Purpose of this Toolkit

This toolkit was developed for groups and communities across Canada that are concerned about homeless and at-risk youth and how to help them to integrate into society and permanently move out of homelessness. Although the kit is based on the experiences of Eva’s Phoenix, it was created with flexibility and adaptability in mind – groups can use it to help guide and inform their own work as they respond to the unique needs and opportunities in their own communities. Whether a group is interested in one part of the Phoenix model, or the whole thing, the tool kit provides support in understanding and creating the vision, the mindset, the partnerships and conditions needed to develop similar initiatives.

Throughout the tool kit, we highlight challenges and opportunities in working with homeless youth and key lessons learned in delivering programs and services.

Eva’s Phoenix is one of three shelters operated by Eva’s Initiatives, a Toronto organization that takes an innovative approach to working with homeless and at-risk youth. Opened in June 2000, Eva’s Phoenix uses an integrated, holistic approach to provide youth with support in the areas of housing, employment and training, and social support. Rather than treating these as separate areas, Eva’s Phoenix has designed its program so that the participating youth receive support in a seamless way.

Youth cannot be self- sufficient if they have housing without a decent job to pay for it, or a job with no place to live.

The philosophy at Eva’s Phoenix is based on a Chinese proverb: Give a child a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a child to fish and she’ll eat forever. Through partnerships with employers and community agencies, Eva’s Phoenix offers skills development opportunities to youth. The goal is for youth to become self-sufficient and permanently leave the shelter system.

The main components of Eva’s Phoenix include:

Housing and Independent Living Program

Eva’s Phoenix offers transitional housing for 50 youth in a unique shared accommodation facility. The innovative structure consists of townhouse-style units along an interior “main street,” common areas, community kitchen, food room, and laundry facilities. Youth can stay for up to one year, learning the skills necessary for independent living.

Key areas of focus for the independent living program are:

  • Financial literacy
  • Food and nutrition
  • Health and well being
  • Governance and citizenship
  • Housing help and follow-up supports.
Employment Program

Through individual and group work, staff help youth identify their interests, abilities and potential. Staff work with youth to build and follow through on a plan to:

  • Develop life skills such as budgeting
  • Obtain job specific training
  • Gain experience along a career path of their choice.
Mentorship Program

Mentors help youth make critical transitions in their lives, such as settling into Eva’s Phoenix, moving from the shelter back into the community, or beginning a new job. Mentors help build self-esteem. Several forms of mentoring are offered:

  • Peer leader mentorship connects youth currently living at Eva’s Phoenix with peers who have faced similar experiences
  • Project-based mentorship in which youth work collectively as a team to meet a defined goal
  • One-to-one mentorship which pairs Phoenix youth with adults in the community based on the young person’s specific needs and interests.
Phoenix Print Shop

Located in the brand new Buzz Hargrove Youth Training Centre, this socially and environmentally responsible commercial printer supports Foundations of Print, an award-winning training program for homeless youth.

Youth in the print shop program receive life skills training and counselling; on-the-job print training; and career connections within, and sometimes beyond, the printing industry.

A Short History of the Building of the Eva’s Phoenix Site

The vision for Eva’s Phoenix was born in 1998 when homeless youth were asked about what they needed to help them to get off the street. The vision began to turn into reality the next year when the City of Toronto provided a location – a fire truck repair garage – and $500,000. An additional $2.2 million was raised from other levels of government, as well as corporate and private donors to build the facility.

During the construction phase of the building 50 homeless and at-risk youth were trained by the Carpenters’ Union, the Drywallers’ Union and the Painters’ Union and worked alongside senior skilled trades people. Youth completed 5-weeks of hard skills and health and safety training at the respective Union Halls, followed by an intensive, hands-on work experience on the job site. Life skills training was held one half day each week, and job coaching and personal counselling were also offered.

The result was not only the physical facility itself, but also what it represented: the skills, accomplishments and capabilities of the youth involved. Of the 50 youth who entered the program, 41 graduated. At the end of the on-site work experience, 85 percent of the graduates had full-time work and 98 percent had housing.

The success of Eva’s Phoenix demonstrates the effectiveness of an integrated model of support in helping homeless youth to reintegrate into the community. Youth are supported to enter or re-enter the world of employment and education and to stabilize their housing, as well as build a broad base of support to move forward with their lives.

Eva’s Initiatives has been recognized for its achievements in working with homeless youth and is the proud recipient of numerous awards. Significant interest in the Eva’s Phoenix model from across Canada and internationally sparked the development of Eva’s National Initiatives Program (NIP) beginning in 2003. This program supports other organizations in reproducing elements of the Phoenix model while promoting the development and sharing of best practices among organizations working with homeless and at-risk youth.

Eva’s Wins Awards for Innovative Youth Programs
  • 2010 Recommended Agency of Charity Intelligence
  • 2007 Shared Interest Award, Citizens Bank of Canada
  • 2006 Chosen by Raising the Roof for sponsorship through Youthworks
  • 2005 Promising Approach, National Secretariat on Homelessness
  • 2004 Best Practice in Affordable Housing from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • Peter J. Marshall Innovation Award from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario
  • Leonard Frost Award from the Ontario Association of Hostels
  • 2005 Harry Jerome Award for Community Service from the Black Business and Professionals Association
  • 2005 Urban Leadership Award, Leadership Category, Canadian Urban Institute

With start up funding from the Hamilton Community Foundation, the National Initiatives Program (NIP) was created to share the lessons learned by the staff and youth at Eva’s Phoenix with other groups across Canada. The aim is to assist other organizations in developing integrated models of transitional housing, employment training and mentorship support based on the Eva’s Phoenix program with a view to helping homeless and at-risk youth achieve self-sufficiency.

As a first step, a formal evaluation conducted by independent consultants was completed in 2003. The evaluation used both quantitative and qualitative measures to assess the effectiveness of Eva’s Phoenix in helping youth achieve self-sufficiency and leave the shelter and welfare systems. Components of the evaluation included: a review of program statistics; analysis of case files; and interviews with industry and funding stakeholders, staff, and 35 youth participants.

Evaluation Findings
  • 97 percent of youth interviewed said that Eva’s Phoenix helped them to stabilize their lives.
  • 84 percent of the youth served had stayed in a shelter prior to living at Eva’s Phoenix. That number dropped to 32 percent after graduating from the program.
  • 9 months after completing the employment program, 59 percent of participants were employed or in school.

The second phase of the NIP resulted in the development of this tool kit of resources. The tool kit is designed to assist organizations that are developing innovative programs for homeless youth. Subsequent phases in the development of the NIP included:

  • Creating a national learning network of organizations working with homeless and at-risk youth

This collaboration aims to strengthen the practice of delivering integrated programs to homeless youth among organizations across Canada.

  • Launching the Eva’s Initiatives Awards for Innovation

This national awards program sponsored by CIBC recognizes organizations working with homeless youth and promotes models of supports for youth that foster self-sufficiency and reduced dependence on shelters and emergency supports.

  • Offering assistance to groups and communities developing transitional housing, employment and support programs for homeless youth

This includes responding to requests for information from groups and communities on the development, start-up, and management of Eva’s Phoenix and Eva’s Phoenix Print Shop and providing more intensive, direct support to a limited number of groups who aim to replicate the Phoenix model in their community. Future directions include broadly sharing knowledge and expertise developed through other Eva’s programs and services and developing our partnerships with researchers and housing organizations.

For more information about the National Initiatives Program, or the programs of Eva’s Phoenix, contact us at [email protected].

This section provides a context for understanding the population of Canadian youth with unmet housing and support needs, including those served by Eva’s Phoenix in Toronto.

National Profile

Homeless Youth: Who are they and why are they on the street?

The survey of street youth undertaken by the Public Health Agency of Canada [1] provides the largest national profile of youth homelessness in Canada. The project surveyed close to 5,000 homeless youth in Canada’s seven largest urban centres between 1999 and 2003. While each region is characterized by local variations in key factors such as unemployment rates and the proportion of refugee youth, the overall project findings are a useful starting point in understanding youth homelessness in Canada. The following discussion draws on the Public Health study and a second more recent study by Jeff Karabanow, [2] with additional studies cited to expand on key points.

The majority of homeless youth are Canadian born. In the Public Health survey, almost 60 percent of the homeless surveyed were Caucasian, approximately 30 percent were Aboriginal, and 12 percent were members of other racial groups identifying as African, Middle Eastern, Asian or of other ethnicities. The study found young homeless men outnumbered young women by a ratio of 2:1. The average age of those surveyed was 19, with females about one year younger than their male counterparts.

Among the youth surveyed in the Public Health study, the top four stated reasons for homelessness were: (1) conflict with family; (2) wanting independence, travelling, or moving to a larger city; (3) being kicked out by caregivers; and (4) abuse, including emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse and neglect were reported by more than half of all youth surveyed, followed by physical and then sexual abuse. Young women were more likely to report abuse than young men and young women were more likely to name abuse as the reason they left home.

Among homeless youth, a common context is a history of instability in the home or family environment. The Public Health report found that:

  • Most homeless youth had histories of family poverty and unstable housing
  • 15 percent came from families that had been homeless at some point
  • Close to half had been in foster care (45 percent), and almost 50 percent had lived in a group home at some point
  • Many had experienced violence at home.

Instability in the home environment is further compounded by disengagement from the education system and being in conflict with the law. Youth experiencing homelessness were more likely to have dropped out of school or were expelled. They were also more likely to be working than their housed counterparts. Sixty five percent had been held in jail or in detention.

Recent studies have documented specific health and mental health concerns which characterize the homeless youth population. A Montreal study found the mortality rate was 11 times higher than that of the housed youth population. Suicide, overdose and unintentional injury were the leading causes of death. [3] In a survey of 208 homeless youth, 46 percent had attempted suicide at some point. [4] This same study found the social stigma associated with being homeless was linked to low self-esteem, loneliness and suicidal ideation.

Homeless youth are substantially more sexually active and have a markedly different sexual experience than housed youth. Twenty five percent of youth in the Public Health study reported having traded sex for something and many reported feeling obliged to have sex after being provided with resources such as housing, food, or clothing. Homeless youth have higher rates of Hep B, Hep C, HIV and pregnancies than their housed counterparts. Also, they are also more often the victims of violence. [5]

Drug use among homeless youth is a serious health concern with 73 to 79 percent of youth reporting non-injection drug use. [6] Marijuana, crack and cocaine, ecstasy and crystal meth are the most frequently noted drugs. Slightly more than 20 percent of youth reported injection drug use, with cocaine, heroin and morphine the most popular drugs. People who are homeless are much more likely to have alcohol or drug dependency, psychosis or depression, or a personality disorder than their housed counterparts. [7]

Homelessness and the daily conditions faced by youth limit access to a reliable supply of nutritious food. A Toronto study concluded that the inadequate diet of Toronto’s homeless youth impedes mental and physical functioning and contributes to depression, substance use and other health concerns, including dental problems. [8]

In summary, this profile of the homeless youth population points to the complexity of family, educational, employment, legal, and health issues that characterize the lives of young people without adequate shelter and financial resources. Homeless youth face significant personal and systemic barriers on their journey towards self sufficiency. This complexity of circumstances and life histories presents obvious challenges to youth serving organizations. It also presents opportunities for re-thinking how services are made available to vulnerable youth.

Eva’s Phoenix Clients

Who Are the Clients of Eva’s Phoenix?

The clients of Eva’s Phoenix share many of the characteristics listed above. They range in age from 16 to 24 years old. Slightly over two-thirds are male and almost one-third is female. Most clients share the following profile:

  • Living in a shelter
  • Unemployed
  • Relatively low level of educational attainment
  • About half have non-existent or infrequent contact with their families
  • Have experienced sexual or physical abuse
  • Significant number has had contact with the law
  • Many have a substance use issue
  • Most are referred by another youth-serving agency.

