Upon acceptance into the program, youth are assigned a primary worker. The primary worker is the main contact for the young person during their time in the program, providing the functions of a case manager. Key roles include facilitating goal setting; identifying strategies to achieve goals; coordinating linkages between the housing, mentorship, employment and print shop components of Eva’s Phoenix; meeting weekly with the youth; and offering individual supportive counselling.
The primary worker connects with other members of the staff team in a co-case coordination meeting. On a bi-monthly basis, every client who is involved in both housing and employment is reviewed by the primary worker, an employment advisor/job developer (or the print shop equivalent) and program staff where appropriate (such as a community support worker if the youth is preparing to transition back to the community).
The Independent Living Program at Eva’s Phoenix takes a holistic approach to housing and supporting youth through opportunities to:
- Learn responsible financial management
- Improve access to healthy food and nutrition
- Improve health and well being
- Participate in governance and embrace citizenship
- Seek out housing help and follow-up supports
Youth often lack financial literacy and financial management experience to budget their money in order to obtain and maintain housing and employment. Youth coming to Phoenix often have high levels of debt and poor relationships with banks. They may be reluctant to open a bank account and likely find it hard to save money.
At Phoenix, hands-on experience and workshops help the youth:
- Understand and address their personal relationship with money
- Develop basic budgeting and banking skills
- Increase their understanding of and access to financial institutions
- Make use of their new skills in financial management.
A workshop on financial management is mandatory for all residents. In addition, residents participate in a mandatory savings program. Thirty percent of each youth’s earnings is banked and returned to them when they move out. These funds are intended as start up funds for the youth as they move into more permanent housing.
At present a partnership with Social Enterprise and Development Innovations (SEDI) provides youth with an extra incentive to save money. When a youth saves up to up to $400, his or her savings are matched at a ratio of 1:3, with participants receiving up to $1600 at the end of their stay at Eva’s Phoenix. To qualify for the savings program, youth are required to save for 6 months, make a minimum monthly contribution, and attend five financial management workshops. The funds received through this program can only be used for housing start up costs after the youth leaves Phoenix.
Food and Nutrition
A particular focus on cooking and nutrition aims to promote health and wellness among all residents. By participating in our food and nutrition programs the goal is for residents to:
- Increase their understanding of how a healthy diet can improve their ability to cope with stress, increase their level of energy and strengthen their immune system
- Increase cooking skills, more specifically how to prepare food on a low-budget
- Prepare menu plans, based on their own dietary practices to meet their nutritional needs
- Increase team building and communication skills by providing opportunities for the youth to cook and eat together.
Tip: Having a community kitchen on site helps to facilitate the cooking supports offered to youth. Phoenix has received funding for a kitchen and looks forward to it opening in 2011.
To foster interdependence among the youth residents, Eva’s Phoenix does not provide meals. Instead residents are expected to purchase their own food and necessities. Within this context, youth are supported to cook and eat regularly and healthily in a variety of ways.
- Some food and provisions are provided to residents through the common ‘food room’: which residents can access twice per week for canned and dry goods.
- The Primary Support Workers and the Food Services Worker cook with residents frequently.
- Periodically nursing students on placement educate the youth on healthy eating and nutrition through worksheets and factsheets.
- A weekly community dinner provides opportunities for residents to share their cooking and come together as a community. For staff, these dinners are a chance to facilitate discussion and receive feedback about life at Eva’s Phoenix from the residents’ perspective.
- Several days per week a food service worker prepares breakfast for the youth participating in the programs at Eva’s Phoenix.
- A community gardening project provides the opportunity for residents to work together to plan and tend a garden and to enjoy the harvest. This initiative also helps build a sense of community.
The food program at Phoenix includes culturally specific meals and information shared about the holidays. For example, special meals are prepared to honour Chinese New Year, Eid, Black History Month, Hanukah, Solstice and Thanksgiving. Eva’s alumni are invited to attend these events as a way of providing them additional support in a non-intrusive manner.
Health and Wellbeing
The struggles youth face and the challenges of living in the shelter system have a direct impact on the physical, emotional and mental health of the youth who move into Eva’s Phoenix. Some residents at Phoenix have diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health issues and addictions. Health and wellness of the residents affects all parts of the residents’ lives: from maintaining employment and housing to developing healthy relationships.
Health and wellness activities at Phoenix are designed to help youth:
- Increase self awareness
- Recognize and address stress in their lives
- Communicate more effectively
- Recognize the positive impact healthy recreational activities have on their overall health and well being
- Build up their self esteem to feel better about themselves and take care of themselves.
- Workshops and small groups facilitated by staff, community partners or youth and covering topics such as building self esteem, learning assertiveness, handling stress, managing anger, reducing harm to oneself and the community, and practicing healthy sexuality
- Support groups for women and men
- Recreational activities for fun and to promote physical activity, including on site activities such as soccer and basketball games, and opportunities in the community such as sailing, wall climbing, and professional fitness training.
- Opportunities for creative expression through music, theater, gardening and art.
- One on one supportive counselling provided by Phoenix staff.
A number of workshops are mandatory for new residents at Phoenix to cover topics such as: orientation to life at Phoenix, introduction to peer mentors, anti-oppression, legal rights, harm reduction, healthy sexuality and healthy relationships.
