This blog post was provided by Kristy Hayter, Manager, Communications at Covenant House Vancouver.
For over 20 years, Covenant House Vancouver has provided support and hope to youth experiencing homelessness. Homelessness and especially youth homelessness are complex social issues that require a comprehensive response.
The Canadian definition of youth homelessness refers to the situation and experience of young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers, but do not have the means or ability to acquire a stable, safe or consistent residence.
- 20 percent of homeless people are between the ages of 13-25.
- 29 percent of homeless youth identify as LBGTQ2s.
- 31 percent of homeless youth identify as Indigenous.
To make matters worse, homeless and at-risk youth are more likely to experience:
- Increased risk of exploitation, trafficking, and abuse.
- Increased risk of mental health and additions.
- Greater risk of involvement with the justice system.
- Higher risk of school drop out and employment instability.
- Difficulty leaving the streets leading to chronic homelessness.
- Lack of social supports.
- Housing instability.
Causes of Youth Homelessness
There are many reasons why a young person may experience homelessness, but often a young person flees to the streets believing it will be safer then where they currently are living. The list of traumas our youth have experienced read almost like a checklist of reasons why young people end up on the streets:
- Physical, sexual and or/emotional abuse.
- History of foster care.
- Substance misuse.
- Disengagement from education.
- Untreated mental health issues.
- Sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
- Family rejection.
How Covenant House Vancouver Helps
Covenant House Vancouver offers a clear exit from life on the streets to youth aged 16—24. In response to the enormity and severity of the issues facing homeless youth, we offer three core programs to support young people on their journey to independence:
- Community Support Services provides Street Outreach and a Drop-In Centre;
- The Crisis Program has 63 gender-specific beds and operates 24-hours a day; and
- Rights of Passage provides youth with safe, affordable housing and the life-skills training needed for their transition to fully independent living.
In addition to these programs, Covenant House Vancouver operates under a framework of holistic care, characterized by:
- One on one Integrated Case Management and youth worker services to help youth develop and achieve their goals;
- On-site Registered Clinical Counsellors;
- Recreational programming to encourage healthy alternatives to street life, as well as to foster positive relationships with their peers;
- Life-skills training, such as budgeting, cleaning, cooking and self-care; and
- Housing Workers who assist youth in finding and maintaining a home of their own, when they are ready.
Covenant House Vancouver also adopts a proactive approach to addressing the root causes of homelessness to affect more significant social change. We aim to keep youth from progressing further along the trajectory to homeless adulthood by supporting our youth as they identify and work towards achieving their ambitions; we believe that youth can become more than what their past circumstances may have dictated.
We fully believe that helping youth overcome their unique barriers while they are still developing and finding their place in the world is crucial to preventing life-long homelessness.
So, how do we know what we’re doing is making an impact?
We utilize Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) — a database specifically designed for the social services sector — to track every single interaction we have with every youth cared for at Covenant House Vancouver. ETO enables individualized long-term goal setting and life skills plans for each youth, and helps us determine the impact of each of our programs. We also survey our youth on an ongoing basis to make sure our programs meet their unique needs, with the ultimate goal of ending youth homelessness.
When Annika first came to the Crisis Program she was struggling with addiction, fleeing domestic violence and had lost custody of her daughter. According to Leah, a Team Leader on our Crisis Program, Annika did not trust anyone and often found herself in confrontations with staff members and other youth. Over time, the pair was able to build and maintain a trusting relationship.
“I really like to engage young people in healthy activities, so I began to organize weekly weekend outings for the youth,” says Leah. “One Saturday afternoon, myself and a group of youth went for a hike in Deep Cove up to Quarry Rock. Amongst this group was Annika. I watched as Annika attempted small talk with the other youth and observed that she was really trying hard to make friends.”
Annika struggled with interpersonal relationships, so watching her take initiative to make conversation with her peers was quite a big deal to Leah. The group sat on the rocks at the top of Quarry Rock and took in the view. Leach could see that Annika was really taken by the view and became very quiet. On the drive back to Covenant House, Annika was sitting in the front seat. And turned to Leah and said “I’ve never noticed colours before. I feel like I’m awake for the first time”.
Leah held back tears and told Annika how happy I was that she enjoyed the day.
Annika’s growth continued, she eventually moved into supportive housing and regained custody of her daughter. She continues to check in with Leah during bi-weekly phone calls and reports that things are going well. Her daughter is starting day care soon, and Annika is exploring job possibilities. Annika has been thinking that being a peer support worker might be a good fit for her and has told Leah during each phone call how grateful she is for her time at Covenant House Vancouver and our continued support.
Why Your Support Matters
The youth who come to Covenant House Vancouver face many obstacles to achieving independence. The majority of youth have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, often at the hands of the adults that were responsible for taking care of them.
Your support ensures we can meet their urgent needs by providing food, clothing, and a safe refuge from the unavoidable dangers of the streets. Simultaneously, your support gives one thing we can’t place a dollar value on—hope.
Hope is the essence of how you help youth turn their lives around. Once a young person feels hope, no challenge seems insurmountable. Goals like graduation, employment, sobriety, healing, and forgiveness become within reach. Your support empowers these youth to write a different story for their lives.