Covenant House Toronto

To serve suffering children of the street and to protect and safeguard all children with absolute respect and unconditional love. Our doors are open to youth 16 to 24 regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or the circumstances that have brought them to our threshold. As Canada's largest homeless youth agency, Covenant House Toronto changes lives by providing the widest range of services and support under one roof. A national leader, we educate and advocate for change to help at-risk and homeless youth. More than a place to stay, we provide 24/7 crisis shelter and a longer-term residential program along with comprehensive services, including education, counselling, health care, employment assistance and job training. For more than 33 years, Covenant House has helped thousands of young people move from a life on the street to a life with a future. We serve up to as many as 250 youth daily. To do all this, we rely on donors for 80 percent of our $22.8-million annual operating budget.

Our Impact Why We Exist

To lead change that challenges homeless youth to pursue a life of opportunity.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

A good estimate suggests that there are at least 10,000 youth in Toronto who are homeless at one point during the year and anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 on a given night. For more than three decades, we have offered our support to more than 90,000 youth and have grown to be a national leader in the care of and advocate for homeless youth. 

The idea to locate a Covenant House site in Toronto began when the late Cardinal Carter found several homeless teens sleeping outside his downtown office. This prompted him to lead a broad community effort to find help for these youth. Covenant House Toronto is part of an international network of 21 sites spanning from Alaska to Central America.

Accolades and Accomplishments


  • Our agency scored 71%, well above the average score of 65%, across youth shelters for our residential services in the latest extensive analysis by the City of Toronto.
  • Our agency was a member of the provincial government's recent child welfare reform working group.
  • We are often sought as an expert on youth homelessness by local and national media.
  • 2008 & 2009 Awards for Excellence in Financial Reporting Transparency by the Chartered Accountants of Ontario, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Queen’s University School of Business


1982: Opened 30-bed shelter.

1983: Opened on-site health care clinic.

1987: Launched a Runaway Prevention Program, “Before you Run,” reaching about 30,000 students in the community annually.

1988: Opened on-site high school

1992: Launched employment services program.

1994: Opened new building, increasing residential capacity by 48%.

2002: Opened longer-term transitional residence, Rights of Passage.

2006: Launched Arts and Minds, a day program for youth with mental health issues.

2008: Built a rooftop garden to provide youth with educational and therapeutic opportunities.

2011: Launched culinary arts training program, Cooking for Life, to help kids find entry-level jobs in the hospitality industry.

2012-13: Developed new five-year strategic plan focused on providing kids with more support and opportunities, including options to live independently in the community.

2013: Launched our new Girls Program This is Me! sponsored by the Lise Watier Foundation and developed in collaboration with the young women at Covenant House.

2014: A conviction of human trafficking for the sexual exploitation of two local young victims who received care and counselling from Covenant House Toronto is announced. The case marks the first human trafficking conviction for Toronto Police.

2015: Covenant House Executive Director appointed to Ontario's Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness - the only member from a youth-serving agency. New housing program for sex-trafficking victims announced.

Our Programs How We Do It

Our core services are shelter and longer-term transitional housing. We also offer support services, including education, employment assistance and training, counselling, life skills and vocational training:

  • In-house high school where youth can work at their own pace to earn credits
  • On-site health care clinic that provides immediate, primary care and continued health care coordination
  • A day program for youth with mental health issues to build confidence and social skills through arts, crafts and recreation
  • Job assistance, including resume preparation, interview and job search skills; a culinary arts program provides pre-employment training
  • Community support services where non-residents can access food, showers, clothing, and counselling
  • Runaway prevention for school students in the community: in-class presentations to encourage students to make better choices than running to the streets and presentations to educate students about youth homelessness and encourage social responsibility
  • Street outreach

