Jahmar Robinson2

Six words that changed a life

You are going to be okay. Former Youth Without Shelter (YWS) resident Jahmar Robinson attributes these six words for altering his life’s trajectory. Born in Toronto and moving between Florida, Jamaica and Antigua, Jahmar’s life was marked by hardship from a young age.

“My family went through so many struggles, at least four or five evictions, and we were homeless a couple of times,” Jahmar recalls. “There was a lot of neglect and abuse. It took a toll on [my siblings and me.]”

Entering his teens, family conflicts intensified, forcing Jahmar and his sister to relocate to Toronto. Juggling school and work at McDonald’s, financial challenges soon pushed them into homelessness, leaving Jahmar to seek refuge wherever he could, from friends' cars to the McDonald’s break room, and eventually, the streets of Toronto.

A school friend and YWS resident, Dean Taylor, noticed Jahmar's struggles and introduced him to Youth Without Shelter, a refuge for homeless youth, backed by Concert Properties for the past nine years.

“Dean said to me, ‘When you get there, you’re going to ask for Ben. Ben cares and he’s going to hear you out.’”

Jahmar recalled: “Walking slowly up the steps at YWS, I felt an immense amount of pressure. All the built-up trauma, the neglect, everything. Hoping to hear a yes, but expecting a no. Another person to say: you're not it.”

To Jahmar’s surprise, he was met by a man smiling from ear to ear. “I vividly remember meeting Ben [Omoregie, Director of Operations at YWS,] and pleading my case while fighting back tears. Ben interrupted me, saying: ‘Hey, hey, hey. You're welcome here. We’re going to take care of you. You are going to be okay.’”

This encounter marked a turning point for Jahmar. “It was his positive attitude that impacted me—the way he listened, looked at me and made me feel like a person. That was everything. He didn’t know me, he didn’t know what I'd been through—but he treated me like he did.”

Jahmar called YWS home from 2011 to 2012, and found stability, healing, invaluable life skills and a family amongst his YWS friends and staff. “Many of us came from broken homes. I would see some of my peers crying because they had never experienced that family atmosphere. It was a wonderful experience being together.”

This sense of belonging inspired Jahmar to build his own family. He now resides in Florida with his wife and two young children. Dean Taylor remains an integral part of his life, serving as the best man at his wedding and godfather to his children.

“I tell my kids all the time to ‘be a Ben’. Be a friend to somebody, and you'll find it's the most fulfilling, impactful thing you'll ever do. Because 14 years later, that same person is out there changing lives.”

Motivated to ‘be a Ben’ after leaving YWS, Jahmar became a social worker specializing in at-risk youth through George Brown College. He then pursued law enforcement, graduating top of his class from the University of Phoenix and the police academy, earning multiple accolades including an Excellence in Leadership award.

Now a Deputy Sheriff at Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Jahmar harnesses his past hardships and education to support disadvantaged individuals, providing resources, assurance and guidance, similar to what he received at YWS.

“When you give back to YWS, you’re helping youth to fulfill their purpose. The impact YWS had on me 14 years ago continues to echo. Sometimes people just need someone to listen, to see them as a person and offer encouragement. Sometimes they just need a ‘Ben’ to offer support and say: ‘I know this is hard right now, but you are going to be okay.’”

To support Youth Without Shelter, please visit the YWS website at yws.on.ca/