Even as COVID-19 continues to disrupt lives, Covenant House’s Family and Natural Supports (FNS) program remains open and available to young people.

As Justin, who leads the program, notes: "Working in social services, we need to step up and work a little harder as the general public is told to step back, stay home and practice social distancing."

The FNS team works to help strengthen relationships between youth experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness and members of their family and extended networks of support, such as coaches and teachers.

This approach helps youth establish long-term connections and a sense of belonging.

"Families and natural supports really need to be seen as potential resources for youth,” says Justin. “There is a big assumption that for all young people experiencing homelessness, their families are no longer in their lives. The reality is much more complex than that."

Justin explains that while youth may have conflict with specific people in their family, other relationships can remain intact. Conflict also does not automatically end a relationship; instead, conflicts can be worked through and prevented from happening again.

The FNS team brings this nuanced approach to their work. And their vision is long-term: helping resolve conflicts and repair relationships can keep young people from entering the shelter system.

During COVID-19, this is especially important. Helping youth remain out of shelter spaces can reduce the spread of the virus. However, COVID-19 is also making conflict resolution very demanding work. Tensions are rising the longer people are stuck indoors together and is further fueled by health concerns and overall anxiety.

The FNS team is seeing this reflected in increased requests for their support. Justin reflects, "Often there is no one person to blame when conflicts happen. We all make mistakes. With supports, knowledge and encouragement, we can make changes that can help us manage conflicts or prevent them from happening. It just requires the willingness to try."

Many youth and families that the FNS team supports have shown this willingness – even during these difficult times. This reveals how meaningful these relationships are to them. Family and other close relationships are essential in helping us succeed in life and, right now, reconnecting means more than ever before.