A youth worker’s struggle to help Dufferin county’s homeless youth

Youth worker, Krista Dean* is overworked and stressed due to the lack of resources available when dealing with youth struggling with mental illness.

While she is a trained Child and Youth Worker, Dean’s training did not include how to properly support people with mental health struggles. Working at Choices Youth Shelter, housing up to twenty youth at one time, support and resources are critical to success. However, resources and support are not something that is easy to find when it comes to mental health.

As an employee, Dean was responsible for conducting intake appointments and one-on-one conversations with the youth staying at the shelter.  There is only one employee for every twenty students on any given shift, and Dean found this part of her job particularly difficult.

“The staff can only do so much because they have to try to run the shelter and make dinner and make sure it’s clean, make sure everyone is following the rules. So really, when is there time to do counseling and stuff like that?” she explains. “Trying to meet twenty kids in one night is not happening.”

“And when I met with them it was supposed to be for case work, like helping them try to find jobs and stuff but a lot of the time the counseling would turn into, ‘I have problems with drugs, I need to find AA or I need to get counseling.’ So you’d help them do referrals and everything like that, and again, there’s not much of that in Orangeville so it was like pulling teeth trying to get them into programs like that.”

Too often she saw youth coming to the shelter clearly struggling. “I think that just about every single one of them had some type of mental health situation they were struggling with and that was either the reason they were kicked out or it was a new thing because living on the street can cause trauma,” she said.

Without a mental health institution or support staff in Orangeville or surrounding area, Dean often found herself talking to the teenagers who needed help, but she was unsatisfied with what she could provide. Dean explained that a typical scenario “was really just a lot of sitting and listening to them and being a support. That’s mainly how I made the connection with them and once I was able to make that connection and they felt safe coming to me and they felt accepted then they would come to me about everything. It was literally talking about the day to talking about family to talking about something that happened ten years ago, to talking about the issues that they think they’re going to have in a week. It was a lot. A lot to take in.”

While she was too familiar with the strain it caused, Dean knew it was what the kids needed. “They need me to sit down and talk to them because there’s so much going on in their heads and so much that they’re trying to deal with. I have skills, but I don’t have the skills to be able to deal with everything.”

Dean is not the only youth worker that struggles to provide the kids what they need. They don’t have the training required to be able to deal with some of the situations they inevitably face. And without support or resources in the area, they are left to simply listen, even though the kids require so much more.

I’ve had to really accept the fact that you’re not going to save everybody.

A large reason for this, Dean explains, is that Choices Youth Shelter is not set up to be that kind of shelter. “It’s unfortunate because that program is set up for homeless youth to go there, but it’s not an ideal program because it’s not set up for mental health either. In fact when I was there, if people would stay with us who had mental health but were refusing their medication and their behaviours were too much for us to deal with we would actually ask them to leave. It’s only one staff for twenty people and it’s possibly a risk to you and the rest of the people, or themselves so they had to leave. So it’s not set up for mental health either, there’s not enough supervision for that.”

Through working at Choices and other group homes, Dean continues to see the pressing issue among homeless youth. “I just want to see something in town that deals with mental health and right now, as it stands, there’s nothing. Not even Choices. It sucks.”

“It’s not all doom and gloom though,” Dean said. “You’ll go in sometimes and you’ll have a day where you’ll see that person so happy and it’s the best day ever over something so simple. So you live for those days.”

Where those days are few and far between, Dean admits, “I’ve had to really accept the fact that you’re not going to save everybody.”

“It is a good job though, I enjoy it a lot. But there is a lot of stress involved. I just look at it as I’m not saving everybody, but I’m helping out someone right now so that’s good. That’s all you can do, unfortunately.”


Click to see images of Choices Youth Shelter

*To maintain confidentiality, the subject’s real name is not used in this story.


An Altered View

After our class has proved how educated, critical and academic we are through the various blog posts and comments, I felt as though I was left with nothing else to say! We’ve done such a great job of covering so many topics from cultural appropriation to copyright, hacktivists and social media.

In effort to bring everything together, I wanted to discuss how through my experiences as a communications student, and specifically in this Citizen Media class, my view of society, and more importantly my role in it has drastically changed.

