Shannon Clarke’s beautiful tattoos have special meaning for her and the community members she has worked with over the years.
Shannon Clarke’s passion for her job runs deep into her personal experiences. In 2002, her family’s house burned down in a fire and her sister tragically passed away. Her family had nowhere to go and had to move into a shelter. That’s when Shannon learned how important it is for people who truly understand how difficult it is to be uprooted to work in shelter environments.
She started her career in adult-focused facilities 13 years ago and found herself wondering if she could do something to support those experiencing homelessness earlier on in their lives. She found a whole new world in becoming a Youth Support Worker at Eva’s Place, Toronto’s first youth shelter, named in honour of founder Eva Smith. Shannon prioritizes empathy for young people as soon as they enter the doors; it could be as simple as a smiling face and compassionate tone. Having lived through homelessness herself, she brings a strong kind of caring and understanding to meet young peoples’ needs.
On a high level, Shannon wants to change the way homeless youth are perceived. “When people think of homelessness,” she says, “they think that youth have done something to deserve that outcome.” But she’s well aware of the myths and stereotypes that play out behind those assumptions and how important it is for us to challenge them.
On a day-to-day basis, Shannon works to help youth understand that traumatic moments, negative choices, or bad experiences don’t have to define you forever. “It’s sort of about taking out the ‘I can’ts’ from their vocabulary,” she explains. She remembers working with a young man who was weighed down by a criminal charge and felt he would never be a “good person” again. Shannon encouraged him to expect the very best for himself and his future and witnessed a remarkable turnaround. That has inspired her to this day.
When asked if about her own future, Shannon says that she can see herself continuing to work in shelters for many more years. She truly loves supporting young people to realize their goals and, ultimately, their worth as human beings.
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