabilization units, is on the front line for young people aged nine to 17 and their families when crisis hits, said Reed.

"In the moment, our role is to try to support the family and the child to ensure that things don't break down."

The service's mobile response unit sees teams of two dispatched directly to a family home when needed, and Reed said they help roughly 1,600 people every year. Thousands more find help through the service's crisis line, he said, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And once that critical moment of crisis is over, the service helps clients connect with the help they need to grow and heal.

"Our crisis units help provide some time and breathing space for the parents and child to recalibrate, and then we put in our counselling service to help rebuild relationships in a home."

With files from Marcy Markusa