Same services, new setting as crisis shelter physically distances

As a youth worker in the residential shelter at Covenant House, Brendan Halama spends his days supporting young people who are experiencing homelessness by listening, supporting, mentoring, coaching and encouraging them along in their life journey.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Brendan had to provide enhanced support to address the elevated stress and trauma some youth were going through.

“In the beginning, many of the youth felt panic because they were uncertain about what was coming next,” he said. “They looked to one another as well as us for support and guidance.”

In April 2020, in partnership with the City of Toronto, our team moved 38 youth to a downtown hotel to increase physical distancing within the shelter. Since its establishment last year, the temporary hotel program has supported 98 youth and has successfully transitioned 42 young people to permanent or transitional housing.

Brendan was one of the staff who went with them to provide the same support and services as always - with some changes. “Being in the hotel changes the dynamic because youth spend the majority of their time in their rooms. So we’ve adapted our services to be similar to the level of support the youth would receive at the shelter, but knowing these youth are more independent and able to manage the daily tasks and life events on their own,” Brendan said.

The hotel setting provides a unique opportunity for youth to develop valuable life skills like maintaining their own space, which will help them move towards independence. Case managers and youth workers are also providing access to housing, education, employment and counselling services to prepare them for life after the pandemic. The agency’s nurse practitioner comes by once a week for health care visits.

“Youth workers like me are on-site to ensure youth are following through with what they want to work on. We pursue a high level of engagement throughout the day to see how they are doing and ask if they need guidance or support,” Brendan said.

“Working in an emergency crisis shelter requires us to adapt to stressful situations. At Covenant House, we’re in this together, wherever we are.”

The program and partnership with the City of Toronto will continue to operate until December 2021.