Kids with nowhere else to turn are seeking shelter at Covenant House in increasing numbers.
Record-high numbers of troubled teens are seeking shelter with Toronto’s largest youth homelessness agency on a daily basis, its director of program services has said.
According to Covenant House’s Carol Howes, vulnerable young people trying to break the cycle of homelessness seem to be more “stuck” than ever before, unable to move forward with their lives for a number of reasons. The charity says the average daily census recorded at its shelter is currently 89 people a day, up from 86 the previous year. These are the highest numbers ever recorded at the 94-bed refuge.
“We are seeing huge daily numbers. Young people are getting stuck due to a lack of affordable and transitional housing,” she said. “They are coming to us with more complex issues. Thirty-five per cent have mental health issues, 40 per cent are coming from the child welfare system, and many have low educational levels, and no life skills. We try to give as many services under the one roof as we can, and get them the supports they need,” she said. Aside from shelter, Covenant House also offers services like job training and healthcare.
Teens on the streets tend to come from all over, says Howes, from the east and west coasts, and from all socio-economic backgrounds. “Toronto is a magnet for them. They generally head for a large urban centre.”
Another trend identified by the charity is that homeless youth are frequently not living on the streets. Instead, they’re couch surfing—often with people they don’t know—or staying in other unsafe places.
According to Howes, Covenant House, which provides a range of programs and services for 16 to 24 year olds, tends to see increased activity on all fronts during the summer months.
“At this time of year, young people get the courage to leave bad situations. If they are unsafe at home they tend to think they will be safe elsewhere,” she said. “But they are unprepared and very vulnerable to being lured into situations where they can become trapped.”
Predators seeking to control young people are always on the prowl, Howes warned.
“There are a lot of predators out there. Young people don’t know where to go and can end up in violent situations, lured into prostitution, drugs. There’s a lot of marijuana out there, a lot of crystal meth. Crack, too.”
Prostitution is another big part of this, according to Howes. “It’s a huge concern for us. We are seeing a lot of victims of human trafficking and we are very actively working with the police on this front. We are not just talking about trafficking from abroad. We see that too, but this is also a domestic problem. Young people are very traumatized when they come out of it.”
Part of Covenant House’s work is to get to teens before others do. “These people are pretty savvy and know where to look for young people. They hang around trains and bus stations, in parks,” she said.
“We try to get there first to let young people know they don’t have to stay on the streets. They have options.”
“About 80 per cent of Covenant House funding comes from donors,” Howes added. “In order to give young people help they need, we need donations.”