Meet Bina Velinor, Residential Supervisor, Eva’s Satellite.
Bina Velinor has been with Eva’s for just over a year now. She believes that one of her essential tasks is connection. The first thing this Supervisor does each day, after checking in quickly with her staff, is to take a moment to connect with the youth she serves. “I may sit down with a young person, or sometimes I even play basketball with the youth,” says Bina. “And then, I start my day. I may have meetings, depending on what’s going on in the house. Eva’s is a house. I don’t look at it as a shelter. This is our house. This is our family. These are our kids.”
Child Welfare – Pathway to Homelessness
For over a decade, prior to coming to Eva’s, Bina worked for the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAST), as a foster care worker and a child and youth access worker. According to CAST, Black Torontonians represent nine per cent of the city’s population. However, their data shows that Black children are nearly five times overrepresented in the care system, 42% of those in their care.
The former child welfare worker states this is due to systemic racism, anti-Black racism, worker biases and ignorance around the children’s culture. Studies show that Black families are more likely to be investigated by children’s aid societies, and have their children taken into care. “I used to observe it all the time. A teacher may have two students, one white, one Black. Both students may say the same thing, ‘you know if I go home, I’m dead.’ The teacher would tell the white child, ‘don’t worry, Johnny, you’re okay.’ But she will put in a call to CAST for the Black child,” shares Bina. “Then, the investigation is not done properly due to child welfare workers’ lack of understanding, which negatively impacts the case, even if they follow the proper process.”
Bina explains that the structural and anti-Black racism embedded in the system, means Black families and young people don’t get the supports that they need. “Instead of sitting down with the parents and seeing if they could come up with a plan, many times, the investigating worker finds the youth a place outside of their home, believing they will come back to them, but they do not understand the trauma that the child endures.”
Trauma is caused by separating families, removing children from not only their parents but from their communities. “So now, this Black child becomes a system kid. Now we’ve reached homelessness,” says Bina. “We know adolescence to adulthood is a challenging time, you are trying to find out who you are, let alone if you’re struggling with your sexuality and identity. Add to that the lack of a family network, the stigma of being homeless, mental health challenges and these youths that are now out in the world struggling to fend for themselves.”
Connection through Communication
Bina believes it is critical to meet youth where they are at. “We’re not coming with a textbook perspective. Residents don’t want that. They don’t care that you’re the manager. I put myself out there on their level,” says Bina. “My staff and I have to embrace the youth’s culture.”
Words have power. Bina believes youth show up with so many stigmas that society has attached to them and that staff must be creative in helping the young people down their path as they journey out of homelessness. “Every youth has their own story. And what we do together is their new narrative. We must be careful. We could say one wrong word, and we lose them,” says Bina. “We may have a youth that says, ‘I want housing’, but they may not be ready for that. So I would share, ‘So I hear you say you’re working, but you want to go into construction. So how about we work with staff and what we have within the organization, to get you training. Then we can look at the housing piece as goal number two.’ Leaving the youth with options and feeling empowered.”
Bina goes on to say that she feels empowering youth, especially as she builds their case plan, is essential. “What I love about Eva’s is that we don’t just discharge the resident and that’s it!” says Bina. “We’re waiting till they’re ready, it may take three or four discharges. But we know there’s a time when it’s going to be okay, where the youth is ready to do the work, has a sense of hope, and the knowledge that they’re able to navigate whatever obstacles may come for them.”
Bina says her passion for the work she does and the young people she serves means Eva’s is like a second home to her, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I come to work each day, and it’s not about the money. I am simply taking care of another parent’s child the way I would want to mine to be cared for. For me, as a mother of two children, 23 and 13, I hope that if something ever happened, that there will be somebody who’s going to take the time to care for my child as if they are a human being and not a number.”