Shelter and Transitional Housing

ShelterWhen kids don’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep or where to get their next meal, they can focus on thinking about their futures. Our 94-bed, 24/7 crisis shelter provides for kids’ immediate needs – safety, food and clothing and the support and guidance they need through our range of programs. We work with youth to make a plan to go back to school, get a job and find housing. When they are ready to live on their own, our dedicated housing workers find them appropriate housing and stay in touch to ensure they are making progress.Transitional Housing

Stable housing and continued support increase our kids’ chances of moving to independence. Once youth in our shelter are making progress, they can qualify for our longer-term housing program – Rights of Passage. Up to 28 young people aged 18 to 24, who are working and/or continuing their education, can have stable housing for a year and access to our other support services. These youth share responsibility for common areas; learn life skills such as everyday chores and time management and budgeting. 

Funding and Program Partners

Covenant House has shared its experience and expertise on the Resiliency Model of Care through the generous support of the Paloma Foundation. The Foundation provided funding for training for all youth shelters on the model, which helps youth build on their strengths. As a result, all youth shelters have committed to adopting this model in their shelters.

  • Additionally, we have developed numerous partnerships, including: the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society to provide more supports for youth leaving care; St. Michael's Hospital to assist Covenant House in providing health care and mental health services to our youth and the Youth Shelter Interagency Network to better advocate for the needs of homeless youth. As well, when aboriginal youth provide their permission, we have a separate agreement with Native Family and Child Services to work with the agency to determine how best to meet the youths’ transitional needs.
  • To assist with youths’ transition to independent living in the community, we have several referral relationships, including Youthlink, Sancta Maria, LOFT and the YWCA.
  • We recently developed a partnership with Hollyburn Properties, which provides young people with a rent-reduced apartment for a year so they can move towards independence.

Program Impact

In 2012-13, 1,018 youth stayed in our shelter and our longer-term housing residence we call Rights of Passage and received the support of all our programs, including a safe place to stay, food and clothing, counselling and guidance, and a chance to get their lives back on track. 37 young people moved to independent living from our longer-term residence, where they learned life skills to live independently. This 28-bed program offers continuous entry throughout the year.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Investing in housing makes economic and social sense... every additional person housed in decent affordable housing lowers the health care costs that are directly attributable to poor housing and homelessness."

"... combined interrelated effects among Toronto residents who are ill housed, dealing with poverty, addictions, mental illness and the resultant difficulty accessing good health care..."

Health Care and Mental Health

Health Care:

Our on-site health care clinic is open to residents and non-residential youth. Youth get immediate attention, regardless of whether or not they have a health card; we then work with them to get health coverage. We help cover the costs of several services, including most prescriptions and eye examinations.

We refer youth to other health care professionals and specialists, and coordinate their care to ensure follow-up. To provide more access for non-residents who are working, in school or only connect to our drop-in, we opened a weekly clinic in our drop-in centre, opened later hours and have a nurse practitioner on staff.

We have three full-time nurses, one nurse practitioner, four visiting doctors and three consulting psychiatrists.

Mental Health:

About 35 percent of our youth are struggling with their mental health and have few other community options. We are supporting these youth with our day program, Arts and Minds, offering half-day life skills activities and one-on-one counselling. Through arts, crafts, cooking sessions, recreation and community volunteering, young people can gain the confidence and social skills to consider going back to school or getting a job.

Our health care clinic also provides these youth with diagnoses and ongoing treatment.

Funding and Program Partners

  • Covenant House partnered with St. Michael’s Hospital to enhance access to its STEPS (Starting Treatment Early for Psychosis Service for youth) program.
  • Our doctors, nurses and consulting psychiatrists are provided through St. Michael's Hospital.
  • Through a partnership with the Youth Shelter Interagency Network (YSIN) and the Paloma Foundation, we have provided training on mental health issues to frontline staff in all youth shelters. Training materials have been produced so that all staff can access the material.
  • Covenant House, in conjunction with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto and its member agencies, developed and leads a program to offer more support to hard-to-serve youth in the community to better support their transition to independence.
  • Additionally, to better assist youth struggling with mental health and addiction issues, we have established several referral relationships; among them: the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Central Toronto Youth Services, Turning Point Youth Services, Women’s Own, and Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth. As well, the Shout Clinic provides health services for youth and the Youth Substance Abuse Program provides weekly one-on-one support and case management to youth with substance abuse issues.

