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360°kids proposing Black youth housing project for York Region

Non-profit that assists local at-risk and homeless youth is hosting information sessions about the need for identity-based support in housing July 27 and 31
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Nineteen-year-old Deviyonta Lewin would use new long-term housing offered by 360°kids to extend his current stay, finish his studies and build a better life.

The Black youth housing project proposed by the Richmond Hill-based charity can benefit many young people like him with support and services tailored to the needs of the Black population in York Region.   

360°kids, which assists at-risk and homeless youth in the region, will introduce the project to the community at the end of this month and conduct interviews with focus groups to design a housing model that offers identity-based support. The house recently bought for the project has three bedrooms, with the potential for future renovations, allowing space for more youth residents. 

Speaking about the exclusive housing dedicated to Black youth like himself, Lewin feels that the new residents will be able to connect with others with similar backgrounds.

"It's easy to come together, cooperate, communicate when you have common experiences. We all learn to come together. I feel the house would be a good option for some youth in certain situations and have them just wake up one day and have somebody to talk to you about the littlest things."

He is finishing a three-year course in automotive engineering with support from 360°kids and might go back to school later to upgrade his degree. He also plays competitive basketball and dreams to succeed as a player. 

After staying in foster care for six years since the age of 12, Devi (as fondly called) began accessing one of the charity's housing programs last year.

"The first transition, at least from my home to foster care, was kind of rough," Devi shared. "But moving from there, the staff here, including my roommates, have been nice."

For the project "driven by the voices of Black youth, families and the community," the charity wants to ensure that "we have a vetted model, where we are able to identify gaps, find service synergies within the 360°kids agency or through partner organizations."

The organization has secured a one-year pilot grant from the federal government and would look to secure long-term funding to ensure this program is sustainable. 

"We want this project to be evidence-based," 360°kids' marketing and communications manager Dina Singh said, hoping to have a finalized model by the fall after gathering insights from the youth and service providers.

Currently, the charity is reaching out to agencies on social media, print and email communications and through information sessions July 27 and 31 to help spread the message.

Singh also pointed out that ensuring a broad community understanding of the need for this project might be a challenge, "as this would require for the greater community to look through the lens of our Black youth and understand that changes in the current service system must be made, in order to help break the cycle of homelessness."

Referring to York Region's 2021 homeless count, I Count 2021, 360°kids chief executive officer Clovis Grant highlighted how Black people are over-represented among the population experiencing homelessness in York Region.

"That's why we felt like something needs to be done to address that and when you're talking about the specific population like the Black youth, there may be things that we have to do differently in terms of the housing model. We have a wonderful advisory group of Black-serving organizations to help us understand what that model will look like."

Amrita Roy Chowdhury Majumdar is a member of the New Canadian Media Collective. She is a journalist and content writer with nearly a decade of experience working in three countries. Now working in the GTA, she continues to follow her passion by reporting on human rights violations, education, crimes, inequality and community engagement. Village Media is a partner of NCM, a member-based non-profit that showcases immigrant journalism and amplifies the work of journalists of various immigrant/ethnic backgrounds.