One thing I have noticed the most is the skepticism I’ve developed, which Monica does a great job of bringing to light in her blog. I have become so incredibly critical about every single commercial, news story, novel, film or piece of art that I see.  Based on the fact that anyone, anywhere can create and recreate information and disseminate it online, it deters me from trusting anything I see, read, or hear online or from others who have found information online.

However, then there are times that I gain so much hope and excitement for the culture and society that we are creating through social media. Seeing things such as the TED talk viewed in class in January reinforces this, where we are able to study the use of social media, for example, and how communities are evolving in our backyards as well as across the world.

Our discussions of participatory media, I’ve developed a huge appreciation for news sources such as Al Jazeera or Democracy Now. As a result, I’ve even changed my view of what career I want to pursue. Although I wasn’t heart set on being a journalist, it was a definite possibility before, but I have recently asked myself how can I be a part of a system that I have studied so extensively to discover corruption and the negative result of media convergence? But I don’t see my career change as a bad thing at all! I think it’s great that I’ve had the privilege to study the media to such an extent that makes me critical of what it is I’m consuming.

I would have to say this is my favourite aspect of the Internet today, and what I see through our generation and the next – we are becoming more and more critical as a result of information being so readily available and being exposed to so many different things. I see authorship in the same way because the internet is encouraging people to become the producers, and while this does create issues of authorship and copyright, I think it creates a more involved citizenry.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that as a graduation communications student, I feel well as though my experiences through this class and my journey to the degree in general has developed my ability to critically engage with the media, it’s content, and the role I play in it all.

True or False?

Something very interesting happened on the radio show, Infiltrate the Mainstream today… Mike and I fell victim to the issue of the abundance of information on the internet.

We’ve discussed this is class before, and this week it was also mentioned with regard to the issue of checking sources for information found online. In search for a weird news story to share on the show, I found this article from the Waterloo Record about Punxsutawney Phil – the groundhog we know, love and trust? I started talking about the article, reading parts from the beginning which stated an individual wanting to charge the groundhog for lying to the nation about the arrival of spring. We dove into quite the debate about the ridiculousness of someone wanting to indict a groundhog. We continued on for a good ten minutes before we realized that it was all a joke. How embarrassing. However, it did teach us the valuable lesson to always check your sources! The fact that this was found in a credible local newspaper just drives home this point even more. If we need to be critical about what we read there, then we most definitely need to think harder about the information we see online.

As someone who is interested in the news broadcasting stream, this is worrisome. While I’m all for citizen media, it’s difficult for the mainstream news sources to continue doing what they do when they are beginning to be washed out by anyone with a Twitter account. However, I do see both sides of the story as I believe it’s important for each of us to be the creators of our own information. In the end though, I think a sort of ethic needs to be followed, and this is where the issue of the internet comes in. There are many people out there who are more than willing to check their sources and provide valuable, accurate, unbiased news stories. On the other hand, there are way more people who simply retweet, like, or make claims as their way of providing accurate information.

Another space in which this is problematic is the use of the internet for academic purposes. While it has been awhile since we were in elementary school, it’s not hard to imagine computers everywhere as students’ main source of information. As young individuals, it is even harder for them to filter out the truth from the fake or the jokes online. I found a great article from Education Week that talks about this in depth, suggesting that the teacher’s should be accountable for providing reliable sources for students. In this sense, I think it is imperative that public or school libraries begin to share their collections online. Like what we have with Laurier’s library, a library card should also grant you access to online sources so students are more inclined to visit those sites instead of aimlessly surfing the net.

Alternatively, the article also suggested that the large amounts of information online may not be entirely a bad thing, as it teaches students how to filter through all the sources properly. The director of educational outreach at the Library of Congress, Elizabeth Ridgway was quoted saying, “If we can get students involved in the discovery process, we can help them to discover what these debates are and how to sift through the information.” This is a great way of looking at it. I think teaching students this skill will significantly improve their research abilities, and who knows, it may even encourage stronger citizen media!

The article goes on to say how there are seminars and sessions in place to instruct teachers on how to show students to filter through these sources, but it also mentions a website that is powered through Google as a stronger filtering system which includes only primary sources. Although they don’t provide the name of the site, it sounds promising!

While I always knew the information found online isn’t 100% credible, I definitely learned a valuable lesson today!