Program Impact

In 2012-13, 720 youth used our health care clinic for a total of 5,449 visits and received compassionate, non-judgmental primary care and follow-up.

108 young people with mental health issues participated in Arts and Minds. This program prepares these youth to consider going back to school or find a job and teaches healthy lifestyle education.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"The combination of lack of shelter or unstable housing, mental illness, addictions and poverty create a perfect storm of serious illness and early death for Toronto's marginalized homeless population."

In-house High School and Culinary Arts Training

In-house High School:

Our in-house high school offers our residents and non-residential youth confidence and credits in compulsory subjects English, math, science and social sciences.

Kids can find the structure and routine of the classroom to make them feel like any other teen. Smaller classes, learning at their own pace and the option to carry one, two or three subjects at a time, can help them succeed.

Culinary Arts Training:

Our kids can also learn the skills they need to work in the hospitality industry through our culinary arts job training program, Cooking for Life.

Led by a professional chef instructor, the 17-week program trains young people for entry-level jobs through hands-on experience, including preparing some items in bulk for our residents' meals. The program also includes seven-week job placements.

Funding and Program Partners

The Toronto Catholic District School Board provides teachers for our on-site high school. Youth can also be referred to the City Adult Learning Centre, which provides educational programs for youth 21 and older as well as the Contact School – an alternative program for youth who have dropped out of high school.

Service Canada (Skills Link Program) provides funding to allow us to offer more training and salaries to youth participating in our Cooking for Life program.

Youth Employment Services, The Yonge Street Mission and St. Stephen's Community House provide programs and support to assist youth in their job search.

Program Impact

In 2012-13, 46 participants were accepted into the Cooking for Life program and 34 gained meaningful employment, helping them move towards independence.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"The youth unemployment rate [in Toronto] significantly higher than the 14.2% national youth unemployment figure."

What You Can Do

Shelter and Transitional Housing

Activities a donation will support

Further investment in our shelter and transitional housing program will enable us to continue to provide food, clothing, counselling, and provide life skills and job preparation training to homeless youth.

Donation impact

$710.85 gives a youth a week's worth of food, shelter, clean clothes, counselling, and job preparation.

Donations to our shelter and longer-term residence give youth safety, clean clothes, nutritious meals, counselling support and life skills training to get their lives back on track.

Health Care and Mental Health

Activities a donation will support

We continue to see an increasing number of youth with mental health and addiction issues. Additional funding would support our Arts and Minds program to help these young people build the confidence and social skills they need to consider going back to school or find work.

Donation impact

Donations support our on-site health care clinic so that we can provide our kids with immediate, non-judgmental medical attention, whether or not they have health care coverage. Additional donations would help us offset the costs of several of our services, including eye examinations and most prescriptions and healthy lifestyle education.

$176.73 provides 3 visits to our on-site clinic where young people can see a nurse, doctor or psychiatrist.

In-house High School and Culinary Arts Training

Activities a donation will support

Since government funding cannot cover all associated program costs, donations provide support for participants in our Cooking for Life job training program so they can gain job skills through hands-on instruction, preparing them for work in the hospitality field. Cooking for Life includes pre-employment workshops and four-week job placements in the community that have the potential to lead to full-time employment.

Donation impact

Additional funding would allow us to provide our youth with more practical job skills training by enabling us to broaden our community partnerships to increase the number of placement and job opportunities for our youth across the employment market.

A donation of $64.20 provides one youth with the chance to take part in Cooking for Life, teaching them professional cooking skills.


Michelle Raino
Development Officer
Charitable Number: 106990195RR0001


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