When Mya Moniz-Murray started looking for an apartment in Mississauga, it was almost hopeless.
The University of Toronto Mississauga campus student had just spent a year as a donation in the school dorms and wanted to move out on her own.
“I was very, very happy with my independence,” she said, explaining that she felt ready to move on her own, but just couldn’t find anything in her price range.
It was then that she heard about the Restoration and Empowerment Center for Social Transition (REST), which offers support and housing assistance for young people, many of whom have aged outside the foster care system.
Moniz-Murray was placed in the care of her aunt and uncle at the age of two by the Peel Children’s Aid Society and says the process of “aging” of the system can seem abrupt to many young people.
Moniz-Murray’s care continued beyond the age of 18 as she pledged to enroll in post-secondary education.
While majoring in English and studying sociology and professional writing, Moniz-Murray still receives some support from Children’s Aid, but it was nowhere near enough to afford an apartment.
Through the REST Center, Moniz-Murray receives a grant that helps him pay his rent, as well as support and advice from professionals in the organization.
“I have been very lucky with my situation, which is why I say some things need to change,” she said, explaining that in Mississauga she feels “there is no market for student accommodation “.
It’s common for landlords to require first and last month’s rent, references, a credit check, and proof of employment.
For a young person leaving a foster family, these obstacles can lead him to the streets.
Vantaisha Miller is a Brampton resident who was living with her friend’s family when she was connected to REST through Peel CAS.
“It was hopeless,” she said, explaining that she was still in school and didn’t want to move far.
REST helped her find an apartment, go shopping and get settled.
“I’m finally at peace,” she said, adding that she cherished her freedom, to cook and eat whatever she wanted, in the comfort of a space of her own.
Miller plans to finish school, buy a house someday, and invest.
“We help them find accommodation,” said Dagma Koyi, founder and executive director of the REST Center. “Our grants are really making a difference for young people.
Koyi has a degree in social work and a decade of experience with vulnerable youth. Koyi was young when she moved to Canada to live with her family, and she says she found herself in precarious housing. She started the charity in 2018, to help young people, especially black youth, facing homelessness.
“We read a lot,” said Moniz-Murray, explaining that she often contacts potential landlords on behalf of herself and her roommates. “My profile picture shows a black woman.”
She said she had heard comments that landlords were reluctant to rent to young black men.
“Most of the owners we spoke to asked if we had any co-signers available,” she said. “I knew it was something I couldn’t do.”
The REST Center works with the landlords, sends them the subsidy for the young person’s rent and acts as a liaison in the event of a problem.
“A lot of young people in these situations don’t have traditional supports,” said Moniz-Murray, explaining that many don’t have anyone to co-sign, help with deposits or even help them fend for themselves.
“Most young people are homeless because they lack supportive adults,” she said, explaining that many have also faced unimaginable trauma, including neglect and abuse.
The REST Center also runs a Bridge of Hope program, which connects host families with young people as an alternative to living in an emergency shelter.
Staff at the REST center can also help young people learn life skills, continue their education, find mentors and reunite with their families in a safe and controlled space.
“These are young people with dreams,” Koyi said, explaining that the trauma and hardships they face are compounded as they are at a higher risk of being exploited and abused in more unstable housing situations. “Housing is a human right. It is a basic necessity for survival.
Those interested in becoming owners of the Bridge of Hope program can fill out an online form, email [email protected] or call 905-863-1118.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: This is an important issue as housing affordability impacts countless residents of Peel, many of whom are young.