Being a teenager is stressful. Adding mental health issues and homelessness makes life even tougher.

Growing up with a “very smart sister,” Shantel struggled to meet expectations. “My parents didn’t understand that there was something different about me,” Shantel said of her childhood. “I would panic a lot and had depression. I didn’t know how to cope with my feelings.”

After meeting with a mental health counsellor to learn more about her mental health, Shantel tried to explain to her parents why she was struggling. “That turned out terribly. I was just 17, confused and thought I was a lost cause. I became homeless and stayed with friends for a while, but we kept getting into arguments.

“I heard about Safe Haven’s youth shelter, but I was so skeptical and scared. My friends told me it would be filled with weird people; I wouldn’t fit in and wouldn’t like it there. But Safe Haven is not like that at all. It is a place that is safe and caring. The staff are extremely friendly and so supportive. If I wanted to be goofy, I could; it felt relaxing to be able to be myself. I found a place where I wasn’t judged, and they helped me realize who I was.”

"Today, I have a good group of friends, confidence, support and independence. I’m so much happier." — Shantel

A big part of Shantel’s growth was learning to be independent. “The first night they asked me if I would like to help make Kraft Dinner. I had never cooked before and was a bit scared of the kitchen, actually. When I was struggling with school work, they didn’t give me the answers, they helped me figure them out. They taught me to put appointments in my phone and set goals to get things done on time. And I learned how to budget because I am not the best with money,” she said with a laugh. The staff also helped her access counselling and government supports as she figured out her future.

Inspired by the support she received, Shantel enrolled at Fanshawe College and is in her second year of studying to be a Child and Youth Worker. “I am learning so much about why the staff did what they did. I am looking forward to being able to apply the things I am learning so I can help others.”