As Eva’s Phoenix is a transitional program and not an emergency shelter, youth who become clients are typically at a stage where they are ready to participate in a housing and employment program. A detailed intake process including an assessment of each youth’s ability to commit to training, employment, and co-operative living is conducted prior to admission to the program. Successful candidates have met a series of basic requirements and have shown an ability to engage with the program. They do so by demonstrating self-awareness, an ability to solve problems, and by identifying how the program fits with their personal goals.

[1] Public Health Agency of Canada. (2006). Street youth in Canada: Findings from enhanced surveillance of Canadian street youth, 1999-2003. Ottawa: Author.
[2] Karabanow, J. (2008). Getting of the street: Exploring the processes of young people’s street exits. American Behavioural Scientist, 51(6), 772-788.
[3] Roy, E., Haley, N., Leclerc, P., Sochanski, B., Bourdreau, J. & Boivin, J. (2004). Mortality in a cohort of street youth in Montreal. Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(5), 569-574.
[4] Kidd, S. A. (2007). Youth homelessness and social stigma. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 36, 291-299.
[5] Boivin, J., Roy, E., Haley, N. & du Fort, G. G. (2005). The health of street youth: A Canadian perspective. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 96(6), 432-437.
[6] Public Health, 2006.
[7] Fazel, S., Khosla, V., Doll, H., & Gegges, J. (2008). The prevalence of mental disorders among the homeless in Western countries: Systematic review and meta-regression analysis. PLoS Medicine, 5(12), e225.
[8] Tarasuk, Dachner, & Li, 2005. Tarasuk, V., Dachner, N. & Li, J. (2005). Homeless youth in Toronto are nutritionally vulnerable. The Journal of Nutrition. 1926-1933.

What do we know about what works?

This section begins with an overview of key themes from the literature on challenges and effective practices when working with homeless and at-risk youth. From this the focus turns to a cross-Canada sampling of programs and organizations delivering innovative programs for homeless and at-risk youth.

Literature Review

When working with young people, a starting point is recognizing their developmental stage. For example, youth are at the beginning of a life stage that involves developing adult decision-making skills, gaining independence from family, and relying heavily on peers. They are faced with decisions about their future, including work, relationships, commitment to goals and defining their own place in the world. [1] [2] Among minority group youth, this time is also marked by key stages in the development of an ethnic identity. [3] [4] Adolescence and the young adult years also represent a significant developmental phase among lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered youth. [5]

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is marked by obvious physical development, a growing sense of morality, and an evolution in how one thinks. As youth transition towards adulthood, they become more capable of introspection, seeing differences between how things are and how they could be, and being imaginative in problem-solving. [6]

Responding to the challenges faced by homeless youth requires consideration of the developmental challenges faced by this age group along with the specific circumstances and risks that result from not having family support and living without safe and adequate housing, a predictable routine, and sufficient financial resources. The following discussion highlights directions and considerations in service delivery when working with homeless youth.

Delivering services that work: Policy challenges

While young people generally face barriers to achieving financial independence and adulthood regardless of their housing status, Kidd and Davidson (2006) [7] draw attention to barriers in the form of social policies that particularly impede the progress of homeless youth towards self sufficiency. These include:

  • The lack of public financial supports available to youth and limits to support available through child welfare programs based on age
  • Increasing criminalization and involvement in the justice system among homeless youth
  • A decrease in the affordable housing stock, little temporary housing, long wait lists for social housing and increased evictions
  • Inadequate or non-existent discharge planning for un-housed youth exiting health or criminal justice systems
  • Insufficient treatment facilities
  • Too few alternative education opportunities and employment skills training programs.

Delivering services that work: Elements of successful programs

Drawing on Kidd’s (2003) [8] and Karabanow and Clement’s (2004) [9] literature reviews of wise practices for work with homeless youth, the key program elements that appear to improve outcomes relate to: (1) Overall organizational perspectives and approach to services; (2) Ability to deliver comprehensive and integrated services; (3) Ability to assess health needs; (4) Building social supports, and (5) Fostering long-term economic security. The following summarizes key program elements with the most promise for improved outcomes as cited in the literature.

Organizational and program perspectives and approaches

  • Adopt strengths perspectives rather than ones that focus on emotional, mental, or behavioural disorders or deficits
  • Embrace community development, popular education and consciousness raising processes
  • Practice harm reduction approaches [10]
  • Include participatory, self-help and mutual aid approaches in programming
  • Recognize youth’s independence and foster young people’s control over their own case plan
  • Operate in ways that are flexible, non-judgemental and confidential
  • Focus on the needs of each individual young person
  • Provide opportunities to try, fail and try again
  • Advocate on youth’s behalf and provide opportunities for homeless youth to collectively advocate for themselves.

Comprehensive and integrated services

  • Address a broader range of the social determinants of health [11]
  • Take a multi-service approach by providing the basic necessities while also addressing medical and mental health concerns, therapeutic needs and skills building
  • Where possible, provide early intervention
  • Provide supportive housing as a follow up to emergency shelter services [12]
  • Provide substantial follow-up supports and further intervention as required
  • Employ well-trained and multi-disciplinary staff teams.

Assessment of health needs

Assess substance use
Screen for depression and history of abuse
Assume some level of mental health problems exist rather than waiting for something obvious to surface.

Building social supports

  • Assess and support existing social support networks
  • Where appropriate, extend support and counselling services to young peoples’ family
  • Build on positive social ties amongst street youth, preserving links to social institutions and with other, non street-involved youth [13]
  • Help youth connect with new communities.

Fostering long-term economic security:

  • Support returning to school and/or provide alternative education programs [14]
  • Provide employment preparation, placement and support programs, including access to good jobs.

In many communities the funding and policy climate can appear to work against organizations wanting to deliver comprehensive services for youth. Or local conditions may be such that there seem to be few opportunities for partnerships across the health, education, employment, community services and housing sectors. In these instances, youth serving agencies need to be at the forefront looking for ways to innovate and adapt to the opportunities that do exist.

The following section provides examples of some innovative programs operating in Canadian cities in 2011. Each program or agency profile includes commentary on the local operating context as well as the successes and challenges that have come along the way.

[1] Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.
[2] Deutsch, N. & Theodorou, E. (2010). Aspiring, consuming, becoming: Youth identity in a culture of consumption. Youth and Society, 42 (2), 229-254.
[3] Marks, A., Patton, F. & Coll, C. (2011). Being bicultural: A mixed-methods study of adolescents’ implicitly and explicitly measured multiethnic identities. Developmental Psychology, 47 (1), 270-288.
[4] Phinney, J. S. (1989). Stages of ethnic identify development in minority group adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 9 (1-2), 34-49.
[5] Carrion, V. & Lock, J. (1997). The coming out process: Developmental stages for sexual minority youth. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2(3), 369-377.
[6] Allen, J. P. (2010). Experience, development, and resilience: The legacy of Stuart Hauser’s explorations of the transition from adolescence into early adulthood. Research in Human Development, 7 (4), 241-256.
[7] Kidd, S. A. & Davidson, L. (2006). Youth homelessness: A call for partnerships between research and policy. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 445-447.
[8] Kidd, S. A. (2003). Street youth: Coping and intervention. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 20(4), 235-261.
[9] Karabanow, J. & Clement, P. (2004). Interventions with street youth: A commentary on the practice-based literature. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 4(1), 93-108.
[10] Public Health, 2006.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Kisely, S.R. et al., (2008). Health impacts of supportive housing for homeless youth: A pilot study. Public Health, 122, 1089-1092.
[13] Public Health, 2006.
[14] Ibid.

To draw attention to the ways that communities are responding to the problem of youth homelessness, this section offers profiles of nine innovative programs from across Canada.

Vancouver, British Columbia

  • Multi-agency storefront model
  • Successful community-initiated response to the needs of at-risk youth

Local contexts:

Shelter & Housing: Vancouver has few shelters or supported transitional housing programs. Market rents are very high.

Work & Money: Most jobs available to young people are in the poorly paid and part-time service industry. Minimum wages ($8 per hour) are among the lowest in the country and there is an even lower training wage ($6 per hour) for younger youth.

Demographics: More than half of BYRC’s youth are from urban Aboriginal populations. Some youth are newcomers or refugees.

Philosophy: Broadway Youth Resource Centre uses population health, community development, youth engagement and harm reduction approaches in their work with at-risk youth.

Program(s): Opened in 1999, BYRC is a multi-agency initiative that combines the work of ten social service agencies, three levels of government and post-secondary institutions to provide a centralized community hub where young people between the ages of 13 and 24 can access a wide range of services. Programs offered by the Centre include:

  • The Resource Room drop-in: Information and referral to BYRC programs and other community resources; access to computers, phones, and fax machines; workshops; activities and celebrations; employment and housing information.
  • Counselling services: General counselling services for youth and their families; addictions counselling from a harm-reduction perspective.
  • Education: Upgrading and G.E.D. preparation; Eagle High is an off-site alternative school as is West Coast Alternate, a day program for youth impacted by FASD.
  • Supported Housing: Scattered site program which houses youth aged 16 to 24. BYRC provides supported transitional housing and places and supports youth in units the organization rents from private landlords.
  • Aboriginal Youth Program: Cultural programming, counselling services and victim support services,
  • Vietnamese Youth Development Program: Counselling and activities for individuals, groups and families.
  • Drop-in Health Clinic: A physician and community nurses provide medical services two afternoons each week.

Key Learnings:

Challenges facing BYRC include:

  • Funding climate: The government of BC has cut funding to a range of social services. As BYRC is founded on the contributions of multiple organizations, the overall impact of the cutbacks is substantial.
  • Maintaining partnerships: Each of the agencies working in the Centre has their own disciplinary perspective or entrance point into work with at-risk youth (medical or therapeutic, for example). Orienting new staff to a collective community development working style is an ongoing process.

Factors contributing to BYRC’s successes include:

  • Grassroots community response to a local issue: The Centre was opened because community members and local agencies came together in support of youth. The community continues to be involved in Centre activities, which helps to build trust between youth and adults.
  • Specialized partnerships: While each agency contributes staff to the Centre (for example, mental health or education professionals) appropriate, discipline specific supervision and support remains the responsibility of the home agency.

For more information contact:

Robert Wilmot
604 – 709 – 5732
[email protected]


St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Operating out of a number of locations, Choices provides a range of outreach, drop-in, shelter, housing and employment programs.
  • With a holistic understanding of youth and homelessness, program design and service delivery have evolved alongside changes in the region.

Local contexts:

Shelter & Housing: There are a few adult shelters in the province and one eight bed shelter for young women. The development of the oil and gas industry has contributed to increased housing costs and decreased vacancy rates in the St. John’s area. Overall, there is a lack of affordable housing. As a result, most young people live in shared accommodations commonly referred to as ‘bedsitters’ that are not subject to provincial landlord and tenancy regulations.

Work & Money: There are entry-level jobs available and the provincial minimum wage is $10 an hour. Most jobs are part-time with limited ability to engage in flexible and supportive employment options for street involved youth. Young people 16 and older can access some financial support either from the youth or adult government social assistance systems. The low social assistance rates make it very difficult for many young people to find appropriate housing and meet their basic needs.

Demographics: Youth who exit foster care at age 16, youth experiencing a break down in their living situation and youth from rural areas of the province make up a significant part of the Choices community.

Philosophy: A community-based, not-for-profit organization that provides youth with a range of supportive housing options, access to a variety of services that promote healthy personal development and a sense of belonging within an environment of respect, tolerance, peace and equality. The work of the agency is based on an empowerment and rights-based philosophy where all young people have a right to:

  • Safe housing based on their needs
  • A standard of living adequate for their physical, mental, moral and social development
  • An environment of tolerance, dignity, peace and equality
  • Protection from abuse
  • An environment that fosters mutual accountability, responsibility and independence
  • Participate in decisions that affect their lives.