Infiltrate the Mainstream

Last week Mike and I started our new show, Infiltrate the Mainstream on Radio Laurier, and I have to say – it was quite the experience. Even though I  have my own show, this was different than what I’m used to. It’s a talk show where we’ve filtered through a bunch of news sources and pulled out the ones that we think the student body would be interested in and we talk about them. Bringing in our knowledge as communication students and what we’ve learned in this class, I really feel like our first show was a success.

While we still have a lot of kinks to work out, I think we have a pretty good handle on how we’re going to present the news. I’m not going to go into detail about everything we talked about, you can check that out on the Radio Laurier blog we’ll be posting every week.

What I do want to discuss though, is the experience of getting everything together. I really enjoy having a show to talk about news as I feel that is something lacking from Radio Laurier, speaking as a devoted volunteer. Especially on a university campus, I’m surprised there aren’t more ways people are engaging with everyday news. I briefly said this on last week’s show, and maybe it’s worth discussing this week, but I think a lot of students struggle to stay up to date with current happenings in the news when we are so focused on our school work. I rarely have time to watch the news, and I still don’t feel connected to what is going on.

I had a conversation with my mom over the weekend about politics and she was shocked that I knew hardly anything about what was happening. Now, I’m willing to accept that I’m alone in this, but I do not follow politics. I force myself to watch the platforms and follow the candidates when there is an election because I think it’s important to vote, but for the rest of the time, I have no clue what’s happening. And trust me, I realize how horrible this is. However, I have a feeling I’m not alone. Everyone knows our generation is not as involved in politics as we should be, and I wish I had an answer as to why, but all I can think of is that we are so preoccupied trying to get an education to get a job, and we’re so busy with what we consume via social media, that the rest of it just falls away.

I think this is something we really need to think long and hard about, especially as students in a Citizen Media class – what is the future of citizen media? If this generation isn’t connected to news and politics now, what are the chances they will be in a few years? I’ve always said that once I’m out of school I will obviously be more inclined to keep up with current events, but what good is that? Now is the prime time to be connected and up to date, because we are in the positions where we can develop the knowledge we need to make changes where we think is necessary.

Maybe Mike and I can bring this up as an overarching topic on our next show. In the meantime, make sure you check out our Twitter to follow us and go to our Media Fire account to listen to our show if you missed it. We’re really looking for your feedback, so any comments or questions are appreciated! This week our show will be at 1:30 on Friday, tune in if you can!

Micro Hypertext Essay

In a world that is constantly plugged-in, daily interactions with technological devices have transformed from staggered to constant, challenging previous conceptions of who is in control of the messages we receive. In this realm of constant interconnection, social media has emerged as the ordinary citizen’s way to engage in a media system that is often seen as unreachable. This brief essay will argue that Twitter, a microblogging social media platform, has emerged as a form of citizen media, giving people a feeling of control over their mediated lives.

Whether accessing daily news, partaking in celebrity gossip, or taking part in an online movement, social media and our constant connected world has paved the way for a participatory culture.

Twitter activates as a blog through the way in which it “represents a passage to the public sphere” (Rosen). This is what has allowed people to feel control over the information they read, interpret and disseminate.

As a microblog, Twitter has redrawn “the lines between participatory culture and participatory democracy” (Jenkins) by allowing people to perform public actions in convenient places, increasing participation. Easily accessible information through this space initiates the response to messages we receive. Further, by using a 140 character limit, Twitter promotes an engaging citizen through quick and effortless interactions.

In addition, Twitter allows people to challenge dominant forms of media by giving them an outlet to express their individual and collective opinions. Citizen media emerges as Twitter users have created a space in which they can work together on problems they could not confront individually, developing a form of collective intelligence. More importantly, this is provided in a space that is outside “the boundaries of formal, legal-political association” (Benkler in Meier).

Alternatively, Twitter demonstrates Ronfeldt’s theory of the information revolution where each positive outcome is closely followed by its negative counterpart. As more information becomes free and accessible on Twitter, more efforts are being made to close off and create an authority in this space.

Twitter, as part of the information revolution challenges traditional ideas of national sovereignty exhibited through cases such as the Egyptian Uprising. This validates Twitter as providing people the power to become citizen journalists in a space where authority is made widespread.

