Medina Esmail, Registered Nurse at our health care clinic.

Medina, Registered Nurse at our health care clinic.

Food is the centre of everything we do at Covenant House. It is the first thing we offer a youth when they come through our doors, and it’s what fuels our young people as they work hard for a brighter future.

Without having to worry about where to find their next meal, our young people are better able to focus on what lies ahead.

At our BensKids Health Centre, Medina is one of several registered nurses providing holistic care to our youth, many of whom are coming to us in poor health after trying to cope on their own for too long.

Medina sees firsthand how the tolls of homelessness can impact young people, and she spoke with Luwam on our Communications team. Medina shared her experiences on the important role food and nutrition play in creating positive outcomes for our youth. Excerpts from our interview are included below.

Luwam: What impacts do you see on young people who don’t have access to safe and reliable food?

Medina: Many youth experiencing homelessness have grown up without the chance to learn about healthy food choices or having access to nutritious meals.

In our clinic, we often see youth who are struggling with health problems as a result of a lack of nutrients in their diet. They have trouble concentrating because they feel very weak, tired or dizzy and may also be experiencing significant weight loss.

Youth have also disclosed that they have little to no energy. This can affect their ability to follow their daily routines, such as working or going to school, maintaining relationships and progressing in their lives.

Luwam: What impact does this have on young people in the long-term?

Medina: Good nutrition is important for everyone, and especially youth. Adolescence is a time for rapid physical and mental growth and development. Healthy eating and ensuring proper food intake are essential in meeting young peoples’ nutrition and energy needs.

Youth need extra nutrients that are rich in energy, calcium and iron to support organ and tissue growth. This is especially important for brain development, bone growth, and hormonal changes during puberty. Nutrition for growth and development during teen years paves the way for entering healthy adulthood, and significantly reduces the risks of illnesses that occur later in life such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity.

Luwam: Is there a particular young person who comes to mind when you think of the power of food in your work?

Medina: We had a young man access our health centre. We offered him a hot beverage and lunch while he completed a health history with one of the nurses. We spoke about his immediate health needs: Supplies and care for the various wounds on his body and significant weight loss from living on the street.

When we asked about his goals, he said he wanted to be a chef, but for now he just needed a place to stay. As a result of staying with us, he was able to access nutritious meals every day. Over the next few months, we saw him regularly visit the clinic to keep up with his health. One day, I spoke about our Cooking for Life program, our culinary arts training program that prepares youth for jobs in the food and hospitality industry and he decided to register.

As soon as he joined Cooking for Life, we barely saw him in our clinic for health care visits. Instead, he visited us and would proudly tell us about all the professional skills he gained with the chef and brought us delicious food he had cooked himself. It was a privilege to watch this young person grow and make meaningful steps to achieve his goals.