New homeless shelter for youth officially opens in Scarborough

YouthLink — the charity behind a new shelter in Scarborough is promising to do things differently by breaking the cycle of homelessness and getting young people off the streets.

Shelter, opened by YouthLink, will be the first serving youth in the area since 2015

YouthLink, a youth mental health charity in Toronto, opened a new youth shelter at 747 Warden Ave. in Scarborough Friday. (CBC)

The charity behind a new shelter in Scarborough is promising to do things differently by breaking the cycle of homelessness and getting young people off the streets.

YouthLink, a youth mental health charity in Toronto, officially opened a youth emergency shelter and transition home on Friday for young people aged 16 to 24.

It's the first youth homeless shelter the area has seen since 2015.

"We're not trying to just shelter somebody for a night. We're trying to bring them in with open arms," said Evan Back, head of fundraising and marketing for YouthLink.

"They come in homeless, and when they leave they'll never be homeless again."

The facility at 747 Warden Ave., north of St. Clair Avenue East, has 10 emergency beds for youth who need a temporary place to sleep.

The other 41 beds, Back said, are for the young people who want to get off the streets for good.

Evan Back, head of fundraising and marketing for YouthLink, speaks at Friday's grand opening. (CBC)

They can occupy a bed for a year or two, while the YouthLink staff help them finish school, get a job and find permanent housing. Staff will also set up counselling and therapy sessions for youth experiencing mental illness, or who have experienced addiction or sex trafficking.

"It's estimated that there are over 2,000 youth in Scarborough that are homeless," Back said. "There's all kinds of really sad stories, and it's worth the investment."

The facility will also be the city's first youth shelter to operate an on-site kennel.

"You see a lot of kids on the street with dogs. The dog is the only soul on this planet that hasn't broken their word to them or hurt them or abused them, and these kids will not come in off the street for help without their dog," Back said.

"So we didn't want those kids, those youths to slip through the cracks."

The new YouthLink shelter is also equipped with a dog kennel. The dogs will be able to sleep in their owner's room once they've been checked by a vet, Back says. (CBC)

Youth homelessness in Toronto

The city's 2018 Street Needs Assessment survey found 10 per cent of Toronto's homeless population — which they estimated to be 8,715 people at the time — were between 16- and 24-years-old.

Right now there are approximately 15 youth shelters in Toronto, providing just under 600 spaces each night.

According to the city's daily shelter and overnight service usage report, on June 20, 2019 — before YouthLink opened — those spaces were at 95 per cent capacity.

Several politicians and city officials at the YouthLink grand opening agreed Scarborough hasn't been well-served when it comes to many city services, including shelters.

The area's only other youth shelter, Second Base Youth Shelter, shut down in 2015.

"We need these . . . facilities . . . and the fact there's only one concerns me," said area councillor John Crawford.

"I will be doing what I can to ensure that we have more across Scarborough."

Guests at Friday's grand opening sit in one of the shelter's new lounges. (CBC)

The city paid approximately $1.5 million for renovations on the new shelter, housed in a former mechanic shop.

It has individual rooms, including rooms for couples. It also has an intake room, a laundry room, a courtyard, a lounge, a library, a computer room, three kitchens and an on-site chef.

"Scarborough's just been short-changed over the years," said Mayor John Tory.

"I know this is going to be a source of great pride to us and I hope maybe a model that we can replicate in other parts of the city because this is going to be the gold standard."

The YouthLink shelter is the first youth homeless shelter Scarborough has seen since 2015. (CBC)

For young people sleeping outside, in overcrowded shelters or couch-surfing, this shelter will make a huge difference, Back said.

Still, he said the young people who begin with YouthLink are expected to take the transition seriously.

"We're willing to put the investment on a smaller amount of youth, but a higher amount per youth to make it happen and I think that the results are going to be exponential," he said.

For those who didn't have anywhere to turn in Scarborough, Back said: "Now there's a place."