Providing Youth Experiencing Homelessness A Future With Opportunity

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This blog post was provided by Carolyn Holloway, Community Engagement Officer, from Safe Haven Foundation.

An estimated 35,000-40,000 young people experience homelessness in Canada every year. The majority of youth experiencing homelessness are forced to flee their family homes due to dangers including physical, sexual, emotional and mental abuse. Some decide against shelters so they stay with friends from school, concerned sports coaches, or a friend of a friend that has space. Often explained as invisible homelessness, couch surfing has an expiry date. If there is nowhere for them to go when they have worn out their welcome, homelessness quickly becomes much more of a reality.

On the street, many will find themselves in other vulnerable situations such as increased risk of crime and violence — such as robbery, sexual assault, and exploitation. Youth experiencing homelessness are also more likely to experience declining health, nutritional vulnerability and addictions. Often, they become disengaged from school, have difficulty obtaining employment, and are at high risk for stress, depression, anxiety disorders and suicide. In the worst situations, nearly 1 in 5 homeless youth experience some form of human trafficking.

Youth who seek housing solutions, are often rejected because they are not seen as not “fit” for programs for various reasons.  At Safe Haven Foundation, we focus on prevention and early intervention through our Haven’s Way™ long-term homes program.  We do not want these youth to go unnoticed and we do not want things to get worse before they can get support.  We have an opportunity to end their experience of homelessness at an earlier stage, and to intervene before they experience further trauma.

How Haven’s Way™ Helps

Once they make the decision to open the door of Haven’s Way, their experience of homelessness ends and their next chapter begins; whatever that may be.  They have stepped into a future full of powerful possibilities. They will be given opportunities and individualized support and the resources to focus on their education and realize their potential.  They have evaded the harrowing life the street would have handed them. They are free to dream, to create and accomplish a beautiful life for themselves!

The Safe Haven Foundation is a registered charity founded in 1996 and our Haven’s Way homes opened its doors in November 2000. Our innovative program was the first of its kind in Canada and duplicates that of a healthy, caring family environment.  Haven’s Way is a voluntary, long-term supportive housing program that assists young women who have a focus and commitment to completing their education.

Key components of Haven’s Way are:

  • Educational Scholarship Program
  • Therapeutic Recreation Program
  • Alumni Program
  • Youth Voice and Choice
  • Youth Self-Determination

We provide comprehensive support for six young women, between the ages of 14-24, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The average time a girl will live at Haven’s Way is two and a half years; some have stayed as long as four years. The impact of our program grows exponentially due to ongoing communication, informal support with the young women and their families, and the impact they make as they enter their new world as a self-reliant, contributing citizen in our community.

We operate on a philosophy of effectively creating transformational change.  We support the girls and their families inclusively and understand the importance of connecting to culture and community.  We walk alongside newcomer youth who have little to no family in Canada helping them navigate the immigration systems and enrolling them in school.  We provide a safe place for youth who identify with the LGBTQ2S+ community and allow them time and space to accept who they are and create their identity.

Over the years we have also changed our approach with engaging families.  We understand that though relationships are broken, they can be repaired.  This may take several years, and they may change form, however we support the families and let them know we are here for them and an advocate and support for their own personal journey.

At Haven’s Way, we support the girls to redefine what celebration means to them. Their pasts have taught them that birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas bring stress, crisis, pain, and trauma, especially if they grew up in homes riddled with addiction and poverty. We recognize the triggers that holidays can bring up for our girls and strive to be sensitive to that. It is also important that they begin to feel deserving of the special feelings that birthdays and holidays can bring. Seeing these girls giving themselves permission to feel the joy of celebrating, doing it together, and for one another is so impactful. We know that these memories will last a lifetime for them. As we prepare for Christmas, we keep in mind the difficult feelings the holiday season brings. We will plan a magical time full of purposeful giving and community to help our very deserving young women at Haven’s Way redefine the meaning and memories behind celebrations.

Lexi’s Story

It was just a short time ago that Lexi was referred to Haven’s Way. Facing homelessness, Lexi moved into our home with her suitcase full of trauma and fears. We were able to support Lexi to get the resources she needed to begin to heal, to set goals and complete her education. Animals have always been a big part of Lexi’s life. Needing a service dog herself due to health issues, her passion for animal training grew stronger. We were so excited for her when she was ready to leave our program and left to attend school in Nova Scotia. After excelling in school, Lexi has partnered with a friend to open an 8,000 square foot training facility and we are excited to celebrate the opening of her new business, On Cue Animal Training. We are so proud that this resilient, passionate and hardworking young woman is an Alumni of Haven’s Way! The housing and support that Haven’s Way provides truly does change lives and helps girls believe in themselves.

Our partners and supporters play an integral role in ensuring the success, growth, and longevity of the Safe Haven Foundation. We do not receive United Way or fee-for-service government funding and rely on financial and in-kind support from corporations, granting organizations and individuals. We invite you to join us as ambassadors by engaging support from your company, making a one-time or in-kind donation, or becoming a Haven’s Hero by providing a monthly donation. As little as $10 per month goes a long way in ensuring our stability and ability to continue to change the lives of homeless and at-risk girls in our community.

Learn more and make a donation in support of Safe Haven Foundation today.


  1. (S. Gaetz, B. O’Grady, S. Kidd, and Kaitlin Schwan. 2016. Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness; A Way Home Canada; National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness.)
  2. (Loyola University New Orleans. 2016. Labor and Sex Trafficking Among Homeless Youth: A Ten-City Study Executive Summary. New Orleans: Loyola University New Orleans.)
  3. (J.F. Boivin, E. Roy, N. Haley, and G. Galbaud du Fort. 2005. The health of street youth: A Canadian perspective. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 96[6], 432-437.)
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