WoodGreen’s Free 2 Be in Action: Finding a home for an at-risk youth during the COVID-19 crisis
Established in 2016, the Free 2 Be program aims to reduce youth homelessness among young people existing in the child welfare system. “Free to Be supports a young person’s development and growth, helping our youth to dream and vision possibilities that are both realistic but may also appear out of reach, reflect and learn from their courageous attempts at change and social and economic mobility” Erik Wexler, Manager of Free 2 Be.
Free 2 Be program staff and participants at a summer BBQ, summer 2019
The sudden COVID-19 Pandemic, and the resulting chaos, has hit vulnerable communities hard – and the young people in Free 2 Be are no exception.
When the University of Toronto announced the closure of their student residences to slow the spread of the virus, one of our program participants, C, found themselves in need of a new place to live, urgently. Finding affordable housing was already a massive challenge in Toronto and having to do it without seeing units or talking to landlords in person has created even more difficulty.
“The youth that we work with are extremely vulnerable. They don’t have the typical supports that most youth their age would have if they were living at home or had access to family,” Vanessa Wu, Case Counsellor, Free 2 Be. The numbers are staggering: according to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (the largest national research institute devoted to homelessness in Canada) 20% of the homeless population in Canada is comprised of youth between the ages of 13-24 and every year, there are at least 35,000-40,000 youth experiencing homelessness.
While many of her fellow students had their families to go home to, C did not have anyone in her familiar circle to support her. Desperate, she contacted Vanessa, her support worker at Free 2 Be, who pulled out all the stops. Vanessa organized virtual apartment viewings, negotiated the lease, arranged moving transportation, provided her with first and last month’s rent, and set up an allowance, all through resources made possible by the Free 2 Be program.
Vanessa Wu, Case Counsellor, Free 2 Be
Within a week, C moved into her new home. “I have been able to make great strides in securing stable housing, especially in such an unprecedented period of time in a city that I am largely unfamiliar with. Free 2 Be has been a huge asset in my daily life, and because of this program I have the confidence to continue to grow as a young adult and develop the skills needed to become a fully self-sufficient member of her community.” – Free 2 Be client C.
The future is still uncertain, unclear when and how life as we knew it may resume. But in the meantime, C and the Free 2 Be team continue to work together. “The silver lining is that this housing crisis presented an opportunity for her to learn something new and gain confidence and self-esteem in her ability to undergo the housing search/move-in process independently.” Vanessa Wu, Case Counsellor, Free 2 Be
**C’s name has been changed to maintain her anonymity