Governance and Citizenship
To build a sense of belonging, empowerment and responsibility within the Eva’s Phoenix community, residents must feel that they have input into decisions that affect them. By having their voices heard, the youth realize they are active members of a community, not only recipients of a social service. The more they are engaged in their community, the easier it is for them to be accountable for their actions and to hold their peers to the same standard.
A focus on governance and citizenship at Eva’s Phoenix provides:
- A forum for both clients and staff to express their concerns and ideas about the housing program and other issues which arise in this community
- Opportunities for clients to be positive role model for their peers
- Encouragement for residents to become involved in community groups and committees outside of Eva’s Phoenix.
Residents may be upset about the cleanliness of their houses. Both residents and staff can problem solve together on how to address this issue and hold each other accountable, instead of staff enforcing disciplinary actions.
Governance and community meetings are each held twice a month. Community meetings are sometimes attended by representatives from other agencies who are there for information sharing. Attendance at community meetings is mandatory, while attendance at governance meetings is strongly encouraged. Residents are encouraged to share their concerns and ideas and, with staff support, implement group recommendations.
In addition, residents are encouraged to give their feedback and take leadership roles in the groups and social events taking place at Eva’s Phoenix. Informally staff promote and role model good citizenship on a regular basis by taking care of the building and demonstrating respect for others and a willingness to help.
Housing Help and Follow-up Supports
Phoenix residents need a variety of supports in preparation for moving into their own apartment and they need help in developing the skills needed to maintain their housing. Residents living with mental health issues and/or addictions are at very high risk of being homeless again. These individuals need more intensive, longer term community supports until they successfully connect with appropriate social and health services in their community.
Housing help and follow up services include the following:
- Reviewing the young person’s budget based on employment income and expenses
- Liaising with landlords and providing youth-landlord mediation as needed
- Informing youth of their housing options, including opportunities for second stage supportive housing
- Accompanying youth in their housing search and helping with housing applications
- Helping them understand their rights and obligations as applicants and tenants and providing skills development training to help them maintain their housing
- Assisting in furnishing a new place
- Assisting with move in
- Connecting with the community
- Resolving conflict
- Maintaining good communication with new roommates
- Providing supportive counselling and referrals to high need clients to help them link to appropriate financial, health, employment and housing supports.
The reality of affordable housing in Toronto’s tight rental housing market means shared accommodation is often the only option. Youth who have lived at Phoenix are well prepared for this experience. Youth who have been employed while staying at Eva’s Phoenix leave the program with savings to put towards housing start-up costs and a last month’s rent deposit.
For ongoing counselling and personal support, Eva’s Phoenix continues to connect with young people after they have left the formal program. Eva’s programs provide one-to one mentorship for youth, an important part of the ongoing support available. Former residents can always re-connect with staff for counselling on budgeting, eviction prevention, employment, and personal issues. Alumni of the program are also invited to community events and special celebrations at Eva’s Phoenix. This is particularly important at holiday times when youth may feel socially isolated.
Approach to Rules and Responsibilities
The approach to rules and discipline at Eva’s Phoenix is very different from many other agencies. Eva’s Phoenix is not an abstinence-based program. In most shelters the first thing that staff impress upon their clients are the rules – to which clients often respond by finding out exactly which rules they can get away with breaking. In contrast, the staff of Eva’s Phoenix tries to emphasize personal judgement.
Creating an environment that emphasizes judgement and responsibility
There are a few clear rules that come from being part of the City of Toronto’s shelter system. These include: no smoking on premises, no drinking on premises, no drugs on premises, and a nightly curfew. With the exception of these rules, there are very few actions outside of safety issues and failure to contribute to the monthly savings plan that would get someone immediately discharged from Eva’s Phoenix.
Staff encourage residents to take responsibility for their behaviours and to link them to consequences that have meaning and value for them. An example would be linking positive behaviour to the ability to participate in a mentorship program. In serious circumstances, staff may ask a youth to leave for a night.
The discharge protocol at Phoenix requires input from the whole team and consideration of all the pros and cons of the youth continuing residency with the program. If a resident demonstrates consistently that he or she is unable to accept the responsibilities that come with living within the community at Eva’s Phoenix, then staff help the youth make decisions about moving out.
An environment based on responsibility and judgement is challenging to attain. Youth will push the boundaries and sometimes fail. But this is how they learn. Staff working in this kind of environment also need to have the discretion to use their judgement to intervene in situations as they see fit, based on the circumstances at the time. This is much more challenging than just enforcing rules, but ultimately yields much better results. This sort of environment is much more like the “real world” than having someone tell you what to do and what not to do every step of the way.
Supporting Staff at Eva’s Phoenix
The staff of Eva’s Phoenix are expected to exercise a great deal of independent judgement in their duties because there are relatively few rules to enforce with the youth. In order to do so, they must feel they can make decisions, based on the circumstances at the time, without fear of recrimination as long as they have acted in the best interests of the youth and the agency. They are also expected to be accountable to their teammates and their Supervisor for the decisions they make.
Staff have several mechanisms through which they can receive support in their work. They participate in co-case coordination meetings every two weeks with colleagues from other teams. These are meant to be opportunities to discuss issues and concerns with respect to the individual youth, as well as brainstorm potential solutions in a supportive environment. Staff also know they are working as part of a team, and that they will have the support of others in dealing with difficult cases. In addition, staff have individual meetings with their supervisors every three weeks. These meetings are occasions where they can get specific individual support and feedback from their supervisors.