Systemic barriers are prevalent for youth experiencing homelessness. They experience disparities from access to quality resources, mental health supports, education, good jobs, and healthy living conditions. And for youth who are Black, Indigenous, racialized and/or 2SLGBTQ+, they also face more violence, police brutality, flawed justice systems, and micro and macro aggressions. Eva’s Harm Reduction program recognizes the resulting trauma from these barriers. Our staff’s main goal is to work with young people to make decisions with their best interests at the centre.

“The season of youth is most challenging and impactful on our lives. The experiences at this age shape our character and mindset for the future,” says Natalie Smith, Program Manager of Eva’s Health and Wellness team. “Being homeless is already a big life challenge and putting support in place to meet the individual needs of youth is key.”

As the pandemic persists, so too does the decline in youth mental health. The needs of homeless youth populations have been heightened. These youth have experienced the loss of employment, income, housing, family members, social supports, and community connections. As a result, their well-being has spiraled—mentally, physically, and emotionally. Substance use is a coping method that has increased during this challenging time.

Building trusting relationships is a priority in our Harm Reduction program. Eva’s approach provides youth with a non-judgemental environment and a sense of belonging. In removing the stigma and judgement around substance use, Eva’s staff can build positive, honest connections with young people and help them learn positive coping skills.

“Any of us could be in a position to experience homelessness at some point in our lives,” says Natalie. “Think about the way you would want to be treated, thought of, and cared for.” Youth in our Harm Reduction program are accepted for who they are, not defined by their substance use.