Kola Iluyomade, Housing Program Manager at Eva’s.
Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth was always intended to be more than just a shelter where youth could lay their heads…it was designed to be a home.
Indeed, Eva Maud Smith, who founded the organization in 1989 under the name North York Emergency Home for Youth, believed in creating a circle of care around the young people she served.
Today, Eva’s is striving to keep this legacy alive. We are privileged to have staff like Kola Iluyomade, who bring a level of expertise that can help us as we work to undertake a holistic approach to serving each of the young people who enter our facilities.
It Takes a Village
“Youth are coming to us with so many different needs,” says Kola Iluyomade, Housing Program Manager at Eva’s. “Sometimes, their parental relationships have broken down, or they may have aged out of the foster care system, they all come after experiencing some sort of trauma.”
New to his role, Kola is proud of the ‘African cultural essence’ management style that he brings to his team and the agency. “At the core, our job is really to be temporary parents to the young people we serve. Even though we are staff, we are here to parent these young people. That’s the Africentric approach; we are all aunties and uncles. It’s the ‘It takes a village’” mentality.” He goes on to emphasize the importance of creating a safe ‘home’ for young people residing at Eva’s. “Sixty-six per cent of the youth at our Phoenix site identify as Black, I want all the youth we serve to view me as that uncle in the community, who is going to help you, who believes in you and who is there for you no matter what frustration you are going through.”
Practical Living Tools
The Independent Living Program (ILP) is a mandatory training program for every resident at Eva’s Place, Eva’s Satellite, and Eva’s Phoenix. The program’s objective is to build the life skills of youth experiencing homelessness, to prepare them to lead productive, healthy lives and to support them in their transition to living on their own. “The program covers many skills like cleaning, cooking, financial literacy, anti-oppression, conflict resolution, self-esteem and emotional control. These skills will help ensure that youth can do more than maintain stable housing when they leave our shelters,” says Kola. “The key is to let them acquire the tools and competences to exit homelessness and to lead vibrant lives.”
COVID-19 Switches Things Up
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delivery of parts of the program has changed. The Financial Literacy program, for example, has switched to an online format. The number of Recreational workshops increased as residents were forced to stay in due to the pandemic. Workshops around self-care, art therapy and games nights, provided the young people with ways to learn how to build healthy relationships, keep a positive attitude in the face of adversity, resolve conflict and how to deal with anti-oppression.
I Too Can’t Breathe
When George Floyd was murdered, coping with oppression and anti-Black racism became a particular concern. His death had a tremendous impact on residents. “We created programming immediately to deal with acts of anti-Black racism that we were witnessing around the world. We had sessions to unpack what people were experiencing and what it meant to them,” says Kola. “This is turning into a massive project and art installation called 8.46. It will encompass fine art, photography, the fabrication of masks, poetry and placards.”
For Kola, being a Housing Program Manager here at Eva’s is so much more than just housing.” Anyone can make a call and get a young person a place to live,” he says. “We help them to gain the skills needed to live on their own, to be inter-dependent. We help them create a plan to get an education and provide follow-up support once they move out. So that they don’t just exit the system but continue to thrive.” For Kola, that is the real reward, ensuring that the young people who progress through this village, continue to thrive.