Program(s): Founded in 1990, changes to the provincial legislation governing youth led Choices to dramatically restructure their services in 2000. Since then, the organization has progressively evolved to its current range of complimentary programs:

  • Youth Service Centre, opened 2004: A hub model, the Centre has been recognized as a “Promising Approach” by the Government of Canada’s National Homelessness Initiative. Programs that run out of the Centre include the:
    • Supportive Housing Program, started in 1990: Coordinated financial, housing and youth worker support services for at-risk youth 16-21 whose eligibility is determined by the Department of Child, Youth & Family Services. An outreach model, services are attached to each young person rather than being dependant on residence in a particular housing project.
    • Shelter for Young Men, opened 2004: Operating from a harm reduction perspective, Choices provides a nine bed emergency shelter for young men between the ages of 16 and 19. With the focus on referring youth to appropriate longer-term solutions, the maximum length of stay is one month.
    • Youth Outreach and Engagement, started in 2004: The drop-in centre is often young people’s first point of contact with Choices. Programming includes life skills groups, addiction supports, peer support groups, community suppers, and recreational programming.
    • Jumpstart, started in 2008: A pre-employment program that supports young people to enter the workforce or return to school. Core areas of training include food preparation, household maintenance and repairs, and entrepreneurship.
  • Livingstone House & Goodview House, opened in 2008 & 2010 respectively: Small, communal housing programs supported by a housing mentor who lives in an adjoining housing unit.
  • Train for Trades, started in 2009: A follow up to the successful youth training program that remodelled the Lily Building, this one-year pilot project is training 10 youths. A partnership with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and its union, youth work alongside contractors to retrofit 40 housing units, and are supported by Choices’ youth support workers.
  • Moving Forward is a program for young people living with complex mental health needs who have exhausted other services within the system. The program provides training, support, accompaniment, intensive support in the youth’s home, and assistance with independent living.
  • Lilly Building, opened in 2010: A 14 bed supportive transitional housing program (based on the Eva’s Phoenix model).

Key learnings:

Challenges facing Choices include:

  • Housing Market: High rents and low vacancy rates in the St. John’s area have had implications for service delivery. Choices continues to respond to the basic needs of young people through initiatives like the hot lunch program, clothing drives and donations as youth have to spend more of their limited income on shelter.
  • Insufficient Partnering Services: A lack of appropriate addiction and mental health support and lengthy wait lists for current services are significant challenges for the region’s young people. Also, there are few employment and education programs tailored to street involved youth.

Factors contributing to Choices successes include:

  • A united community: Resulting in high levels of buy-in, a particularly well-coordinated multi-stakeholder advisory group develops the region’s community action plan. This group takes an active leadership role in facilitating a sense of community among service providers and other stakeholders.
  • Listening to youth: Meaningful youth involvement and engagement are incorporated throughout the design, delivery and evolution of Choices programs.

For more information contact:

Sheldon Pollett
[email protected]
709 – 754 – 0446


Montreal, Quebec

  • Multi-service agency providing emergency shelter, drop-in and outreach services.
  • All Dans La Rue’s initiatives and programs evolved out of youth’s feedback.

Local contexts:

Shelter & Housing: There are few shelter beds for minors under the age of 18, though more shelter beds are available to youth 18-25 and for adults. There are a number of communal living and supervised housing settings but these programs are tied to life plan compliance. While market rents are low, apartments youth can afford are poorly maintained.

Work & Money: Most jobs available to youth are in the poorly paid and part-time service industry. Anglophones who speak no French will have a difficult time finding employment. Minors under the age of 18 cannot access welfare and welfare amounts for adults are low.

Demographics: Youth accessing Dans La Rue are a representative cross-section of Canadian society. More recently, Dans La Rue is seeing increasing numbers of new immigrants from Africa, Latin America and Arab countries and people without status coming from the USA. There are also a number of Anglophone youth from across Canada who struggle to settle in Francophone Montreal.

Philosophy: Respect, friendship and service. Provide help without judgement.

Program(s): Dans La Rue is a grassroots community-based organization that works with street kids and at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 25. Intervention, basic services and prevention programs are delivered through three core programs:

  • The Van, started in 1988: Serving youth 12 to 25, the van operates overnight providing food, drinks and toiletries to street youth.
  • The Bunker, opened in 1993: Temporary emergency shelter for 17 youth between the ages of 12 and 21.
  • The Day Centre, opened in 1997: Open during the week, the drop-in serves youth 16-25.
    • Intervention Programs: Alternative high school education program; physical and mental health services; employability programs; an art room; music therapy; out-of-the-city recreation programming; housing maintenance supports; mentoring for youth in transition; and family support services to young parents.
    • Basic Services: The Cafeteria provides nourishing meals; The Depot provides access to donations and coordinates the resources distributed by the outreach van; and showers and a laundry room.
    • Prevention Programs: Community programs educate service providers who work with teens, and a front-line intervention program works with youth who are already street-involved to help them avoid engaging in criminal activities.

Key learnings:

Challenges facing Dans La Rue include:

  • Private funding: The development team is under tremendous pressure to finance the organization’s activities. If sufficient money is not found each year, programs are cut.

Factors contributing to Dans La Rue’s successes include:

  • Cohesive vision: Staff and management make sure they listen to each other and to the youth. Most Dans La Rue managers were once front-line intervention workers in the agency.
  • Private funding: Dans La Rue has more flexibility as programs are not tied to external definitions of success. The organization has the freedom to try, fail and try again.
  • Philosophy: The focus on respect, friendship and service, in that order, has worked particularly well for youth. There are no case-managers and no files kept in the drop-in. Relationships with staff are not imposed on the youth; youth connect with whomever they choose.
  • Community cohesiveness: Community agencies work well together to support youth and keep each other advised of situations affecting youth (for example, if a bad batch of drugs is on the streets).

For more information contact:

Andrea Corbin
514 – 526 – 7677 poste 224
[email protected]


Peel Region, Ontario

  • PYV is an innovative combination of transitional housing and the neighbourhood’s community centre
  • PYV connects homelessness experienced by youth to its roots in family poverty and struggle

Local context: Located on the outskirts of Toronto, Peel Region covers a large geographic area but has few housing or related supports for youth.  Providing services to both young people and their families, Peel Youth Village (PYV) was built in a neighbourhood with the highest density of social housing in the region.

Philosophy: PYV approaches work with young people using four frameworks: The Stages of Change model; harm reduction approaches; the social determinants of health; and a focus on personal assets.

Program(s): Opened in 2005, Peel Youth Village is a program of the YMCA of Greater Toronto. PYV is an innovative mixed-use development combining transitional housing, employment and life-skills programs, and the area’s community centre in one building.

  • Transitional Housing: Peel Youth Village has space for 48 young people aged 16 to 30. Rooms are grouped into four-bedroom apartment pods that share a kitchen and lounge. Length of stay is up to one year, with residents paying rent and saving money for the duration of the program. Youth are supported using a wraparound case management model involving program staff, other regional social services and schools.
  • Community Centre: In addition to the usual range of recreation activities, the Centre has a community kitchen, and offers youth leadership opportunities, employment supports and life skills programs.

Key learnings: As a new program, PYV is constantly evolving and refining its work. The largest challenge faced by the program is the lack of mental health supports for young people in the region.

Factors that have contributed to the success of the program include an evolving program design and a living policy and procedure manual. For example, incorporating learnings from the first few years of operation, PYV has:

  • Put into place more intensive supports during young people’s first three months of residence
  • Started a new, mandatory savings program for residents.

For more information contact:

Tracy Arias
[email protected]


Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Provides a comprehensive continuum of care from prevention to follow-up supports.
  • Connects youth homelessness to larger systemic issues in the region and incorporates social justice, harm reduction, narrative, and community development philosophies into their work.

Local contexts:

Shelter & Housing: Phoenix Youth Programs operates the only emergency shelter for youth in the region. There are some adult homeless shelters and some violence against women shelters. With a particularly large college and university student population, competition for rental housing is very high. There is little affordable housing and single people are given low priority.

Work & Money: Most jobs that are available to youth are in the minimum wage-paid part-time service industry. Social assistance rates are very low and there are some access restrictions for minors.

Philosophy: Phoenix Youth Programs recognizes that adult homelessness is a cycle that often begins in adolescence and can lead to a life-long dependence on social assistance.

Vision – We recognize the value of all youth, and strive for a world where they live with dignity, free from oppression, in a healthy, safe environment. We imagine a society where our services are no longer needed.

Mission – We support at-risk and homeless youth within our extended community. Our intent is to break the cycle of homelessness by offering a wide range of programs and services. We strive to be a meaningful presence and a voice for social justice in the lives of the youth we serve.

Program(s): Starting out as Phoenix House in 1987, Phoenix Youth Programs now provides 10 programs to youth 16 to 24, with clinical support services also available to young people between the ages of 12 and 24, and their families.

  • Phoenix House, opened 1987: Longer-term 10-bed transitional housing program.
  • Follow-Up Program, opened 1988: Provides ongoing support to former residents of Phoenix House and the Supervised Apartment Program. The program is delivered through formal and informal supports, including counselling, crisis intervention, telephone and in-person follow-up, and through seasonal reunion events.
  • Supervised Apartment Program, opened 1992: Longer-term supported housing program for youth who self-identify the need to develop additional independent living skills. In each of the program’s three homes, three youth live with a live-in support person.
  • Phoenix Centre for Youth, opened 1994: The drop-in provides a range of counselling and referral services.
  • Phoenix Learning and Employment Centre, opened 2000: Using a case management support model and small group-based programming, the Centre helps youth develop the skills to return to school or gain employment through a variety of workshops and job development services.
    • Transition Program: Supports high priority youth to develop life and employment skills through one-on-one supports, workshops and work placements.
    • Phoenix Youth Shelteropened 2001: A short-term emergency shelter with 20 single rooms divided into 15 male beds and 5 female beds.
    • Health Services, started in 2001: Provides on-site health care at Phoenix Centre for YouthPhoenix House and Phoenix Youth Shelter.
    • Special Initiatives, started 2001: Provides a range of opportunities and activities, including therapeutic recreation activities, creative arts programming and leadership development to youth in Phoenix Youth Programs.
    • Phoenix Prevention Programopened 2003: Recognizing that early intervention can help address the cycle of homelessness, the prevention program combines community development and clinical therapy in work with at-risk youth, their families and their schools.
      • Clinical Therapy: Available to high school students between the ages of 12 and 19, and clients of Phoenix services up to the age of 24, the clinical team work with youth and their families to address the impacts of family and peer conflicts, discrimination, grief and loss, and poverty.
      • Community Development: Attending to the socio-economic factors that can contribute to homelessness, the CD team builds meaningful relationships with selected junior high schools, tenant’s associations, and housing programs in a range of geographic communities. Based on local challenges, the CD team identifies strengths and potential partnerships and provides a range of programs.

Key learnings:

Challenges facing PYP include:

  • Funding climate: Approximately 80 percent of all the province’s non-profits are located in Halifax, as are multiple universities, colleges and hospitals. All of these institutions compete for what funding is available.
  • Service distribution: Forcing people to leave behind family and other existing social support networks, there are few supports or services offered outside of Halifax.
  • Service gaps: There is a lack of appropriate mental health or substance abuse services in Halifax and across the province.

Factors contributing to PYP’s successes include:

  • Good relationships: Helping to sustain the work of the organization, PYP maintains good relationships with a range of stakeholders, including government, business and the community.
  • People resources: The many regional universities and colleges provide a wealth of student practicum hours (and consequently, pre-trained staff), volunteer hours and opportunities to engage in research.

For more information contact:

Rob Morris
902 – 422 – 3105
[email protected]


Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Drop-in centre/ resource centre for street entrenched and homeless youth
  • RaY’s mandate is to provide youth with what they need on their terms to better their lives.

Local contexts:

Housing & Shelter: Winnipeg has 24 youth shelter beds for those under the age of 18. There are 90 adult beds, however, one shelter requires people to pay for each night’s stay and the other has a curfew and will not allow pets. Both shelters are faith based. While there is movement towards building more supportive and affordable housing, there are very few rental vacancies currently available.

Work & Money: Poorly paid service industry and temporary labour are the jobs available to RaY youth.

