When homelessness is a concern, the home-less aspect is often (and unfortunately) only the tip of the iceberg. Those who find themselves battling homelessness can often come from heavy, challenging backgrounds that expose them to things such as abuse, addiction, violence, and more. Finding both the mental strength and physical resources to bounce back from homelessness is no small feat – which is why having effective programs in place cannot be overlooked.
One program, located in Toronto, is making strides against their city’s homelessness battle with a unique building that comes equipped with the backbone of a program for maximum effectiveness. As described on their website, “Eva’s Phoenix, a housing initiative, provides housing for 50 youth ages 16 to 24 for up to a full year in townhouse-style units. We provide youth in residence as well as youth in the community with educational support and employment and independent living skills.”
While that description is impressive, as I dug a little deeper into their mission and operatives, I was even more moved. The idea behind Eva’s Phoenix is not only getting homeless youth back on their feet…but helping them stay there long past their release into the “real world.” When living here, they are enabled to develop the skills they need to live independently through exposure to goal setting exercises, workshops, and hands-on programs. These programs act as stepping-stones for these teens and young-adults to start sustainable career paths that can carry them forward to more comfortable, successful lives.
Standing out from the traditional image of a homeless shelter, Eva’s Phoenix was designed by LGA Architectural Partners in a fashion that mimics townhouse-style living. The plan features private bedrooms with shared common spaces and a bright, three-story atrium that embodies the community-centric nature of the project.
Living quarters seep into learning possibilities, though, as there is also a community kitchen, computer lab, classroom, counseling space, construction work training, property management training, and a print shop that provides training for homeless youth. Anyone calling the building home is required to work, with one-third of his or her earnings held in the project’s “bank.” The funds are returned to them when they are no longer living under Eva’s Phoenix’s roof. More or less, Eva’s Phoenix is a safety net of a city within a city. There’s even a “Main Street” running through the middle of the shelter.
The Star reports that there are 10,000 or more homeless youth in Toronto every year, with 2,000 spending any given night in the city’s available shelters. Eva’s Phoenix is readily equipped to help 50 at a time. Maria Crawford, the outgoing executive director of Eva’s Initiatives that operates Eva’s Satellite, spoke to Ron Fanfair about some the need that fuels Eva’s existence:
“We got together with young people, listened really carefully to their stories, experiences, to what went wrong and why and most importantly, why they felt they needed to gain the skills required to help find and maintain housing and employment.”
Further speaking to the unique idea behind the ability for struggling youth to call this place home, Dean Goodman, a co-founder of the responsible architecture firm, spoke to FastCo saying:
“Much of the design for youth underscores creating opportunities for developing critical life skills from cooking to sharing bathrooms or living together – which homeless youth have often missed out on – hence the emphasis on house-style accommodation versus open bunks. This presented some design challenges for us, for example, needing to find the most durable fixtures and finishes while striving to deploy them in a way that feels homey and non-institutional.”
Goodman goes on to emphasize that while architecture can certainly play a role in alleviating the strains of homelessness in a city, it’s not a quick fix.
“Architecture can set the tone, reinforce an idea, and allow it to flourish, but it’s necessary for there to be a robust vision and program that leads the way. In this regard, Eva’s program and approach focuses on supporting the youth to succeed in their transition away from homelessness and also emphasizes the need for them to be active players in the process.”
Speaking volumes to their efforts is the testimonials of past residents, such as the one they have on their website that starts “My life…I probably wouldn’t have it today. Or my job…or anything for that matter if not for Eva’s Phoenix…”