Covenant House Vancouver houses their ROP program in space originally designed and operated by St. James Community Services. Opened in 1998 by the Vancity Place for Youth Society, the board’s goal was to “create safe, affordable housing for street-involved youth, supported by programming and training to assist them to live independently.” In 2000, the board decided that it needed to get community agencies involved in supporting the program and issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an agency to “take on responsibility for the operation, funding and governance of the residence.” Covenant House Vancouver was the selected proponent and took over operations on April 1st, 2001.
Covenant House Toronto houses their ROP program in the old 21 McGill Club building, an upscale women’s health club. Built in 1924, the five-storey brick building originally housed the Central YWCA. Covenant House began their program in 2002 with extensive support from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC); in recognition of their status as the main funder, Toronto’s program is officially called the CIBC Rights of Passage.
In both locations, youth have their own private room. This is not the same for all ROP programs; in New Orleans for example, youth share rooms with 2 to 4 other youth.
Rooms range in size from about 100 to 300 sq. ft. in Toronto and the average footage is 245 sq. ft. in Vancouver. Rooms at CHV also have a full private bathroom and a small kitchen area (microwave, sink and mini-fridge) whereas in Toronto, the rooms have no additional amenities.
In both locations rooms are furnished with a bed, dresser, desk and nightstand. Both Toronto and Vancouver ensure that each room has a window allowing youth to have access to natural light. Upon intake, residents are given a small start-up kit. In Toronto this includes primarily hygiene items, while in Vancouver it also includes cleaning supplies, a clock radio, linens and a lamp.
Both locations have common areas including kitchens, living spaces (including TVs, computers) and in Toronto, common washrooms with showers. Laundry rooms are also provided on-site for a small fee that is similar to the cost of laundry in the local community.
Both locations share some amenities with the crisis/shelter program, while also maintaining privacy and unique space for ROP. Primarily, this means that ROP youth are able to use certain spaces within the shelter; however, shelter residents are not allowed to come into ROP, except in specific cases. Covenant House Toronto also has a full-sized gymnasium refurbished by the Toronto Raptors.
Homeless Hub Thoughts:
The differences between the two locations in terms of how the space is designed is an aspect that agencies developing transitional housing need to consider. Much of this may depend on budget and whether the building is a renovation or new build.
Both locations provide kitchen access even though CHT allows youth to access the shelter meal program the entire length of their stay. They found that providing a communal kitchen allows for youth to develop the necessary skills of meal planning, shopping and cooking. For CHV, a kitchen is a necessary component since later steps require youth to prepare their own meals.
For programs that are considering lengthier stays in their transitional housing (longer than one year) an ensuite private bathroom and mini-kitchen create spaces that are more conducive to stays of multiple years. While the ability to provide such amenities is limited by space and financial considerations, their inclusion develops a deeper sense of independent living. In fact, this model of small rooms with micro-kitchens and bathrooms is one used for permanent housing by many homeless-serving programs including St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing in Toronto and Common Ground in New York City.
Since Toronto focuses on a shorter term stay, the single rooms with shared common spaces provide youth with the independence they need to start preparing for independent living, but do not encourage them to get too attached to the space; after a year, most youth are ready to move on.
It is important to get youth input into the space. Certain fixtures, images, colours and smells may be triggers to a youth. An agency also needs to decide what they will do when there are concerns; for example, can they afford to fix an issue right away to ensure it is not a trigger for other youth in the future?
Recently, CHT added full-length mirrors to the rooms allowing youth the privacy to really look at themselves.
“For the first time they can probably stand, without clothes, in front of a full-length mirror, and really look at themselves. Learn to love themselves. Deal with issues that they have. And for a lot of them, they have never had that opportunity that so many of us take for granted.” — Julie Neubauer, Transitional Housing Manager, Covenant House Toronto
As will be discussed in the LGBTQ2S and Gender section in Program Elements, it is important that agencies with shared washrooms ensure that there are also gender-neutral washrooms – especially showers – available.
 The Covenant House Vancouver policy on visitors does allow for shelter residents to be signed into ROP by a youth with permission of staff. They would be able to use common spaces while in the presence of their ROP host. CHT does not allow any visitors in ROP, however, shelter youth may be in the space for a meeting, life skills class etc. if accompanied by a staff member.