COVID-19 Update from Executive Director Mark Aston

July 10, 2020 at 11:00 a.m.

To our valued supporters:

I hope that you and your loved ones continue to be safe and well during this difficult time. We appreciate your support and well wishes—it means so much to our youth and staff. Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts.

Here is an update to keep you informed about our situation.

Universal testing

On July 6, Covenant House Toronto teamed up with Toronto Public Health and St. Michael’s Hospital’s COVID-19 Assessment Centre to conduct on-site COVID-19 testing of youth staying at Covenant House and our staff.

We set up a health bus and testing tent outside of our main location, and encouraged youth and staff to receive a test, even if they were asymptomatic. The team conducted 75 tests, and we are happy to report that all results came back negative.

Our goal was to test as many youth at Covenant House as possible in a single day to monitor for and detect COVID-19, especially asymptomatic cases. We are hopeful that this concerted effort will help prevent future positive cases by ensuring those affected can be immediately isolated and provided with medical care.

Going forward, we will continue to partner with Toronto Public Health to determine the frequency of universal testing at Covenant House.

Celebrating our staff expertise

I am exceedingly grateful to our on-site health care team, who have been instrumental in helping to keep our youth and staff safe and healthy throughout this pandemic.

I would also like to commend everyone at Covenant House for their cooperation in following our health and safety protocols.

Lastly, thank you to the teams at Toronto Public Health and St. Michael’s Hospital for leading us through this vital step in our fight against COVID-19.

A heartfelt thanks

Thank you to our generous donors for your incredible generosity throughout this crisis. Your support is making a difference. Please visit the News & Stories section of our website to learn how our staff and youth are faring thanks to your support.

I wish you, our valued supporters, a safe and healthy summer.

Sincerely,
Mark Aston


 

A special note of gratitude...

 

This has been a remarkable time. While so many are experiencing hardship, through these difficult times I have had the privilege to witness the very best in humanity. The young people at Covenant House remain hopeful. Though they are scared for their health and well-being, though they are uncertain of what the future holds, they are reminded every day that they are loved and supported thanks to you.

For almost 40 years our wonderful supporters, donors and volunteers have stood by our side, to ensure every young person who comes through our doors is met with kindness, acceptance and the support of a team who believes in their potential and their dreams for the future.

Over the last several weeks, all of our lives have been turned upside down – and while our frontline workers have remained steadfast in their commitment to our youth, you have been remarkably generous. Thanks to your support we have been able to respond to the rapidly changing situation and focus on continuing to safely provide vital supports to youth.

You have shown us that even in unprecedented times like these, with so much uncertainty, you care about our youth. You believe in them. Thank you.

While so many of us have been able to isolate safely at home, for too many young people facing homelessness there is no safe place to call home.

During the pandemic, our priority at Covenant House has been to keep vulnerable young people safe and healthy. We can’t do it alone – you have been right there at our side and we are so thankful for your support.

I want to share a special thank you for several donors who have made transformational gifts to Covenant House during this time.

We are incredibly grateful to The Slaight Family Foundation, for continuing to support vulnerable youth and stepping up to support our increased staffing needs to ensure we are keeping youth safe and cared for during this pandemic.

Our sincere thanks to The Sprott Foundation for ensuring Covenant House remains a stable place to call home – with access to food and prepared meals, showers, a warm bed, counselling and wrap-around supports.

BlackRock thank you for helping provide the tools for our staff to work remotely, to ensure we can keep safe and continue to do our part even if we are not on site.

Thank you to The W. Garfield Weston Foundation for recognizing that we need additional support to run our services during this uncertain and economically challenging time.

Georgian Partners thank you for becoming a first time donor to Covenant House and generously supporting the ongoing operations that allow us to continue to deliver essential services to youth.

Thank you to The Mint Agency for providing pro bono creative, PR and marketing support for our Stay In + Sleep Out event.

We are incredibly grateful for this remarkable support. These gifts ensure that youth don’t have to worry about where they will sleep, where their next meal is coming from or how they will seek medical care, if needed.

I offer my sincere thanks to all of our donors for allowing us to continue to provide essential services. Covenant House supporters have stepped up in ways we could have never imagined, from food donations, to becoming monthly donors, to joining our virtual Sleep Out event and more – you have done your part to help our community and support the young people who are counting on us.