Demographics: A significant proportion of RaY’s youth are Aboriginal and many youth are exiting child welfare at age 16. Youth who attend RaY come with an array of complex issues including: FASD, generational trauma, IDU, co-occurring disorders, homeless, hard to house, pregnant or parenting, un-medicated, entrenched or involved in gangs, involved in the sex trade, and sexually exploited.

Philosophy: Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) provides youth with what they need, on their terms, to better their lives. Core frameworks include the social determinants of health, harm reduction and strength-based approaches to service, and social justice philosophies.

Program(s): Opening in 2003, RaY is the result of the merger of Powerhouse Winnipeg Inc., a street youth service agency, with the Winnipeg chapter of Operation Go Home. RaY provides a continuum of services through their new location and the Free Store, which is offered at their Satellite location:

  • Emergency Services: Provides food, clothing, hygiene products, laundry facilities and showers, access to computers and telephones, pet supplies, a spay and neutering program, phone message services, and diapers and formula to young parents.
  • Health Clinic: Run by a Nurse Practitioner who has the capacity to write prescriptions, the Health Clinic offers both emergency and long-term health care on a drop-in basis.
  • Housing: Provides information, options and referrals. Advocates on behalf of youth in landlord-tenant disputes and keeps an up-to-date listing of rental vacancies. A new program, REST Ray Emergency Shelter and Transition, is being piloted and will build bridges between street-involved youth and both public and private sector landlords and will include short term supported accommodation.
  • Growing Opportunities: A two stream employment program, the first is an emergency walk-in program for youth dealing with overt mental health, addictions or behavioural issues. This stream places youth in temporary supported jobs. The second stream is a pre-employment training program with regular supported odd job placements in the community.
  • Mental Health and Addictions: A mental health outreach worker, an addictions worker and the health clinic’s nurse practitioner support youth to set their own goals and treatment objectives.
  • Street Outreach: Provides information, resources and options to street-involved youth.
  • Prevention: Youth facilitate workshops on anger-management, suicide intervention, life on the streets, the drug trade, and sexual health in schools, social service agencies, and residential and lock-up facilities.
  • Art and Recreation: A new partnership with MOMENTA, the Urban Adventuresprogram allows youth to experience a range of therapeutic outdoor activities and adventures. A new community arts program began in the fall of 2010.

Key learnings:

Challenges facing RaY include:

  • Funding climate: Homelessness services are the grout between many systems, including health, housing and policing. Funders do not recognize the impact or importance of the sector and their application and reporting requirements take too much time away from the provision of direct service.

Factors contributing to RaY’s successes include:

  • Recognizing root causes: We recognize with young people how systemic poverty and colonization are the root causes of homelessness for many people. As such, RaY calls their staff advocates rather than youth workers.
  • Partnerships: Are the only way to survive as a service provider. Agency partnerships also model interdependence to youth.
  • Focus on breaking down barriers in access: The systems set up to support people often do the opposite. RaY centres program delivery on meeting youth where they are at, on their terms. For example, by not restricting access if a youth has a dog.

For more information contact:

Kelly Holmes
204 – 783 – 5616
[email protected]


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  • SCYAP is a visual arts organization that includes a drop-in art studio, gallery and a number of community art initiatives.
  • The organization focuses on building authentic relationships with youth and trusts that positive developments will naturally follow.

Local contexts:

Shelter & Housing: There are no youth shelters in Saskatoon. Adult shelters often require that their clients be on social assistance. Both the adult and women’s shelters are often full, are abstinence based, and permanently bar some clients. Young people can only afford shared accommodations or rooming houses and SCYAP is noticing an increased demand for stable affordable housing.

Work & Money: While the job market is okay and young people can find full-time jobs, the minimum wage is low.  Social assistance rates are low and there are access restrictions for those under the age of 18.

Demographics: Saskatoon is not a very diverse city overall. Most Aboriginal youth have travelled from the region’s reserves and are not from urban aboriginal groups.

Philosophy: SCYAP believes that the right space with the right mentors at the right time in a young person’s life can make all the difference. SCYAP utilizes youth’s artistic interest and inclination as the basis for personal development and redirection towards a healthier, happier and more productive life.

Program(s): Offering at-risk youth equal opportunity access to art and culture career development, and providing beautiful artistic services to the Saskatoon community, SCYAP was established in 2001 in order to address the social, educational and economic needs of youth who face multiple barriers to employment. SCYAP offers four core programs:

  • Urban Canvas Project: Open to those unemployed and out of school, Urban Canvas is an art skills and personal development training program for at-risk youth ages 16-30. The project provides practical experience and art portfolio building, skill enhancement workshops, life skills training and post-project employment preparation.
  • Drop-in Art Centre: Open after school and on weekends, the drop-in provides free art mentorship and supplies and access to a positive and creative environment to youth of all ages. Driven by need, the drop-in has evolved into staying open overnight, as many young homeless people have no other safe place to be.
  • Community Arts Project: An anti-graffiti and community beautification initiative, SCYAP creates murals commemorating events and promoting anti-violence.
  • Sign & Design: An initiative that hires past Urban Canvas youth to work on signage, graphic design and corporate gift contracts. Proceeds pay youth and help to support SCYAP programs.

Key learnings:

Challenges facing SCYAP include:

  • Funding climate: Funders are working independently of each other and do not understand the cumulative impact of their reporting requirements. Their requirements are becoming more burdensome and are taxing the capacity of the organization to provide its services.

Factors contributing to SCYAP’s successes include:

  • People matter more than the model: Good staff are crucial and they often don’t come with credentials. Good staff and the time to build relationships with young people equal success.
  • Collaboration & partnerships: While there is some competition between agencies for funding, overall, most organizations in Saskatoon work well together. Given the community development aims of SCYAP, this has been key to the successes to which they have contributed.

For more information contact:

Darrell Lechman
306 – 652 – 7760
[email protected]


Hamilton, Ontario
  • A collaborative, inter-agency partnership involving managers, front-line workers and at-risk youth working to develop a seamless continuum of services for the city’s street-involved youth.
  • SYPC is an incredibly successful partnership that has filled a number of the city’s service and intervention gaps.

Local contexts:

Shelter & Housing: There is one 19 bed youth shelter in Hamilton, a few shelters for abused women but only one shelter for homeless women, and a number of adult men’s shelters. Many of the programs for homeless people are operated by faith-based organizations that have access to stable funding. Rents are affordable, however there are long waiting lists for subsidized housing.

Work & Money: While jobs are available, they are often poorly paid and part-time. Also, youth are in competition with highly skilled foreign-trained professionals for those low-skilled service industry jobs that are available.

Demographics: Hamilton has a large recent immigrant population and a large urban aboriginal population.

Philosophy: Focus on what is best for youth, not what is best for each individual agency. Design programs based on need and figure out which agency is best suited to deliver the program once it has been designed. Collaborate rather than compete for resources. Incorporate the unique perspectives of homeless youth, front-line staff and managers into program design.

Program(s): The structure and aims of the Street Youth Planning Collaborative (SYPC) has evolved since 2000. Focused on authentic partnerships, resource sharing and systems-level planning, the SYPC is made up of three groups whose work is supported by staff from the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton:

  • Street Youth Planning Collaborative: A group of five directors from social service organizations mandated to work with homeless youth. This group meets once a month to discuss the existing services available to homeless youth and the ways they can work to fill gaps in the continuum.
  • Street Involved Youth Network: Made up of 35 front-line workers from 20 community agencies, this group identifies emerging trends and issues in the homeless youth community, organizes on-going training and builds cross-agency collaboration to support youth with complex needs.
  • Street Youth Involvement Committee: The youth engagement arm of the collaboration, seven currently or formally homeless young people meet each month to provide direction to the SPRC’s support staff. The group is also consulted by other community initiatives and works on a number of youth-led projects.

In 2006, SYPC undertook an environmental scan that resulted in 27 recommendations. With funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre, SCYP has been able to implement 22 of these recommendations. Successes include:

  • The creation of the Street Youth Involvement Committee.
  • Prevention: Youth outreach workers operating from a community development mandate now work in a number of vulnerable communities.
  • Early intervention: The youth shelter now has a staff who works intensively with newly homeless youth. Within 24 hours of entrance into the shelter, these youth are moved into transitional housing or other non-emergency housing, or, if appropriate, are reunited with family.
  • Transitioning: Two new transitional housing programs have been opened, one for youth who are homeless and one for pregnant and parenting youth.

Looking ahead, SCYP has undertaken an urban arts feasibly study and is hoping to open an art drop-in along the lines of Toronto’s SKETCH.

Key learnings:

Challenges facing SCYP include:

  • Deciding to be an exclusive group made up of only those organizations mandated to work with homeless youth: while this helped focus the work of the collaboration, a number of important stakeholders were left out, including corrections, health and education.
  • The collaborating agencies are diverse in terms of age, size and values. Consequently, recognizing and negotiating the amount of power each organization brings to the table has been a challenge.
  • The collaboration takes an immense amount of people’s time.
  • The three committee groups – youth, front-line staff and managers – had different amounts of decision making power, both inside and outside of the collaboration. Ensuring that youth’s and front-line staff’s perspectives are not tokenistic is an ongoing challenge.

Factors contributing to SCYP’s successes:

  • City size: The city of Hamilton is the right size. There are enough resources to deliver needed programs and not so many service providers that competition becomes a real problem.
  • Research base: Community-based research allowed SCYP to document an existing conversation among stakeholders. This documented conversation became the catalyst for action, providing a map of what was required to fill gaps in the continuum of needed services.
  • Coordination: Resources were dedicated to a support staff who undertook the coordination and community development work needed to facilitate collaboration between the three sub-committees.

For more information contact:

Erika Morton
905 – 533 – 1148
[email protected]


Calgary, Alberta

  • An employability focused collaborative contracting process between long-term street involved youth interested in reintegrating into mainstream society and the voluntary community members who want to support them.
  • More voluntary than most “voluntary” programs for young people with access to few resources, The Doorway has a very high success rate.

Local contexts:

Shelter & Housing: There is little affordable housing and market rents are high. Young people can usually only afford shared accommodations.

Work & Money: Alberta has a particularly low minimum wage, and social assistance is tied to working in temporary employment and having housing. Most jobs available to young people are in the poorly paid and part-time service industry.

Philosophy: The Doorway approaches work with homeless youth from a sociological perspective that sees homelessness as one culture and mainstream society as another. Cross-cultural exchanges between youth and community volunteers provide respectful support to those young people interested in reintegrating into the mainstream culture.  The Doorway incorporates six principles into its program:

  • Integrity and dignity
  • Life is such that things do not always work
  • Acceptance without judgement or prejudice
  • Forgiveness – every day is a new day
  • People who listen to each other learn from each other
  • All actions and choices affect other people

Program(s): Opened in 1988, The Doorway works with long-term street youth aged 17 to 24 who are interested in moving back into mainstream society. The program consists of a two year long contracting process where youth work with volunteer Cultural Interpreters to map out and work towards their goals:

  • Youth develop their own unique goals and steps to reach these goals, in the domains of housing, employment, education, finances, drugs/alcohol, legal, personal, problem-solving, planning, identification, volunteer, leadership, health and other domains.
  • Modelled after a business transaction, each contracted step is sealed with a handshake between the youth and his or her volunteer Cultural Interpreter and is remunerated at $15. Up to eight steps can be contracted each month (for a total of $120).
  • In the future, The Doorway will be making their contracting system available on-line so youth can self-facilitate their own process of change, wherever they are located.

Key learnings:

Challenge facing The Doorway:

  • Stigma: The Doorway believes the community has a responsibility towards young people; however, encouraging the community to respect, accept and support this population is an ongoing challenge.

Factors contributing to The Doorway’s successes include:

  • A business approach: The use of contracting and an incentive structure that mirrors mainstream economics has been particularly effective in supporting young people to become employable.
  • Youth self-determination: The voluntary nature of the program, in both design and delivery.

For more information contact:

Marilyn Dyck
403 – 269 – 6658
[email protected]


This section reviews the path that Eva’s went through to develop our vision, including how we went about turning our vision into reality.

