Extending care to more youth during the cold winter months

Every evening, our gym is lined with cots for youth to settle into for the night. On each is a pillow, a carefully laid out blanket, a towel and a small care package with toothbrush, toothpaste, and other self-care items.

This winter program provides an additional 30 youth a day with a safe place to stay overnight and access to other critical services. This program will run until April extending our shelter program beyond its 96 available beds to help more youth who would otherwise have nowhere else to go during winter.

Initially launched last year, the winter respite program is providing youth with a safe place to stay, along with much-needed connections to healthcare, youth-focused mental health and substance use services at a critical time as the demands for shelter beds continue to vastly outstrips the available supply.

Heading into the winter months, the need is especially great. Currently, youth make up approximately 15 per cent of the homeless population in Toronto, or more than 1,000 young people each night. In the midst of a homelessness, mental health and substance use crisis, it is crucial that youth have a safe, stable place to stay where they can access supports to ensure their experience with homelessness is a brief, rare and a nonrecurring part of their lives.

For now, youth accessing the program have a safe place to sleep at night. They can make use of the showers in the drop-in centre in the morning and are provided breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack throughout the day. At 10 a.m. each morning, the cots are packed up and youth are urged to connect with resources at Covenant House or in the community.

“We know that providing the right level of support at each point in a young person’s recovery leads to improved health and social outcomes overall,” says Covenant House Toronto Executive Director Mark Aston. “This program is providing life-saving refuge for young people during these colder months and connections to healthcare, housing, employment and other important services which help youth move toward a brighter future.”