Eva’s Phoenix reopens in new location
Leaving and entering his home, Ed Smith always glances at his late wife, Eva Smith whose photo hangs on a wall near the front door.
Sometimes he talks to her, as was the case recently when Eva’s Phoenix – a townhouse-style transitional facility for 50 homeless young people – was re-opened at a new location at 60 Brant St. in downtown Toronto.
“I told her where I was going and I said when I returned tonight, I will bring back some pictures of the event to show you,” he said.
Eva Smith had a special place in her heart for young people and she symbolized the true meaning of community activist and volunteer.
To recognize her enormous contributions to the community and the upliftment of young people, the then City of North York named its first community youth shelter after her. Eva’s Place – a 40-bed emergency shelter for youths aged of 16-24 – was opened in June 1994, six months after her death.
“She saw Eva’s Place before it was completed,” said her Bermudan-born widower who came to Canada in 1950 to attend high school. “She was very sick then, but we drove by and she looked at the outside of the building.”
Smith succumbed to cancer on the penultimate day of 1993 at age 70.
“Exactly three years earlier on December 30, 1990, we were on a Caribbean vacation having a great time,” said Ed Smith. “Three years later, she was no longer with us.”
Eva’s Phoenix was launched 16 years ago as a transitional housing and employment facility in the Liberty Village neighbourhood.
“It was created from the frustration and failures in our efforts to adequately support youths in getting the supports they needed to maintain intendance when moving from emergency shelters to the community,” said Maria Crawford, the outgoing executive director of Eva’s Initiatives that operates Eva’s Satellite which, like Eva’s Place and Eva’s Phoenix, offer an innovative combination of programs and services for homeless young people.
“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. Those conversations were fueled by passion and commitment.”
Six years ago, Eva’s Phoenix – located at 11 Ordnance St. – was closed because of redevelopment.
Youths can stay at the new facility for up to a year and they are encouraged to develop personalized action plans and participate in programs, including independent living, recreation, employment training, construction & building maintenance, financial literacy, family reconnect and mandatory savings.
Eva’s Phoenix also houses a print shop which was an official printer for last year’s Pan American/Parapan Games in the Golden Horseshoe region.
“Phoenix is a place where remarkable transitions happen, where remarkable people live and where remarkable people work,” said Crawford.
Jessica Daley, who moved into the home four months ago after spending time at Covenant House, agrees.
“What I like about this place is that you can maintain your independence while being exposed to positive people and progressive programs,” she said. “I love to eat, so it’s good I have my own kitchen to cook in. Here, I can buy groceries instead of purchasing take-out food all the time. I also learned how to do laundry chores here and save money.”
Eva’s Phoenix worked closely with the City of Toronto through Build Toronto to facilitate the move and renovation.
Mayor John Tory attended the opening ceremony and said every young person deserves to have a sense of hope.
“They also need to be treated with a sense of dignity and to feel included,” he said. “That can mean different things to different people. But it means for some of the people that are going to be here at Eva’s Phoenix that they feel included in the sense that we give them that small hand-up which is all they are looking for so they can show what they can do.”
Jamaican-born Ucal Powell, a former Build Toronto board member who headed the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, convinced his union to contribute $100,000 to help with the renovation and relocation of Eva’s Phoenix.
“We follow the lead of Ucal,” said Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario president, Mike Yorke. “The Carpenters Union has been supportive of Eva’s Initiative since its inception. We see Eva as playing a very fundamental and important role for our young people. It’s not unlike the role the Carpenters Union play. We take young people and give them a trade and skills so they can go out and create a career for themselves. This is exactly what Eva does.”
The cost of the renovation and relocation is $11.6 million.
The City of Toronto via Build Toronto and its partner, DiamondCorp, provided $5 million while Home Depot of Canada – the lead building partner – contributed $1 million. Generous donors and supporters have helped to raise almost $3 million.
A total of $1.4 million remains to be raised.
Retired banker and Eva’s Initiative board member, Pat Gloudon, who chairs the highly successful “Home for Life” fundraiser and conceived the idea for “Taste Matters” fundraiser, has seen first-hand how Eva’s Phoenix changes lives.
“We don’t babysit these young people,” she said. “We teach them how to be adults. We make them feel like somebody.”
Edeva Smith who, with her father, are Eva’s Initiatives honorary board members, said her mother was passionate about young people.
“This is an exciting and important day for us as a family to celebrate her and the things she cared about,” she said. “She was always away from home doing things for the benefit of the community, especially the advancement of Black youth.”
A postal clerk and American-trained dental technician, Eva Smith migrated from Jamaica in 1956 through the Caribbean Domestic Scheme program which brought small quotas of single women from the region to work here as domestics. They were subsequently granted landed immigrant status in return for their services.
After finishing her contract, the mother of two and Ryerson University part-time student worked as a switchboard operator at Scarborough General Hospital, a liaison officer with the then North York Board of Education where she helped set up the Learning Enrichment Academic Program which identified North York schools that provided learning enrichment programs for newly-arrived immigrants, and project coordinator with the Jamaica Canadian Association (JCA).
Concerned about the high drop-out rate of Black high school students, Smith organized workshops and seminars and worked assiduously with parents to facilitate their understanding of the Canadian school system.
She also co-founded the North York Emergency Home for Youth and, through the JCA, single-handedly set up a program for youth on Bathurst Street which was later moved to the Jane & Finch area.
In 2005, the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) recognized Eva’s Initiatives with a Harry Jerome award for community service excellence. Eva’s Initiatives is the only organization to have received the prestigious honour since the awards program was launched in 1983.
Smith’s memory is also kept alive through an annual bursary administered by the Jamaican Canadian Association.