Developing the Vision for Eva’s Phoenix

The mission of Eva’s Initiatives is to work collaboratively with homeless and at-risk youth to help them reach their potential to lead productive, self-sufficient and healthy lives by providing safe shelter and a range of services, and to create long term solutions for homeless youth by developing and implementing proactive and progressive services.

The philosophy of Eva’s Phoenix is based on a proverb: Give a child a fish; he’ll eat for a day. Teach a child how to fish and she’ll eat forever.

Although people often talk about homeless youth in terms of their deficits, Eva’s Phoenix aims to provide the supports that will allow clients to realize their potential. Much of the program design was based on conversations with the youth themselves about what they experienced when they tried to get out of the shelter system.

Eva’s Phoenix: Talking to the Youth

Executive Director Maria Crawford recalls that Eva’s Phoenix was born out of huge frustration. At the time, Eva’s ran two emergency shelters: Eva’s Place and Eva’s Satellite which provided short-term emergency support to help youth get back on their feet. Unfortunately, the supports were not there to help youth stay out of the shelter system for good. Welfare payments were a pittance and those who did find employment were working in low-paying jobs that barely covered rent.

When youth were asked why things were not working, they said:

  • Many of the jobs they got were marginal – few hours and low pay.
  • If jobs were tied to a government subsidy program, when the subsidy ran out, so did the job.
  • They were not always paid by unscrupulous employers who knew that the youth would not take them to court.
  • For many young women, the housing they could find was not acceptable – often unsafe, in part due to unsavoury landlords.
  • Many experienced feeling isolated.
  • Shelters did not have sufficient resources to provide needed follow-up support.

Continuing the conversation, Maria asked one youth what he would need to get out of the revolving door shelter system and start living well in the community. His response was short and to the point: “Same as you, ma’am.” The youth were looking for jobs that were interesting and did not exploit them. They did not mind starting out at the bottom, but they did not want to stay there – they needed to see the possibility of advancement.

The youth faced other issues when it came to housing and it soon became apparent that there were various reasons that their housing situations fell apart. They lacked some of the basic skills needed to maintain housing, such as budgeting, cooking, cleaning and the ability to manage conflict. They wanted a safe, affordable place to live, with private space (i.e. their own bedroom), and facilities to do their laundry and meet their basic needs. And they wanted to be part of a supportive network of other youth.

Lessons Learned – Developing the Vision

  • Talk to youth about the supports they need and want – don’t create programs in a vacuum – the youth need to define what will work for them.
  • Identify the gaps in your own community – some communities have supports in place for youth in a variety of areas – innovate, don’t replicate what’s already available.
  • At-risk youth have many abilities and talents. They want to have the same opportunities as other people, and need support and a stable environment to help them to get there.
  • Never stray from your mission. Make sure it guides and supports the work and contributions of everyone involved including staff, board members, and partners, and funders. Keep the mission and vision front and centre at all times.
Turning the Vision into Reality

This section examines the path we took at Eva’s to turn our vision into a reality, including our key supporters, some challenges we faced, and how we grew to recognize opportunities when they were presented.

High Visibility of Homeless Issue

At around the same time that the idea for Eva’s Phoenix was starting to germinate, a series of events drew public attention to the needs of homeless youth. A group of youth had taken over some silos near the waterfront in Toronto, and not only were these structures physically dangerous, there was also potential for violence. In the winter, homeless people were freezing to death in the streets. Some activist youth groups had formed in the city and youth panhandling and squeegieing was becoming more prevalent. Youth-serving agencies recognized the need to act and some community housing experiments were already underway, for example serving isolated street dwellers and other hard-to-house individuals. While there were facilities for adults, there were very few places for youth to turn.

Eva’s Phoenix: Key supporters

Bob Yamashita, a former manager with the City of Toronto who had a long history of working with the homeless population compared the situation of these youth to returning soldiers: “In post-war Canada when the soldiers came back we asked ourselves ‘What do we need to do with these kids?’ What is the difference between them and the kids who have survived on the streets? Are they any less deserving? No they are not.”

Bob urges others to take their ideas and sell them as far and wide as possible.  People need to find champions who are not afraid to take risks and who are willing to try anything, like the Board and staff at Eva’s. To those who find the risks too great, Bob offers this argument: “This is a huge, risky business. But the risks of doing nothing are even greater.”

Dealing with Challenges and Recognizing Opportunities

At the same time that the staff at Eva’s was grappling with the inadequacy of existing housing and employment supports for homeless youth, a key staff person working in housing at the City of Toronto identified a centrally located abandoned fire truck garage as having great potential for a housing facility. The city issued a request for an expression of interest to shelter and housing providers asking agencies what they would do with this property. The responses yielded a good cross section of ideas. The proposal from Eva’s Initiatives was chosen, partly because of the organization’s solid reputation, despite the fact that it was not an agency that delivered services in the downtown core.

The political environment at the time presented both challenges and opportunities for Eva’s Phoenix. The City of Toronto was amalgamating, resulting in changes affecting all levels of the bureaucracy. City bureaucracy was somewhat in chaos trying to sort out the new system, and staff and politicians were busy dealing with bigger issues. But this situation allowed the project to move ahead with little resistance. As well, with no policy in place to govern how the city dealt with vacant buildings, securing the building was not difficult.

The city played several crucial roles in getting the project off the ground. The city lobbied for longer-term funding for Eva’s Phoenix, helped bring some financial partners to the table including the federal government, lent credibility with the business community, and had established links with media.

Bob Yamashita was with the City of Toronto at the time, as the Manager of Homelessness and Housing Initiatives. Along with another staff member, Sheryl Pollock, he was instrumental in making the Eva’s Phoenix concept a reality. Part of their role was to facilitate partnerships at various levels within the city and with other agencies, the province and the federal government. They were able to bring all of these partners to the table. At the implementation level, Sheryl was able to troubleshoot issues between the city and the agency. This included working through the Facilities Management and Real Estate Departments for building permits, and ensuring that proper procedures were being followed, funds were flowing, and approvals were in place.

Political interest in homelessness was building at the same time. Then Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman established a Task Force on Homelessness and Anne Golden’s influential report on the issue was garnering much media attention. Some key city councillors lent their support to the issue of housing and homelessness, particularly Jack Layton. Layton used his union networks to bring in Buzz Hargrove from the Canadian Auto Workers Union who supported the project financially through the CAW’s Millennium Fund. This in turn helped leverage support and involvement from other trade unions, including those involved in the first construction-training program to build the facility. Even the Conservative provincial government felt sufficient pressure to start funds flowing to the project, largely because of the focus on youth training. Funding at the federal level was received through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, administered by the City of Toronto.

Eva’s leveraged the non-traditional support they had received during the development phase and the success of the first construction training program to garner additional community recognition. Eva’s Phoenix was awarded the Peter Marshall Award for Innovation from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and the Leonard Frost Award from the Ontario Association of Hostels. These early awards in turn gave the project more credibility and further enhanced Eva’s partnership building efforts.

Lessons Learned – Moving Beyond the Vision

  • Develop a model that focuses on long-term results such as helping the youth to become self-sufficient and re-integrate into the community rather than focusing on short-term success such as the number of youth completing a program. The latter risks skewing the mission of the program.
  • Build a multi-faceted argument to justify the project, including both an economic and a social case.
  • Identify influential champions at all levels of government who are committed and willing to work across departments, across governments and across sectors. Make the best use of all networks, including personal networks.
  • Stay true to an open-ended community approach that allows people, especially youth, to become involved, make mistakes, and claim ownership. Develop projects that are inclusive. Foster user involvement, participation, and control.
  • Accept diversity among homeless youth. They are a complex group with many individual strengths as well as challenges. Build leadership and a level of tolerance among everyone involved.
  • Choose an appropriate location. Youth generally do not want to live away from the centre of the city and the action. Unfortunately this is often where rent is the highest. Underutilized city-owned buildings might provide a possibility.
  • Safety is a two-way street. While communities may have safety concerns about a shelter moving into their neighbourhood, the location of the shelter must also be safe for the youth themselves. Consider the area surrounding a proposed location in terms of traffic, access to public transportation, isolation etc.
  • Be prepared for challenges at every level and be ready to respond. Try to anticipate what will stand in the way and how to deal with the roadblocks. These can include many bylaw issues such as land-use regulations, outcome-based funding from social service agencies, and attitudes on the part of politicians, law enforcement, and community members (NIMBY).
  • Identify opportunities and move quickly. Take advantage of any opportunities within the environment, including apparently unlikely opportunities such as a government undergoing great change.
  • Build on the learnings of others. Get people on board who are like-minded and have worked on similar projects. They can candidly outline the pitfalls and also the benefits of such a project.
  • Connect with people who are willing to throw out the rulebook. There are always a million reasons why something cannot be done. Don’t waste time with the naysayers. Find the people who believe in the vision and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it a reality.

This section looks at how to go about developing strategic partnerships, including getting the ‘right’ partners on board and working with the media, as well as tips on working with funders and donors.

Getting the Right Partners on Board

Partnership development and management has been a critical part of the work at Eva’s Phoenix since its inception. Indeed, the program would not exist without active partners from many sectors.

In the beginning, the relationship that Eva’s Phoenix cultivated with key city staff was essential. Equally important was the ability to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves at the municipal and provincial levels.

While the types of partners needed to support Eva’s Phoenix changed as the work evolved from the developmental and building stage to the program implementation stage, the process of partnership development remained similar. Partnerships were developed through both personal and professional networks of Board and staff members. As the program developed and gained a track record, existing partners brought new partners on board. It was important to identify champions in specific sectors, such as the construction trades, who could persuade others to come on board. Sectoral champions had credibility with their peers and knew the arguments that would be most persuasive as well as the “asks” that would be well-received. One important lesson was that Eva’s Phoenix did not limit their search to traditional partners, but sought out any individuals or organizations that were willing to take a risk on a new and innovative program.

What’s the Appeal?

  • Research shows that it is more cost effective to adequately house people than to deal with the repercussions of homelessness
  • For politicians: media coverage can mean opportunities for public recognition of their support for an innovative project
  • For business communities, the appeal lies in very practical, results-oriented projects
  • For unions, a project like Eva’s Phoenix means training for potential new employees particularly in sectors with shrinking labour pools

Part of the success of Eva’s Phoenix in attracting support for the project was the development of a compelling social and economic case. Many people are interested and hopeful about youth. Making the link between employment and self-sufficiency is often persuasive to people across the political spectrum. The involvement of youth themselves in planning and building the facility also strengthened the case for the project.

Eva’s Phoenix: Key partners

Ian Somerville was a key partner throughout the building of the Eva’s Phoenix facility. His general contracting firm specializes in unique industrial projects and it already enjoyed a good relationship with the city. What was initially an interesting construction project – building dwelling units along an interior “main street” – became even more intriguing with the prospect of involving the youth who would ultimately be living in the facility. Fuelled by the enthusiasm of Maria Crawford, Eva’s Initiatives Executive Director, Ian participated in a 2-day strategic planning session organized by Eva’s. The session brought together stakeholders including labour representatives, community agencies with experience running employment programs, and government funders. The result was a training plan for youth involvement in the construction phase.

Youth were paired with skilled senior trades people and the training included not just the basics of hammering and nailing, but also health and safety practices and important “soft” skills such as effective teamwork. Support was provided by St. Christopher House, a community agency with experience supporting at-risk youth in employment programs that had been contracted by Eva’s Phoenix, the construction company and also key trade unions, including the carpenters’ union (Local 27). Ian’s company became even more involved in the project, helping with fundraising, donating staff time, and negotiating in-kind donations and discounts from suppliers. The unions continued their participation by opening up the lines of communication between the newly trained youth and employers in the various trades.

Everyone involved felt the benefits of the partnership. Eva’s Phoenix was supported and the youth learned valuable skills and developed a sense of ownership of the facility. The construction crew and union representatives learned from the youth and played important professional and personal mentorship roles, sharing their experience and having an opportunity to give back to the community. Staff helped to make these partnerships work by creating a trusting environment between the construction firm and the agency and also between the trades’ people and the youth.

