Off the street

(Shelter profile for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)

Life on the street is no walk in the park. Still, every year, some 10,000 runaway and homeless youth in Toronto risk violence, exploitation, drugs and illness on the street because they have nowhere else to go. They come from every social, economic and cultural background, and from every part of the country. For many, home is out of the question because of domestic violence, sexual abuse or neglect.

In 2004, more than 4,000 youth, most between 16 and 18, turned to Covenant House for help. Established in 1982, Covenant House is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, offering shelter, food, medical care and support services to homeless youth.

“Our primary goal is to get and keep kids off the street,” says Executive Director Ruth daCosta. “Whenever possible, we try to reunite kids with their families. More often, however, we work to help young people become independent.”

On average, about 80 young people find refuge in the Covenant House shelter every night. Every day, scores more receive assistance from the community support program, health care clinic or school and job programs, or simply drop in for a meal or a shower. Up to 28 people who aren’t yet ready to go on their own stay in a longer-term residence up to a year, while they work and continue their education.

The shelter and residence were recently renovated to improve safety and better serve disabled or injured youth. Renovations include installation of a new access elevator; replacement of the heating boiler, generator and windows; new roofing and flooring; repairs to bathroom tiles and fixtures; and new doors, locks and security cameras.

“We give youth the encouragement they need to believe in themselves and the possibility of a better future,” says Ms. daCosta. “Enough of our youth come back to tell us that they are living productive and independent lives for us to know that we are making a difference.”

One example is Mohanza Kelly. After moving to Toronto from Jamaica to live with his mother, Mohanza found their relationship strained and he came to Covenant House. Mohanza made his way to the finals at the 2004 Canadian Idol competition while living at Covenant House, and he’s now back in high school, at home, and pursuing a singing and production career.

The Covenant House shelter renovations were made possible with funding of $168,500 from the Federal Government’s Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI); $927,825 from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)’s Shelter Enhancement Program (SEP) for Renovation; and $187,000 in private funding.

“We give youth the encouragement they need to believe in themselves and the possibility of a better future.”
Ruth daCosta, Executive Director, Covenant House

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