“I was shown to a bedroom where I could stay, and then I was given a snack”

Jenna Lehtonen
Being admitted to the youth shelter was a turning point in Leia’s life.
Image: Jenna Lehtonen
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It was a late January evening or night in 2016 when my father took me to the youth shelter in Helsinki.

I had started studying in a vocational school that autumn. I was living in Helsinki with my mother. I had been visiting my father in Klaukkala for the weekend, and I did not want to go back to my mother’s from there. I was having a difficult time with my mother – we did not get along. My father had heard about  youth shelters from child welfare employees, who were actively involved in my life.

I can’t remember exactly how many people there were to greet me at the shelter. I remember being shown to a bedroom where I could stay and given a snack. We discussed my situation briefly and then I went to sleep. The employees could tell that I was very tired, and they decided not to discuss things any further that night.

We continued our discussion in the morning. I had no idea then that I would end up staying at the shelter for nine months.

Being admitted to the youth shelter was a turning point in my life.

The shelter was the first so-called care facility where I was taken seriously and listened to. They gave me the kind of help I had been hoping for for a long time.

The employees were lovely. We would talk about all kinds of things, not just my situation. We would even go over the latest celebrity gossip. The most important thing was to be able to have some time to myself – no one rushed me along or said that I should hurry up and start getting my life together.

The shelter programme for young people becoming independent helped me find my current rental apartment, for example. They also helped me with practical matters, such as taking out insurance and other things. For me, one of the most important things was that I was supported with preparing meals: we would try nice recipes and practice together. I still don’t like cooking, but I did get some useful tips.

Awareness of youth shelters should definitely be raised at secondary schools and everywhere, so that people would know that you can go there for a short time as well, and the threshold is low. I took my homeless friend to a youth shelter a while back, and they got the help they needed.

I know that when things seem really bad, any encouragement offered by well-meaning people seems silly. You feel that they don’t know what they’re talking about, and that things may not be OK no matter what they say. I would like to say, however, to anyone experiencing what I have gone through that there is hope, and difficult situations do not go on forever. Help is available.

I can tell you that I might not even be here if it weren’t for the help I received at the youth shelter.

Text: Henna Raatikainen