Ali Midoriya beamed with joy as he arranged string lights on a Christmas tree.
The 22-year-old was part of a team from the non-profit organization Rest Centres setting up a festive dinner and gift program at Kennedy Road Tabernacle in Brampton, Ont., on Friday.
In just a few hours, the room would be filled with 200 racialized youth facing homelessness, in need of a reason to smile this Christmas.
It’s a smile Midoriya also desperately needed.
The Mississauga man, who is Black, has been in and out of homeless shelters with his mother for six years, from as early as when he was four.
He found himself facing homelessness again in his 20s, when he couldn’t afford rent due to his identity.
“Being a trans individual, it was hard to keep a job when you’re being picked on and having so much rhetoric thrown at you.”
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Stories like Midoriya’s come as no surprise to Cynthia Pudda.
The assistant professor at MacEwan University researches homelessness, including in vulnerable youth.
She says BIPOC individuals in are overrepresented in the number of youth facing homelessness, individuals living in poverty, and people who have children in foster care.
“Why is that? Systemic racism,” Pudda told Global News Toronto over Zoom.
“If we take foster care as an example, we have in North America a pre-determined notion of what parenting is supposed to look like. And if it veers from that white, middle-class norm, sometimes settler colonial attitudes make us think that person isn’t parenting well. When in reality, it might be they’re having issues with parenting because they’re living in poverty.”
Pudda says helping alleviate housing and food insecurity is not enough.
Trauma-informed solutions need to be tailored to BIPOC youth that address the systemic racism at the core of their poverty.
These solutions include surrounding youth with a community of racialized mentors who also have lived experience in homelessness.
A community like the one Rest Centres is trying to build for its clients.
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“It’s really about reminding these young people that — they have people that care about them, that are willing to help,” said Romaine Redman, a director on the board at Rest Centres.
The organization gives Peel youth facing homelessness access to services like housing and rent supports, food subsidy programs, financial literacy workshops, and sports programs.
In the past two years, the non-profit’s clientele rose from just over 70 youth in 2021 to now more than 200.
Still, through community donations, the team was able to buy presents for all the youth, using a wish list that they made.
“Many of our clients are looking to go back to school, so their wish lists range from things like stationary supplies, winter gear, personal care items. Things like tablets, laptops, cellphones to stay connected,” said Redman.
Redman says having a present to open this Christmas can alleviate the ‘daunting’ feeling that the holidays can bring to homeless youth.
“Tragedy might have set them back, but they still have goals and dreams and desires. They want to be normal kids and lead fulfilling lives.”
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