No matter the circumstances, young people will always find love, acceptance and shelter at Covenant House. Together we are there for the most vulnerable in our community – the ones who urgently need extra help during an emergency like this.

Our heartfelt thanks,

Mark Aston


 

May 29, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.

To our valued supporters:

I hope that you and your loved ones continue to be safe and well as the COVID-19 recovery slowly begins.

Here is an update to keep you informed about our situation.

Encouraging news

I’m pleased to tell you that there haven’t been any positive cases of COVID-19 among the youth staying at Covenant House at the time of this posting.

Safeguarding our staff and youth

We continue to undertake measures to help protect the health and safety of youth and staff. This includes taking direction regarding best practices from local, provincial and federal health authorities and relying heavily on the in-house expertise of our health care team.

We are screening all youth and staff before they enter the building and referring them for COVID-19 testing, as appropriate.

All staff are still required to use masks when they are in the presence of others, including wearing a mask in common areas. Youth have been provided with cloth masks that were generously donated by members of the community.

Additional Screening Protocols – Temperature Checks

To do everything we can to ensure the health and safety of youth and staff, we have initiated daily temperature screening of all staff entering our facilities.  We will also begin rolling out temperature checks for youth next week.

Staff and youth are reminded regularly to protect themselves and others by practicing physical distancing, performing good hand hygiene, avoiding touching their face, and covering coughs/sneezes.

Community Support Services program re-opening in June

We are in the process of preparing for the modified re-opening of our drop-in centre in early June. Youth in the community will be able to access the centre by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 5 p.m.

The drop-in centre will offer showers, food, one-on-one staff support, mail service, access to the food bank, clothing and hygiene supplies.

Relocation of 38 crisis shelter youth to hotel space

To date, the relocation of 38 youth from our crisis shelter to a downtown hotel for better physical distancing is working well. We are also supporting youth from Turning Point Youth Services, the YMCA and Eva’s who are residing at the hotel as well. Thank you to those staff supporting operations at the hotel, including our health care team, who is offering a weekly on-site clinic.

The City of Toronto, who spearheaded this initiative, has informed us that hotel operations will continue to August 2020, unless extended. We will keep you informed of any changes.

Staff update

We are so grateful to our front line staff who continue to step up every day in providing 24-7 support to the youth.

Despite the slow ease of restrictions, we continue to encourage our administrative staff to work remotely. We are putting in place a return to work plan for those staff working off-site, which we will implement once we receive the authorization to do so from provincial authorities.

Thank you for being there

Everyone in the community has been so generous and supportive throughout this crisis. Please accept our heartfelt thanks. Your concern for the welfare of our youth is much appreciated.

To support our COVID-19 crisis response, click here.

Please check this page for future updates.

Sincerely,
Mark Aston


 

May 1, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.

To our valued supporters:

I hope that you and your loved ones continue to fair well as we conclude another week of uncertainty.

Here is an update to keep you informed about our situation.

COVID-19 update

On Wednesday, we learned that a youth who stayed at Covenant House for a few hours on April 15 has tested positive for COVID-19.

As a precautionary measure, staff and youth who came in close proximity to this youth during her short stay have gone for COVID-19 testing and are in self-isolation until their test results are received.

Ensuring the health and safety of our staff and youth

We continue to undertake measures to help protect the health and safety of youth and staff. This includes taking direction regarding best practices from local, provincial and federal health authorities and relying heavily on the in-house expertise of our health care team.

Our building continues to be closed to external visitors but remains open to youth and staff supporting them. We are screening all youth and staff before they enter the building and referring them for COVID-19 testing should they appear to be at risk of contracting the virus.

Additionally, all staff are required to use masks when they are in the presence of others (youth and/or other staff), including wearing a mask in common areas. We have also provided youth with cloth masks that were generously donated by members of the community.

Staff and youth are reminded regularly to protect themselves and others by practicing physical distancing, hand hygiene, avoiding touching their face and covering coughs/sneezes.

Relocation of 38 crisis shelter youth to hotel space

As previously announced, to continue reducing the risk of transmission, we worked with the City of Toronto to relocate some of the youth out of our 96-bed crisis shelter to ensure that each youth has their own space.