Twitter also fulfills Rebecca Blood’s discussion of blogs as they operate through a shared media space between participatory media and journalism. This form of citizen media incorporates users advocating for better coverage through highlighting good journalism which enhances their feeling of control.

Overall, Twitter’s establishment as a microblog maintains various journalistic expectations through ethics, while also creating new communication practices.

Ultimately, as more people are forming a public sphere on Twitter, the way in which it is used becomes widespread. Individuals collaborate ideas, perspectives and critiques in an effort to challenge current media systems. In this way, Twitter has developed into a form of citizen media as people connect and coordinate themselves to establish what they believe to be a reliable source of information.


Blood, Rebecca. “A Few Thoughts on Journalism and What Can Weblogs Do About It.” rebecca’s pocket. 15 Apr 2004. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/what_is_journalism.html&gt;.

Blood , Rebecca. “Weblog Ethics.” rebecca’s pocket. 2002. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://rebeccablood.net/handbook/excerpts/weblog_ethics.html&gt;.

boyd, danah. “Blogging Outloud: Shifts in Public Voice.” LITA Conference. 01 October. 2005. Web. http://www.danah.org/papers/LITA.html

Jenkins, Henry. “From Participatatory Culture to Participatory Democracy (Part Two).” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. 06 Mar 2007. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/from_participatatory_culture_t_1.html&gt;.

Meier, Patrick. “The Prospects for Cyberocracy.” iRevolution. N.p., 17 Jan 2009. Web. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://irevolution.net/2009/01/17/the-prospects-for-cyberocracy/&gt;.

Rosen, Jay. “No One Owns Journalism: Discussion Paper for BloggerCon Two.” PressThink. 25 Mar 2004. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://archive.pressthink.org/2004/03/25/con_prep.html&gt;.

Internet Culture

Through reading Lawrence Lessig’s Introduction to his book, I found it interesting and worth discussing. I found his approach to the Internet refreshing, as I haven’t read anything quite like it before. He put forth that the Internet has become an avenue for “building and cultivating a culture that reaches far beyond local boundaries”. This resonated with me mainly because I’ve written a few essays with this belief in mind, and wrote my essay for this class about Twitter, with this similar viewpoint.

I have to say that with the way in which the Internet has captivated the time and attention of pretty much everyone in North America, it has definitely become a major site of cultural cultivation. He really put it all into perspective, calling it “the beginning of the end”, relating it to the challenge between AM and FM radio. Many of us don’t necessarily see those sides of the coin – the challenges the Internet is creating for a lot of industries, and the fight they are going through to be protected against it.

Through this reading, it really got me thinking – what kind of culture have we created on the Internet? If people from the future were to look back to what we were creating today, what conclusions would they come to about our culture? I found a few things that I thought would stand out, and I have say, it’s a bit worrisome. To get an idea, here is a list of Top 1000 Sites.

What do you think – what kind of culture are we creating here?

The Hyperlink

I had something new happen to me this week – I was assigned a reading in another class where I had to purchase an ebook, which required me to download a new application on my computer.

At first I was a bit thrown at the fact that not only did I have to buy textbooks, but I was required to go online, create an Amazon account, download the Kindle app for my computer and buy this ebook. We weren’t even given the option to acquire a paper copy. This fact alone made me frustrated simply because I am very against ebooks.

However, one thing I found very interesting is that in the ebook, called Android Mandroid by Andrew Atkinson, he’s included hyperlinks into the text.

The prof also brought this author into a class for a guest lecture where he talked about this fact, saying that electronics have significantly disrupted the way in which we operate on a daily basis. He chose to have us download this version and forced us to use this electronic version in order to demonstrate these disruptions.

Well it definitely worked for me, I felt so inconvenienced! But, I have to say, once I actually started reading it, I kind of started to come around to all the hyperlinks. I used to think they were the worst idea in a text because it makes you so disconnected, but I’ve come to realize that it is all about how and where you use them.

After doing our presentation on blogs and really making use of hyperlinks, I’ve come to appreciate their function. When used properly, they can really enhance what it is you are trying to portray.

I seem to always gravitate toward the topic of the internet as a public sphere and what it is really doing for us, so I want to pose this question – what purpose does the hyperlink serve? Is it actually creating a better text, and how is it really helping us on a broader scale? … All the questions I still find myself pondering in this constant battle between technology and tradition.