Ian Somerville says the project was a success because it was practical and “real world,” and was not overly complicated by process. It was grounded, providing real life experiences and tangible results through training and shared learning, with the creation of an actual product (the facility). Bob Krull, general manager of sales at Innocon (a company that donated ready-mix concrete to the construction of Eva’s Phoenix) says that what sold him on the Eva’s Phoenix model was that it was results-based and provided youth with training that would help them find meaningful employment.

Significant Partners for Eva’s Phoenix include:

  • Competent, committed staff – Having the right staff who are committed to the work and capable of exercising good judgement in difficult situations is essential. This attitude must start with an organization’s leadership and unwavering commitment to its mission and vision.
  • Board of Directors – Eva’s Initiatives maintained virtually the same Board through the development of Eva’s Phoenix as had been in place the previous 4 years for Eva’s two other shelters. The Board members played an important role in helping the agency identify and manage the risks associated with a project of this magnitude.
  • Municipal government staff – Key people within the city who champion the project are essential. City staff know how to work the system, facilitate partnerships at all levels of government, and deal with necessary details such as building permits and approvals.
  • Other social service agencies – Including youth-serving organizations and other agencies that are already located in the area. These agencies provided critical support to Eva’s Phoenix during the development stage and since then for referrals and advice.
  • Community partners such as residents’ associations and faith community leaders – It is important to develop a relationship and open communications with leaders in the community from the beginning to explain the project, discuss any concerns and secure their support. Community members needed to know that someone would respond promptly and constructively if they had an issue they wished to address.
  • Political partners such as city councillors and provincial and federal members of parliament – Political partners can be key to moving a project along and can use their influence to bring other partners on board. Eva’s Phoenix involved politicians from the beginning and enjoyed strong support from all their local representatives and from Toronto City Council.
  • Business community from small local businesses to larger corporations – Businesses can offer support in many ways such as by providing funding or in-kind donations as well as and training and employment opportunities for the youth. Businesses are also great sources for networking – once one business is involved they can bring others to the project.
  • Labour and unions – Labour organizations can provide training opportunities and have excellent ties with potential employers. For the construction of the Eva’s Phoenix facility, the Carpenters’ Union, the Drywallers’ Union and the Painters’ Union were actively involved.
  • Media – Develop relationships with key media outlets and individual journalists. Good news stories can facilitate partnership development and fundraising in the community.

Lessons Learned– Partnership Development

  • Involve all partners from the beginning, as much as possible. Talk to community leaders including residents’ associations and faith leaders, local councillors and members of provincial parliament, and other youth serving agencies in the area. This will give everyone the chance to voice concerns, work through issues, lend support and to get them on board to work with the larger community. Political and community support is essential. Although it may not seem important at the beginning of a project, involving everyone at an early stage in the project will make the work much easier in the long run.
  • Speak in language that your partners will understand. When bringing businesses on board state both the business and social case, presenting the plan in their language and using their concepts. For example, speak to businesses about the training and employment initiatives to help youth get off the streets and become self-sufficient and how these can help to deal with skills shortages within industry. Even better, get a champion from the business sector who already has credibility with his colleagues to make the case on your behalf.
  • Youth can be extremely effective spokespersons when they share their experiences with potential partners. They are often still vulnerable, so it is extremely important that they feel comfortable in this role and that it is strictly voluntary. Actively support youth who are spokespeople for a project.
  • Clearly articulate the benefits of participation to potential partners. Include in this argument the innovative nature of the program and its how it has been successful with the youth. Demonstrate your case with statistics, media clippings, and testimonials. Individual stories from youth themselves are very powerful and are often the best way to illustrate their creative and unique skills and perspectives.
  • Encourage your own staff to develop strong relationships with other youth-serving agencies in your region as they have expertise that potentially can be accessed on an advisory or more formal partnership basis.
  • Help partners and funders understand and meet the changing needs of the program as it evolves. For example, a company that may initially become involved around construction could leverage its own networks to facilitate in-kind donations from suppliers as well as offer employment to youth graduates.
  • Maintain ongoing contact with partners to keep them in the loop regarding how a program or project continues to progress.
  • Involve as many types of partners in the community as possible. All sectors have a role to play in solving homelessness and many people, organizations and businesses are interested in supporting youth to succeed to their full potential
Working with Media

Eva’s staff look for opportunities to proactively work with the media and work to get the organization’s messages out, rather than taking a reactive stance and simply responding to stories or situations in the news. During the development of Eva’s Phoenix, staff used their own media and City Hall contacts as leverage in attracting positive media interest in the project.

Good media relations can:

  • Build credibility for an organization or project
  • Provide beneficial public relations opportunities for an organization or project
  • Provide beneficial public relations and recognition opportunities for supporters and partners including businesses and politicians, highlighting their community involvement and sense of civic duty
  • Act as a public education tool
  • Disseminate information about an organization or project and widen networking opportunities
  • Help with fund raising.

A key strategy is to be creative and identify opportunities for media interest that benefit a project without risking negative consequences for the youth themselves. For example, when the construction of Eva’s Phoenix was scheduled to begin, media interest was generated by project supporters and funders gathering on site to witness the youth trainees knocking down an interior wall. This event signalled the beginning of the construction and provided an opportunity for coverage of the project in the media.

Lessons Learned – Media Relations

  • Write press releases with an identifiable “hook” to get media interested in a story.
  • Develop main messages or “talking points” for anyone who will be speaking on behalf of your organization.
  • Cultivate relationships with key media people. This will ensure they understand the concepts and can build on their knowledge. Once relationships are established it makes pitching future stories much easier.
  • Having youth act as spokespeople has more impact. Coach youth as spokespeople, but ensure a non-exploitive approach and avoid situations where they may be manipulated. Make sure they are well prepared for interviews or media events and have alternates in place in case the chosen spokesperson changes his mind at the last minute. Training youth as media spokespeople is another example of building skills and leadership.
  • Be cautious of how youth are portrayed in the media, and as with all other aspects of the project, involve them from the beginning. Since agencies cannot control how youth will be portrayed by the media, serious consideration needs be given to if and how young people will be involved in media relations.
Working with Funders and Donors

To start and continue to run an initiative such as Eva’s Phoenix requires various types of funding. At the beginning, seed money needed to be found to bring the ideas to the point of implementation. Then, the emphasis was on finding $2.2 million in capital funding to pay for the renovation project. As the project developed, it was necessary to cover operational funding and funding for the training programs and the development of the social enterprise. Each of these phases required different fundraising strategies.

Eva’s Phoenix: Finding Resources

Early on, Eva’s staff identified key staff at the City of Toronto and at Human Resources Development Canada who were creative and believed in the vision for Eva’s Phoenix. These contacts found ways to provide seed money to cover the developmental costs of the project. Soon realizing that Eva’s did not have enough capital funding, a professional fundraiser was hired to secure both cash and in-kind donations. Unfortunately, although a lot of time was spent on the front-end work of developing a strategy and building a case for support, little actual fundraising took place.

It soon became evident that Eva’s needed to quickly develop a more practical approach to fundraising – there was no time left to roll out a traditional marketing campaign as the project was already underway. The project got its first significant kick-start when City Councillors Jack Layton and Olivia Chow, who were already supporters, got in touch with Buzz Hargrove of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW). CAW was looking for a millennium project it could back, and liked the integrated approach and training component of Eva’s Phoenix.

With the involvement of Ian Somerville, the construction manager, Eva’s also mounted a gifts-in-kind program, which focused on soliciting construction materials from suppliers at a reduced cost or as a donation. This brought in an entirely new pool of donors who had not been engaged in this kind of project before and ultimately raised in excess of $300,000 in goods that were as valuable to Eva’s during the construction phase as cash in the bank.

The initial excitement around the construction project, in particular the youth involvement in the construction, fuelled by positive reports in the media, helped to build further positive momentum for Eva’s Phoenix. A model home was completed on-site early on the construction so that prospective donors could visit the site, see the youth at work, and get a first-hand look at the housing that was being built. This became an extremely compelling and successful way of conveying the case for support to donors.

To close the capital fundraising campaign, Buzz Hargrove solicited the support of Gerald Schwartz, CEO of Onyx Corp., with whom he had a business and personal relationship. Instead of just contributing money, Schwartz mounted a challenge for other corporate donors whom he agreed to match dollar for dollar. This strategy had the effect of involving a whole new network in the fundraising. Since that time, Gerald Schwartz has been a significant annual donor to Eva’s.

It was partly good luck and networking that brought in some of the Eva’s Phoenix initial big donors, but it is perseverance and creativity that have kept the funds flowing to keep the doors open. Eva’s Phoenix has an annual operating budget of approximately $3 million. The housing component accounts for $1.2 million of this, of which approximately 75 percent is funded by the City of Toronto. But that still leaves a significant gap. Eva’s Phoenix raises approximately $2 million each year to cover that gap and to run the employment, mentorship and life skills programs by soliciting grants and donations from governments, foundations, businesses and private citizens.

Lessons Learned – Project Funding

  • Be sure to include real operating costs (including overhead) in project funding proposals.
  • Funding is an ongoing concern that requires constant attention. The funding climate has changed since Eva’s Phoenix began in 1999, making it even more difficult to secure funding. Organizations must be aware of changes that affect their funders and be prepared to move quickly to take advantage of new opportunities.

This section focuses on the different aspects of Eva’s Phoenix program, including Housing and the Independent Living Program (ILP); Employment and Training Supports; the Phoenix Print Shop, and Mentorship.

Up to 50 youths are housed at Eva’s Phoenix at any one time. The unique facility provides transitional housing for youth for up to a year in townhouse style units along an interior ‘main street.’ Each youth has a private, locked bedroom and shares a kitchen, living room, dining room, and bathroom with four other youth.

The following section outlines key aspects of the housing and integrated supports program aimed at fostering self sufficiency among youth, beginning with an overview of the intake process and the role of the primary worker. The five main components of the independent living program are also discussed.

Intake and Selection of Youth

While youth may self-refer to Eva’s Phoenix, most often youth are referred by other youth-serving organizations. Youth living at Eva’s Phoenix must be working, engaged in a training or employment program, or be involved in an education program.

Youth applying for entry into the program complete a simple form that solicits information about their employment, educational and health history, housing status, and other issues. They meet with the intake worker who reviews the application and follows up with references, such as from other youth serving agencies. In meeting with the youth, a key focus is on goal setting. What does the young person want to accomplish and how does he or she plan to pursue these goals? Priorities vary from applicant to applicant, but may include basics such as obtaining identification and finding employment. The intake worker and the applicant tour the facilities and discuss the responsibilities of the youth who live at Phoenix.

As a transitional program, the focus at Eva’s Phoenix is to assist youth who feel they are ready to move into more permanent housing and pursue educational or employment opportunities. This requires that the youth who participate be at a stage in their lives where they are ready to commit to the program. Eva’s Phoenix wants the youth to be successful with their experience in the program as many have experienced setbacks in school, workplaces and with their families. At the time of intake, Eva’s staff look for youth who show enthusiasm for pursuing their goals as well as youth who can be realistically supported through the program. When necessary, applicants may be referred to other agencies and encouraged to re-apply when they are ready.

Primary Worker

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).

Program Components

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

Financial Literacy

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.

Programming includes:

  • 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.


Employment and housing are two equally important and essential ingredients for at-risk youth wanting to transition from homelessness. The road to employment can be a long one for many people, but it’s even more challenging for homeless youth who require numerous supports to be successful in the workplace. The goal of the employment and training supports at Eva’s Phoenix is to respond to the needs of at-risk youth in a holistic way. We do this by providing youth with opportunities to overcome employment barriers and facilitate the necessary supports to maintain employment once youth move into the workforce.

Many young people assisted through our employment initiatives have experienced significant trauma in their lives often as a result of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse and have turned to a life on the street as a way to survive. In addition, a significant number of these youth have been involved with the criminal justice system, have had a history of unaddressed mental health concerns and often, have a high incidence of substance misuse. For at-risk youth on the road to adulthood, bullying, abuse, social stigma and unstable housing can have a profound impact on engagement and success with employment and the ability to form healthy, trusting relationships.