I am pleased to say that we successfully moved 38 youth to a downtown hotel on Wednesday and they are adjusting well to their new environment. We are also supporting five youth from Turning Point Youth Services who are residing at the hotel. Our staff are working alongside the youth to ensure they receive the same quality of care provided at our main site.

Thank you to all staff who made the move happen so seamlessly.

Recognizing our staff on the front lines

During these unsettling times, our brave front-line workers continue to provide 24-7 care, and we are extremely grateful for their support. They stand among the ranks of other front-line heroes across the country and around the world. Thank you!

Your unwavering support means so much

Once again, I want to thank everyone in the community, including individuals, companies and family foundations who have provided financial support, food and masks to us. Your generosity and compassion are greatly appreciated.

Click here to support our COVID-19 crisis response.

Please check this page for future updates.

Sincerely,
Mark Aston


 

April 24, 2020 at 8:30 a.m.

To our valued supporters:

I hope that you and your loved ones are well and are adapting to the ever-changing situation we are all facing together as a community.

Here is an update to keep you informed about our situation.

Keeping our youth and staff safe and healthy

I am pleased to report that there haven’t been any positive cases of COVID-19 among the youth at Covenant House.

Utilizing hotel space to improve physical distancing of youth in our Crisis Shelter

Every day we continue to look for creative ways of ensuring the safety of our youth. Physical distancing, good hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning have been key to achieving this goal.  We have already undertaken many measures to re-organize our physical space to ensure youth can observe physical distancing; however, our bedrooms continue to present a challenge as we have rooms in which two or three youth share the space.

To continue to reduce the risk of transmission, we have been working with the City of Toronto to relocate 40 youth out of our 96-bed crisis shelter, ensuring that each youth has their own space. Effective Monday, April 27, we will be setting up a secondary shelter space in a downtown hotel, with a team of Covenant House staff. Our staff will be working alongside the youth to ensure they receive the same quality of care provided at our main site.

As we move forward, we will continue to abide by best practices outlined by local, provincial and federal health authorities and our in-house health care team to keep our youth and staff safe and healthy across all our locations.

Celebrating our volunteers and mentors

As National Volunteer Week comes to a close, we would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers who support the youth and staff at our agency. Over the last year, these volunteers contributed more than 7,600 hours to Covenant House through mentorship and special programs like yoga, massage therapy and therapy dog visits for the youth.

While we initially made the difficult decision to cancel our volunteer programming during the early onset of COVID-19, our volunteers got creative and recently stepped forward to provide online tutoring, guidance counselling, yoga and meditation. And our mentors continue to connect with youth virtually. Thanks for all of your ongoing, amazing support.

We can’t thank you enough

The support from individuals, family foundations and companies who have helped with financial donations, food and masks has been so appreciated. Thank you so much for your generosity and compassion.

To support our COVID-19 crisis response, click here.

Please check this page for future updates.

Sincerely,
Mark Aston


 

April 3, 2020 at 9 a.m.

To our valued supporters:

I hope you and your families continue to be safe and well. As you are well aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is evolving at an alarming rate, and we continue to be a 24-7 refuge to youth experiencing homelessness or sex trafficking during this challenging time.

We would like to thank our community of supporters, including many of our volunteers, who have reached out to us to check-in and impart words of encouragement. We are so grateful to be in your hearts right now.

Here is an update to keep you informed about our situation.

Ensuring the health and safety of our staff and youth

I am pleased to report again this week that there haven’t been any positive cases of COVID-19 among the youth at Covenant House.

We are continuing to abide by the best practices outlined by local, provincial and federal health authorities and our in-house health care team to keep our staff and youth safe.

Helping youth cope

In a matter of weeks, young people staying with us—who have put so much work into stabilizing their lives—have been thrown back into uncertainty.

And for youth experiencing mental health challenges, they are far more vulnerable under the current circumstances. Their feelings of isolation, anxiety and distress have now been compounded during this pandemic, and our staff are working hard to help them cope.

This support is especially critical now as our youth are also experiencing job losses and fears about how they’re going to be able to pay rent. No matter what happens, we are committed to keeping them safe, healthy, and cared for.

