Covenant House Vancouver: Helping youth transition from crisis to independence

Aug 4th, 2022 | By FCT

When Covenant House Vancouver opened its doors in 1997, it had 12 beds. Today, its three facilities in downtown Vancouver welcome hundreds of youth off the streets and into an environment of respect, love and care, where they can make a fresh start.

At FCT, we’re invested in our community. That’s why we’re proud to work with Covenant House Vancouver as one of our partners. Covenant House Vancouver helps youth experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness in the Metro Vancouver area. Its focus is on providing long-term housing stability and building vulnerable youths’ life skills.

An interview with Alison Brodie, Philanthropy Officer, Corporate and Foundation Giving at Covenant House Vancouver

What’s unique about your approach?

In most conventional shelters, your bed is only yours for that night. Often, you have to pack up your things and leave in the morning, then line up again in the afternoon to secure a bed. That means through the day, you have to ask yourself where you’re going to sleep that night, and when you need to be back at the shelter to try and get a spot.

At Covenant House, when a person stays with us, their bed is theirs for as long as they want it. When someone’s in crisis, they’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight, and staying in an unstable situation for a long time makes it harder for them to make decisions that can get them out. A bed for the night can’t give someone in crisis the time they need to stabilize. That process takes as long as it takes, and we give youth all the time they need.

Why does Covenant House Vancouver focus its care on 16-24 year olds?

Our official focus is on that age range, but the majority of youth we work with are actually 19 years old and up. In B.C., youth age out of foster care when they turn 19, and many don’t have somewhere safe to go. Almost half of our youth have had experiences with the foster care system. Research shows us that young people’s brains are still developing until 25 years of age. Being able to offer life skills and other key supports during this crucial development time can really change the arc of a young person’s life.

2SLGBTQAI+ youth make up a disproportionate percentage of those experiencing homelessness, and not all foster families will accept their identities. Youth can get moved from one foster home to another, or siblings can get separated and put in different foster families, and that keeps them from feeling stable or safe anywhere. Even if they’re taken from an unsafe home and put with the best possible foster family, it can still be a traumatic experience—that young person has still been taken away from where they grew up at a vulnerable age.

How does trauma contribute to homelessness?

Being in constant survival mode wears people down. It impairs their ability to make healthy decisions and can keep them in dangerous situations unless they can find stability.

Trauma also carries over between generations. In Vancouver, Indigenous people make up about 2% of the population, and an estimated 40% of those experiencing homelessness. People think of things like residential schools as something that happened ages ago, but the last one in Canada closed in 1996—the year before Covenant House Vancouver opened.

Many of the parents or grandparents of the youth we work with have experience with residential schools. They were taken away from their families at a really young age and never got the chance to learn how a healthy family functions. They weren’t shown affection growing up in residential schools, and when they had kids of their own, they may not have known how to show it to their children.

Often, families have good intentions, and truly love their kids, but trauma strips away their ability to convey that love well. That trauma gets passed on, and it takes a lot to break the cycle.

How do you help youth move from trauma to independence?

The key is understanding that homelessness looks very different from person to person, and that no one service will address all of the reasons why a person may be experiencing homelessness. Covenant House is a lot more than a bed, or a shelter. Youth who are dealing with trauma and instability need more than that before they can go on to healing and independence.

Providing stable housing and wraparound care is one of many ways we help youth move through trauma. For example, our Rights of Passage program helps youth transition from living at Covenant House to living independently. Housing workers and youth workers help youth develop important life skills, like budgeting, effective grocery shopping, making nutritious meals or even negotiating with landlords. A lot of us take these skills for granted, yet many of our youth just haven’t been taught them.

But they have so much potential. About two years ago, I interviewed a young man who was staying in our Crisis Program at the time. He was very soft-spoken and introverted, and I remember how nervous he was in the run-through we did. He had to stop and self-regulate several times—it’s so difficult answering questions about your story, about the hardest moments of your life.

Just a couple of weeks ago, he spoke at one of our building opening events. I watched as he stood in front of a gym full of donors and media, and spoke with so much confidence. Knowing the things he’d been through before coming to Covenant House, and seeing him cracking jokes at the podium and thriving was so powerful for me. He’s living independently now, and I was so proud to see how far he’d come.

There are so many stories like his at Covenant House. We often say here that being homeless is the least interesting thing about the youth who come to us. They’re young people going through a difficult time, and they can all do wonderful things. They just need some support along the way.

You can support Covenant House Vancouver and help make a difference to youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness today.

 

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