When Jonathan was 14 years old, he told his parents he was homosexual.

“My parents kicked me out,” said Jonathan, who didn’t want his last name used.

Over two years, he was placed in 17 foster homes and to cope, he turned to drugs and alcohol.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” he said. “I needed help, so I went to rehab.”

Now 20, Jonathan has been sober for four years.

He learned about the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa’s long-term housing program in 2007 and has been living in their accommodations since.

“YSB helped me stay clean … and (gave me) a safe place to live. Without YSB, I wouldn’t be the same person today.”

He graduated from high school earlier this week and is going on to study social work at La Cite Collegiale.

There are many stories like Jonathan’s at YSB, said Ottawa Police Services Supt. Charles Bordeleau. “We’re so proud of our youth that come through these challenges.”

Fifty years ago, the YSB was formed to help the city’s young people.

What started off as an agency with two staff and a $20,000 budget has since grown to provide services to between 2,500 and 3,000 youth in 20 locations every month, in the areas of housing, homelessness, mental health, youth employment and youth justice.

On Thursday, organizers launched the Youth Services Bureau Charitable Foundation.

With a 2010-11 goal of raising $750,000, the money will go towards renovating the downtown drop-in centre, creating new mental health services and funding employment programs and reducing wait times.

To date, the foundation has raised $103,000.

One-third of Ottawa residents are 24 or younger, making young people the city’s greatest resource, said YSB executive director Alex Munter.

The staff at YSB “meet those young people and their families at a fork in the road,” he said.

“Supporting them to take the next step in their journey (allows) them to be the most successful members of the community possible.”

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