Help us help our youth

While the rest of the country closes, we remain open 24-7. And our only hope to manage these turbulent times is through the generous support of our donors. Together we can be there for the most vulnerable in our community—the ones who urgently need extra help during an emergency like this.

To support our COVID-19 crisis response, click here.

Thank you for being there in these difficult times and please check this page for future updates.

Sincerely,
Mark Aston


 

March 27, 2020 at 1:30 p.m.

To our valued supporters:

I hope you and your families are safe and well. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, our services are needed now more than ever. Here is an update to keep you informed about our situation.

Some good news

I’m pleased to tell you that there haven’t been any positive cases of COVID-19 among the youth staying at Covenant House as of the time of this posting.

We are grateful that our staff and youth continue to work together to ensure the safety and health of everyone at Covenant House.

Providing an essential service

As an essential service, Covenant House continues to operate our programming for youth, which includes the following:

  • 96-bed crisis shelter, open 24-7
  • On-site transitional housing
  • BensKids Health Centre (by appointment only)
  • Specialized housing programs in the community

Although our on-site drop-in centre is currently closed, youth in the community are still able to access our food bank and receive bagged lunches and hygiene supplies.

Youth are also able to connect with our mental health specialist and other front line staff for support.

Working the front lines

We would not be able to provide these services without the incredible dedication of our front line staff. Thank you to the youth workers, counsellors, health care practitioners, operations, food services and housekeeping employees who continue to ensure our youth are safe and their needs are met during this difficult time.

Preparation and prevention

We continue to undertake measures to help protect the health and safety of youth and staff and prepare for every eventuality should the situation change at our shelter. This includes taking direction around best practices from local, provincial and federal health authorities and relying heavily on the in-house expertise of our health care team.

Our building continues to be closed to external visitors, except for youth and staff. We are screening all youth before they enter the building and referring them for COVID-19 testing should they appear to be at risk of having contracted the virus. If you plan on coming to Covenant House, we ask that you telephone in advance of arriving on-site at (416) 593-4849 or toll-free at 1-800-435-7308.

Your invaluable support is needed and appreciated

It is our privilege to serve youth and our community, and we will continue to do so with our donors and supporters at our side.

This is a challenging time for the non-profit sector, and in response, we have signed a letter along with 140 other Canadian charities calling for federal support of the charitable sector.

To support our COVID-19 crisis response, click here.

Thank you for being there in these difficult times and please check this page for future updates.

Sincerely,
Mark Aston


 

March 17, 2020 at 3:30 p.m.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we would like to share with you the measures we are taking to support the health and well-being of our youth and staff, in addition to donors and volunteers.

Visits to the building

  • Effective immediately, our building will be closed to external visitors, except for youth and staff. We have cancelled all volunteer-led activities at the house and will delay donor visits for the foreseeable future.
  • We have decided to postpone our upcoming fundraising events and will provide an update on new event dates in the future.
  • While we greatly appreciate the generous support of donors who’ve collected goods, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the acceptance of donations of clothing and non-perishable items at this time to reduce foot traffic and exposure at our facilities.

Our programming

We are continuing to operate all of our programming for youth, which includes our:

  • 96-bed crisis shelter, open 24-7.
  • On-site transitional housing.
  • On-site drop-in centre (food bank and meal pick-ups will be available).
  • BensKids Health Centre (by appointment only).
  • Specialized housing programs in the community.

If you need our services, we ask that you telephone in advance of arriving on-site as the COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly and we may need to make changes to our services quickly. We can be reached at (416) 593-4849 or toll-free at 1-800-435-7308.

What we’re doing

We have undertaken several measures to help protect health and safety, which include:

  • Taking direction around best practices from local, provincial and federal health authorities.
  • Screening all youth before they enter the building and referring them for COVID-19 testing should they appear to be at risk of having contracted the virus.
  • Ensuring staff self-monitor and follow public health guidance.
  • Preparing for every eventuality should the situation change within our shelter and self-isolation and quarantine spaces become necessary.
  • Putting in place remote work opportunities for the majority of our administrative staff to minimize the potential spread of the virus.

It is our privilege to serve youth and our community, and we will continue to do so with our donors and supporters at our side.

We will provide updates should there be any significant changes to our operations.

Sincerely,
Mark Aston