Our Impact – A Journey Through Covenant House Toronto

When Robson first walked up the steps to Covenant House Toronto, he was new to the city and country, having come to Canada from Nigeria with no supports and structure in his life.

His time at Covenant House, he said, “has really helped shape who I am at this point in my life,” equipping him with the skills and knowledge he needs to start life as an independent young adult.

More than a shelter, Covenant House meets the immediate needs of young people by providing food and shelter and offers wraparound healthcare services, counselling and programs and services to help young people aged 16-24 move back into the community to live independently.

Our Values: Immediacy

In our drop-in centre, open 7 days a week to young people who are not currently in our shelter, Corey Sinclair and other youth workers on staff help to ensure young people’s immediate needs are met. Whether that’s a shower, laundry, a hot meal or a place to rest, youth are always met with care and connection.

“We often get youth when they're at their most vulnerable,” he said. “They're usually in desperate need and looking around for something to help alleviate their problems. This is where you're going to get the help to solve those problems.”

Upstairs, the nurses in the on-site health clinic are among the first to see young people who arrive at the shelter. “When we first see a young person come into the clinic, he first thing that we look at is safety. How are they feeling right now mentally? Are they feeling that they have control,” said interim health clinic manager Medina Esmail. The health care team can get immediate medical needs met and offer referrals to other services the young person may need.

Sometimes, to start, they just need something to eat. Having steady access to food can go a long way in helping a young person experiencing homelessness to feel safe and secure. Covenant House has a full service kitchen and dining room which serves three meals a day as well as snacks and to-go lunches for youth who go to school or work. “It’s helped me have a lot more energy and a lot more will towards bettering myself,” Robson said.

Our Values: Sanctuary & Values Communication

In the shelter, therapist Maria works with youth to build trust and connection so they can arrive at a place of healing. “Our young people come to us because somehow somewhere along their path, community has not been able to keep up with the demands of what it takes to walk through their journey together,” she said. “So I tell them, ‘I understand you're really afraid. I understand that there have been multiple places in your life where it's felt really unsafe. But I'm going to stand here anyway and I'm going to listen and I'm going to respond and I'm going to carry us through this journey together.’”

Along with building trust and relationship, the shelter provides crucial structure and support to help young people move forward in their lives, says shift supervisor Caralee Wiseman. These are things like daily wakeup times and support in preparing for school and work. “When you have that structure, you can't help but to feel safe in the environment that you're in,” she said.

“Honesty and openness about some of the challenges youth will face once they move out on their own is key to preparing them for independent living”, said Jewela Cabrera, a team leader in the CIBC Rights of Passage program, which helps young people learn life skills such as budgeting and time management before they move on to live in an apartment of their own. “Programs such as Cooking for Life, a job readiness program that gives youth experience in an industrial kitchen environment, are also important ways to prepare youth for independent living”.

Our Values: Choice

A core part of the Covenant House approach is to ensure young people are empowered to make choices for themselves with caring people in their corner.

For youth like Robson, a caring community and a reminder of their potential to reach for a bright future ahead can make all the difference.

“Sometimes we don’t know what we’re capable of until someone helps you remember ‘Hey, you are a lot more capable than you think you are.’ All of it is a possibility up until you do what is required of you to get it done.”