The cornerstone of employment and training supports for youth at Eva’s Phoenix is the Youth Succeeding in Employment Program (YSEP). This initiative is further enhanced by the Technology Training.

Youth Succeeding in Employment Program

Through YSEP, homeless and at-risk youth receive 5 weeks of paid employability skills training and gain up to 12-weeks of paid work experience with an employer chosen according to individual career goals. Staff work closely with the youth participants to identify where their passion lies and to build a career action plan that is driven by that passion.

The program includes:

  • Case management for the youth participants with a focus on developing life skills, identifying goals and working towards them
  • Practical support in career assessment, outreach, job search, and advocacy
  • Access to clothing, tools, and transportation (transit tickets) to support employment pursuits
  • Follow-up for up to one year after completing the program.

To be eligible for the YSEP program, youth must be 15 to 30 years of age, out of school, not receiving employment insurance, and willing to work Monday to Friday between 9 and 5. Further the youth must be in need of assistance in order to overcome employment barriers, be legally entitled to work in Ontario, and have a valid social insurance number. Roughly 80 percent of youth living at Eva’s Phoenix participate in YSEP.

The program has three phases:

Phase 1: Career Exploration and Preparation (CEP)

This is a 5 week session focussed on preparing for employment. Eight youth participate in the session at a time and are paid a training stipend equivalent to minimum wage. The youth dedicate 30 hours per week to CEP through:

  • Participation in workshops on topics such as personality dimensions and budgeting
  • Skill development opportunities related to team work, communication and networking in the hidden job market
  • Employment counselling to develop and implement individualized action plans
  • Preparations for their work experience placement.

CEP helps youth come to understand the type of worker they want to be. Five CEP sessions run annually involving up to 40 youth.

Phase 2: Work Experience Placement (WEP)

In this phase, youth participants have the opportunity to take a closer look at a career path through a work placement with an employer of their choice. The youth are guaranteed a starting salary of minimum wage with the placement lasting for up to 12 weeks. During the placement, the youth continue to receive support and guidance from Eva’s staff to ensure they are meeting the goals in their action plan and have access to the training and tools they need to be successful in their placement. At the end of the placement, staff facilitate a performance appraisal that focuses on the youth’s pathway towards permanent employment.

Work placements have involved employers in a variety of sectors including business administration, hospitality, customer service, information technology, social services, and the skilled trades.

Phase 3: Transitioning to the Community

Before they leave the program, the youth will have developed a plan to identify the next steps in their pathways to employment or education. If they choose to go back to school or into a training program, they will have received assistance in registering for a program and finding transcripts or other documentation that may be required. If they choose to look for a job, they will have had several months of employment experience to build on through the employment program, as well as a reference from an employer.

Eva’s staff follow up with graduates of the YSEP program on a regular basis for up to a year. Once the youth leave the program, Eva’s staff can continue to provide support by linking them to other community resources. A key message during this follow up is for youth not to give up if one plan of action does not work and to recognize that the road to permanent employment is a long one.

Technology Training Lab

Eva’s Phoenix launched its technology training program in partnership with Magma in 2008. This partnership has resulted in a technology lab available on a drop-in basis. The purpose is to ensure that youth who live at Eva’s Phoenix or who participate in Phoenix employment or print shop training have ongoing access to:

  • computers and printers
  • email and internet to stay connected to friends, family and the job market
  • one-on-one or group based employment counselling
  • community information
  • job boards
  • referrals to services including ID clinics, health centres, legal services and clothing banks

The technology lab also functions as a community information hub for street involved youth looking for referrals to training programs, school programs and local services. The drop-in resources of the technology lab are supplemented by group-based experiential learning modules.

Lessons Learned

  • Each youth is different and addressing unique needs requires intensive, multi-faceted support from staff. Each youth must be assessed and worked with in a different way taking into account the young person’s skills, capabilities and life experiences.
  • Youth in our programs are making significant changes in their lives and most require constant support and encouragement. Many others require more intensive counselling to address issues of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. All issues need to be addressed if we are truly committed to effectively meeting the employment needs of homeless and at-risk youth.
  • Key strategies are to assist at-risk youth in identifying their strengths, establish a plan of action for their future and assist them in strengthening their attachment to their community and the job market. Employability skills workshops blended with on-the-job work experience training equips youth to move towards career goals.
  • At-risk and homeless youth do not readily access traditional community services. They are willing to travel to reach programs that they feel are “attractive” – where staff are sympathetic and engaging in their approach to case management. Programs that focus on integrating supports from housing through to employment increase the ability for an at-risk youth to focus on long-term strategies aimed at achieving self sufficiency.

The Phoenix Print Shop was launched in 2002 as a social enterprise of Eva’s Initiatives. Social enterprises are real businesses that also work to achieve social goals. This is often referred to as a “double bottom-line:” economic sustainability of the business and social and skill development among the participants, as compared with conventional businesses whose focus is limited to maximizing their economic return on investment.

Starting a Social Enterprise

The idea for developing a social enterprise came from Executive Director Maria Crawford who wanted to start a business that would serve as a training site for the youth and generate revenue for the organization at the same time.

The opportunity to launch a social enterprise came from an unexpected source. Eva’s Initiatives was in the midst of approaching The Rotary Club of Willowdale for a capital grant to support the building of Eva’s Phoenix. During discussions with the Club – whose membership included a number of retired printers – the idea was floated that a print shop might be a good fit for the social enterprise business for several reasons:

  • The printing field was growing and in desperate need of trained staff, so businesses were supportive of an initiative that would give individuals the necessary background to move smoothly into the field.
  • The training required to do the job was within the capacity of most of the youth at Eva’s Phoenix.
  • Youth who came through the training had excellent prospects for stable employment at good wages and would receive help from employers to find positions in the field.
  • Employers and those familiar with the field could provide Eva’s Phoenix with some of the expertise necessary to set up the business and find contracts.

Eva’s Phoenix used the grant from the Rotary Club to purchase used commercial printing equipment and applied to the Counselling Foundation of Canada for funds to hire a staff person to develop the business. A 10 member Advisory Board was formed, with half of the members being senior graphics professionals. The board’s purpose was to support the business start up by providing industry-specific advice, soliciting donations of equipment, and helping to develop the business plan.

Lessons Learned

  • While social enterprises can be a strategy to reduce dependence on government funding, they are not a panacea. They require enduring commitment and significant effort to bring on other partners.
  • Social enterprises have challenges that regular businesses do not have to face. One of these major challenges is the development of an initiative that supports the re-integration of a marginalized population into the community. Compromises are required to create a balance between a social mission and economic profitability.
  • The feasibility of any social enterprise needs to be closely studied before implementation. The enterprise needs to be viable from a business perspective (i.e. there is sufficient demand for the good or service to be produced and enough people willing to pay for it) as well as from a social perspective (the field needs to produce good entry level jobs for the youth trainees).
Phoenix Print Shop – Early Years

The print shop training and business model has evolved since doors opened in 2002. Initially youth participated in a 23 week training model consisting of:

  1. A 3 week course focused on life skills training and counseling
  2. 20 weeks of on-the-job training to develop basic skills in graphic design, film and plate making, offset press operations and finishing
  3. Job connections and career development to land employment and/or further education.

Success rates for this program were quite high. Out of a total of 47 participants over the first three years: 35 graduated and 30 connected to a career-oriented position. Of these, 21 positions were in the graphics field, either in an educational program or working.

The business goal was to cover the costs of the business part of the program (as opposed to the training) and to eventually generate a profit. Some progress was made during the early years towards meeting this goal.

A strategic review of the program in 2005 concluded that the print shop had the potential to significantly increase the number of youth opportunities each year and to increase its business cost recovery to 100 percent. This would be possible if certain key weaknesses in the program were addressed, including:

  • Insufficient staff resources: All program staff, including the Manager, only worked part-time, with the result that no one had time to fully develop the business or the training programs.
  • Reliance on federal funding: The training program was supported through funding from HRSDC, which paid for job development staff as well as the salaries of the youth. This relationship was fraught with organizational challenges due to the time required for funding approvals, the gap between funding cycles, changes in funding program criteria and deadlines, and onerous requirements at the application stage.
  • Training and production were tightly interwoven: The expectation that youth who were in training would also be able to respond to the demands of actual print jobs led to many compromises between these competing demands – the training suffered in the face of “work” demands.
  • Inconsistent quality and timeliness of work: The commercial work suffered for two reasons. First, the trainees were still learning the trade and were sometimes unable to complete jobs quickly or to the level of quality demanded by the clients. Second, the intermittent funding status of the program and related uncertainty in staffing made it difficult to go after business contracts.

The strategic review led to the development of a new vision for the print shop in late 2005. Key components included:

  • Increasing the number of annual training opportunities for youth to 30
  • Maintaining a firm commitment to reach self-sufficiency by covering 100 percent of the business costs.
  • Committing to a triple bottom line: social, economic and environmental value.

The following strategies helped make the new vision a reality:

  1. Employing the program team on a full time basis to ensure the necessary time and expertise are available to meet the demands of the training program and business model
  2. Separating training and business components of the operation
    • Offering youth training over a 3 month period where they are not salaried but may be eligible for support through other programs
    • Upon completion of training, offering participants a paid apprenticeship position to gain on-the-job training while in a supportive work environment
  3. Focusing the business services part of the operation on generating revenue to sustain the social program and providing a positive work experience for the youth trainees and apprentices.
  4. Identifying and responding to the need for updated equipment and expanded facilities.

New vision for the print shop required a focus on marketing

The Print Shop needed to:

  • Target “cornerstone customers” – current customers that have the greatest potential to generate the largest increase in volumes of printing
  • Develop a steady base of customers in the social service sector
  • Develop targeted marketing materials tailored to specific target audiences:

Youth need to be sold on the program model. Many do not automatically think of a career in the printing industry.

Employers need to understand the benefits of this model and what they gain by supporting it. The Print Shop wants employers to provide co-op placements; in return, employers can “try out” potential future employees.

Customers need to understand that when they give their business to the Phoenix Print Shop, they are supporting a bigger social project.

Print Shop 2011

Today the Eva’s Phoenix Print Shop is a socially and environmentally responsible commercial printer. It is located adjacent to Eva’s Phoenix in a newly renovated and expanded facility, leased from the City of Toronto. The leadership team consists of a business manager, press operator/finisher, and graphics instructor. The print shop also has a 13 member volunteer advisory board.

Buzz Hargrove Youth Training Centre

Opened in 2010, the new training centre is located in a former police car repair facility located adjacent to Eva’s Phoenix. The Centre houses the print shop’s commercial operations and training facilities on the ground floor and the Eva’s Phoenix employment and training supports program on the second floor. The space is leased from the City of Toronto.

The new facility addresses the need for the Print Shop to have additional space for its operations.

The print shop demonstrates its social responsibility by:

  • Providing training in the printing industry for up to 32 youth each year. The training program runs four times a year. Each 12 week session includes 27.5 hours of training per week. Trainees receive an honorarium based on attendance plus weekly support for groceries or a transit pass.
  • Providing apprenticeship opportunities for youth to obtain on the job experience.
  • Providing connections to full time entry level jobs in the printing industry for graduates of the training program.
  • Providing long term follow up (for two or more years) to graduates of the training program to help them sustain their gains and achieve self sufficiency. Other opportunities include: professional development, scholarships of up to $1000 each year for 5 years, monthly social and recreational events, annual design competition, opportunities for public speaking and networking, and information about job opportunities.

The print shop demonstrates its environmental responsibility by:

  • Powering all operations will Bullfrog, 100% green energy
  • Maintaining certification by Forestry Stewardship council (FSC)
  • Ongoing monitoring of operations to reduce the Print Shop’s environmental footprint.

Success as a commercial printer is evident in:

  • The print shop’s strong and loyal client group that includes Toronto Hydro, TD Bank, and the Ontario Insurance Adjustors Association (OIAA)
  • High customer satisfaction ratings
  • Employment opportunities available to graduates of the training program
  • Continued growth in annual sales.

