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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Moving Past Survival

21 year old Cody Escuyos moved to Toronto three years ago from Fort Frances, Ontario looking for “work, play and love”. Instead “I found myself living in survival mode, burnt out, living on the streets and sleeping on the Bloor-Yonge line,” he recalls. “It wasn’t until I ended up in a shelter that a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders”.

However, Cody says “transitioning out of homelessness is more than getting your own apartment. It starts with learning how to live, not just survive.”

Cody Escuyos playing piano
Cody Escuyos

Supporting At Risk Youth

The Ontario government is funding a $390,000 research pilot project to support youth who are exiting homelessness in Toronto. The project was announced on May 6 by ‎the Minister of Children and Youth Services Tracy MacCharles at an event at Sketch hosted by CAMH President and CEO Dr. Catherine Zahn.

“The most at-risk youth, who often struggle with mental health challenges and need ongoing support, are the least likely to have access to the services they need.  That’s why the province is supporting this important and innovative pilot project,” said Minister MacCharles.

Sketch group photo
From L to R : Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Cody Escuyos, Dr. Catherine Zahn, Charmie Deller, Minister Tracy MacCharles

The pilot project was developed by the Toronto Homeless Youth Transitions Collaborative, a group of organizations and experts in youth and homelessness that includes CAMH, The Centre for Mindfulness Studies, Covenant House, LOFT, SKETCH, and the Wellesley Institute. The project will help youth move past basic survival into a period of stability, which is one of the biggest challenges facing previously homeless youth. It will also help youth to go back to school or find employment, as well as provide critical support and intervention to help youth overcome barriers and maintain positive momentum based on their own strengths and resilience.

The research pilot, led by CAMH Clinical Scientist Dr. Sean Kidd, includes:

  • Social support for youth, including guidance from both a transition support worker and a trained peer support worker to help them address challenges such as mental health issues
  • Counselling for groups to address complex trauma, and for families to help them reunite and resolve issues
  • Psychotherapy for those whose level of distress cannot be addressed through counselling. 

“Young people emerging from homelessness need help with many things that most people take for granted, such as a positive relationships with family and opportunities for education and employment. This project will ensure they get the help they need.  We will give them the best chance we can to not just survive, but to flourish,” said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Medical Director, CAMH and CEO of the Wellesley Institute.

“This project represents an opportunity to continue development of an innovative array of support to help young people sustain the incredible gains they’ve achieved in leaving the streets,” adds Dr. Catherine Zahn.

“Over two years we will offer our new service to youth who have recently exited homelessness.  But we also want to evaluate the new intervention to make sure it works and works well for youth. We need more of these sorts of community, hospital collaborations to deal with the challenges we face across our sector,” says Dr. McKenzie.

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