Over the years, there has been significant philanthropic and corporate interest in the print shop. Major supporters of the print shop include Heidelberg, RBC Foundation, Scotiabank, Toronto Community Foundation, and Toronto Enterprise Fund.

Role of the Advisory Board

Jim Neate knows the printing industry inside out through 30 years of experience working for a number of suppliers, as well as in sales, marketing, and business development. He has broad connections across the industry and is fairly typical of the business people that the Phoenix Print Shop has been able to attract to its Advisory Board.

He became involved – as did many of his colleagues – for two reasons: First, he sees the printing industry as a large employer that is in need of young people with knowledge and enthusiasm. The industry understands the outcomes that Eva’s Phoenix is trying to generate through the print shop; they are clear and achievable, and something that the industry really needs. Second, he sees opportunities in the industry for young people to get good jobs with potential for advancement and good careers. In short, he considers the relationship between the print shop and the printing industry as a win-win strategy.

The Advisory Board performs a number of important roles. They provide industry-specific advice and business coaching. “High rollers” on the committee help to open the doors to major customers. Perhaps most importantly, the business people on the committee create the awareness that this project is a real business proposition.

Jim Neate is a strong supporter of the print shop. He feels the initiative has demonstrated clear results: success in placing their graduates in the workforce and a saleable product that generates revenues. He has talked with trainees in the print shop about where they can go in the industry and has participated in fundraisers to help the organization. He actively promotes the print shop among his colleagues. Of social enterprise, he says, “This is way more challenging than any business. In business your duty is to your customers. In a social enterprise you are “selling” to the youth, to employers in the field, and to your customers.”

Lessons Learned

  • Distinguish between the training and the business elements of the social enterprise. Managers need to know how to produce high quality training, how to run a commercially viable business, and how one element of the social enterprise can be compromised for the other.
  • Separate the business and training costs and revenues in your budget and financial statements to clarify how each part of the operation is performing.
  • Obtain good advice and ample support. Involve people from the industry who can help with technical issues, marketing, and the development of a business plan. Seek advice from other social enterprise practitioners who are familiar with how to balance competing social and economic goals.
  • Be prepared to constantly review and revise your model for delivering service and training to be responsive to changing needs and circumstances.

The Eva’s Phoenix Mentorship Program has four components:

  1. One-to-One Peer Modeling
  2. Group Based Leadership Training
  3. Project Based Mentorship
  4. Studio
One-to-One Peer Modeling

The One-to-One Peer Modeling component begins when a youth becomes a resident at Eva’s Phoenix. Within the first 30 days, new residents are often experiencing, for the first time, what it feels like to have a stable roof over their head, to meet and live and share house responsibilities with people they may or may not know and to begin the process of developing an action plan toward independent and self-sufficient living.

This period of adjustment can reveal a diverse range of responses from excitement to feeling overwhelmed. It is critical for residents to transition smoothly within the first 30 days so as to ensure they’ve developed a clear path with integrated levels of support without losing focus on where they want to go once they leave the shelter system for good.

The One-to-One Peer Modeling component utilizes this time frame by meeting, orientating and modeling positive behavior so as to ensure new residents have the tools they need to be successful at Eva’s Phoenix. Twice a month, and over a course of two, 3hr sessions, the Mentorship Facilitator facilitates youth-friendly, orientation-services outlining everything a resident needs to know about life at Eva’s Phoenix. These orientation services are named Foundations and include workshops, using a learn-by-doing approach, on topics related to: cleaning, laundry, hygiene, cooking and living with roommates.

In addition, each resident receives a care-package containing household supplies needed to help them adjust to transitional living. As well, they receive a program-menu and a map outlining the different services offered at Eva’s Phoenix – namely employment, financial management, counseling, mentorship, community engagement and training. Each foundations session includes a meal prepared by the group using food donated from the Eva’s Phoenix food room.

Foundations ends with a chance for each participant to identify a one-to-one mentorship match and mentors are provided training and support from Eva’s staff (see volunteer application attached). Some of those matches have included mentors providing supports relative to tutoring, nutrition and exercise. By the end of the foundations, an individualized action plan based is developed and tailored to each resident’s specific needs and interests. This action plan is monitored and supported throughout the young person’s journey at Eva’s Phoenix in partnership between various staff teams including housing, employment and programming.

“…I didn’t realize how much I could accomplish at Eva’s Phoenix and I know now how to sort and clean my laundry and to make cleaning products from lemon juice and water. I am excited about joining the employment program and finding a job doing something I really love and care about … “ Foundations participant

Group Based Leadership Training

Youth that complete Foundations are eligible to deepen further essential life-skills that help increase self-confidence, positive risk-taking, communication and cooperation. The Group Based Leadership Training component provides opportunities for residents to implement projects within the Phoenix community by working together with staff and volunteers to identify creative, hands-on activities and skill-building projects. Projects are coordinated by the Mentorship

Facilitator and supported by industry professionals who donate their time and expertise to help youth gain skills such as leadership, teamwork and project management as well as helping them develop an understanding of various career options that exist.

The Group Based Leadership Training component includes, over the course of one year, five groups that run for 5-weeks, 6hrs per week with 5 youth per group. Participants earn a training stipend equal to minimum wage and upon completion are connected to either one of Phoenix’s employment/training programs or to another program within the city of Toronto.

Group-based projects are developed in consultation between residents, staff and volunteers. Each project focuses on fulfilling identified needs within the Phoenix community. These projects provide residents a chance to develop essential leadership skills transferable within an employment or educational setting.

Participation in leadership groups highlight skills developed in areas such as working with diverse people, building healthy relationships, communicating and resolving conflict and planning/organizing events. Historically group-based projects have included agency fundraisers along with community projects led by volunteers in the film and creative-arts sectors (see volunteer application attached).Youth leaders have also coordinated shelter events celebrating the cultural diversity within Phoenix and have taken photography workshops where they learned to take photos, develop and showcase their work; visual art projects which provided them a medium for positive self-expression; and gardening collective, where they gained communication and problem solving skills while learning about landscaping, horticulture and nutrition.

Project-Based Mentorship

Leadership Training mentors are youth “graduates” who are trained to take on leadership roles at Eva’s and who assist their peers in gaining skills in particular areas of their lives. This component of the mentorship program is referred to as the Succeeding Within My Community (SWMC) component.

During SWMC 10 youth, that complete Leadership Training, further deepen their talents by becoming Peer Mentors at Eva’s Phoenix. This opportunity supports a young person to raise their profile amongst their peers increasing their self-esteem and broadening their ability to actualize and achieve success. As well, each Peer Mentor supplements their income by earning a stipend of minimum wage, working 10hrs per week for two months and contributing meaningful engagement within the shelter.

Based on current findings, the Eva’s Phoenix Mentorship Program has noted when youth start to access supports and begin to make some changes, one of the biggest challenges they face is developing a healthy non-street-involved network of friends. The support of positive role models can help youth move towards becoming self-sufficient. Peer Mentors can provide guidance, offer an alternative perspective, encourage confidence, and provide a positive influence.

Peer Mentors can provide leadership to their peers by taking on greater responsibility within Eva’s Phoenix and by obtaining recognition through completed projects aimed to fill gaps within their community. Youth taking the lead and inspiring others to become involved plays a significant role towards stronger transition to independent living and civic pride. SWMC positions are supervised and supported by the Mentorship Facilitator. Some of the past SWMC projects have included: managing a clothing-donations room, preparing and serving food as part of a daily breakfast-club, organizing, designing and harvesting a community garden, developing a vegan cook book and teaching youth art in the shelter’s multi-purpose studio.

“ Investing strategically in street involved youth – by providing critical educational and employment training and opportunities, access to stable, secure housing and by helping them to develop essential life skills – launches them on a positive path towards independence and self sufficiency as contributing members of socially. This kind of investment in youth makes sound economic and social sense”. Youth Homelessness in Canada: The Road to Solutions, March 4th 2009


The Studio is about providing youth living within the shelter system with a comfortable learning environment for ongoing social growth. Its essence is the development of a community that supports positive youth development. As a component of the mentorship program, the Studio maximizes shared resources and involves assistance from the public and private sectors (refer to volunteer application).

Throughout the course of the year, at-risk youth access opportunities to enhance interpersonal skills and skills related to life-long learning such as goal-setting, problem solving, decision making and team work while launching realistic plans for their future via the production of group-based artwork.

The Studio works with youth residing and/or participating in programs at Eva’s Phoenix. Youth who are interested in making a transition to employment, training and/or education but are limited in their capacity to do so by a vast array of different barriers will be able to tap into this unique service.

Today’s labour market places a high emphasis on a set of skills underdeveloped in many marginalized youth – multi-tasking, negotiating constant change, self-direction, team work, interpersonal communication, creativity and innovation. As a community, we must help equip young people with a repertoire of relevant skills so that their long-term employability and safety can be secured.

The Studio program is both product-based and process oriented. Participants work independently in a multi-purpose studio conducive to a wide range of visual, performance and media art or in teams that will focus on the production of a group-generated product. Whether the group decides to create a community mural, produce a short video and/or perform in front of a live audience, participants enhance self-worth by raising their community profile amongst their peers in a positive manner.


An independent evaluation of Eva’s Phoenix was completed in 2003 to determine what elements of the program were working and why. The evaluation found that:

  • 97 percent of youth surveyed said the program helped stabilize their lives
  • 84 percent of youth had previously lived in shelters; that number dropped to 32 percent after participation in the program
  • 78 percent said the program improved their ability to find and keep a job
  • 71 percent said they improved their housing conditions
  • Nine months after completing the program, 60 percent of the youth located were still employed or enrolled in school
  • 66 percent enrolled in an educational/training program after graduation
  • At the beginning of the program, only 23 percent had regular contact with their families; after graduation, that number doubled.

In addition:

  • According to stakeholders, Eva’s Phoenix is a tightly focussed, mission-driven organization.
  • Youth participants feel that the programs and Eva’s Phoenix work for them.
  • The evaluation described some of the specific paths which youth took in addressing their challenges. Eva’s Phoenix helped youth by assisting them to meet their essential needs (food and shelter) as well as providing them with a place where they felt safe. Once these concerns were addressed, youth could move on to address intermediate level concerns, such as employment. Developing confidence in themselves and motivation was also a major stage for the youth that usually occurred later in their stay in the program.
  • One-third of the participants were discharged early from the program, half of them within the first three months. This led Eva’s Phoenix to develop strategies to identify and retain those youth who are at risk of early discharge. One strategy was to define and implement critical program and counselling interventions required early on in an individual’s residency at Phoenix.
  • Post-program follow-up is critical, but is limited by program resources (and the irregular patterns of the youth).
  • Overall, Eva’s Phoenix meets the diversity of needs presented by youth participants by way of a flexible and holistic approach.  Stakeholders have a high regard for Eva’s Phoenix. Staff members are competent and motivated and youth feel the programs help them.
  • Many elements of Eva’s Phoenix have been replicated in other communities, although the starting point needs to be the attention to mission and the quality of implementation.

To read the full Evaluation report Phoenix Evaluation Report

Eva’s Initiatives continues to support ongoing program monitoring and evaluation within Eva’s Phoenix with a key focus at present being building capacity for ongoing evaluation work.

The Print Shop uses a tool from Resiliency Canada to assess the youths’ developmental strengths upon exit from the program. This questionnaire provides Eva’s with a portrait of the positive indicators of resiliency, deficits, and risk behaviours for individual clients and the clientele as a whole. This data can be used in monitoring youth well being, identifying priorities in service delivery, and ensuring youth needs are taken into consideration in program planning.

Eva’s Phoenix has developed a set of policies and procedures that have evolved over the years. These may be useful to organizations just starting up or trying to develop their own policies or procedures for specific operational issues.

Some of the policies and procedures relate to the operation of the housing facility and others relate to the general operation of the program.


Phone: 416-977-4497
Email: [email protected]