The young people we work with are currently facing three unique and challenging crises: Homelessness, COVID-19, and the Opioid Overdose Crisis. Both onsite and in the community, youth are reporting increased anxiety and a heightened sense of isolation and vulnerability.
For those living on the street and in communal spaces, there has been a deeper worry of physical safety for themselves and for their loved ones. With the large spike in community overdoses in recent months, youth in the community are living this Overdose Crisis daily, during a pandemic, and all while trying to overcome homelessness.
That said, some youth living here at Covenant House Vancouver, and even some who are living in the community, have told us that physical distancing has had a calming effect. Normally, they experience an incredible sense of urgency and pressure to catch up on time lost, and to catch up with their peer group. However, COVID-19 has given them the time to reflect and heal in a way that perhaps would not have happened otherwise. They have been able to focus on their mental and physical health, both of which will set them up with a stronger foundation in the long term.
Michael Whitehead, Manager of our Community Support Services Team, shared some of the challenges facing young people who live on the streets:
“Both youth and staff are facing increased emotional drain because of the number of overdose deaths. Historically, Covenant House would see maybe 2 to 3 deaths in an entire year. Now we are seeing 3-4 a month. Our youth workers and other frontline staff are feeling the impact. They are supporting youth through their grief while also dealing with their own grief and vicarious trauma.
“Youth workers are struggling with how much death they are seeing. They have a ‘rush’ while supporting someone through an overdose, but then comes the ‘low’ after responding to the immediate crisis. Over time, as they continue to bear witness and support youth through these crises, it can be difficult to recharge and find the time to heal.”
These are complex issues that we are all dealing with and it is encouraging to see that the Province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver are investing more for those facing homelessness and looking at creative ways to address the Opioid Crisis.
Covenant House Vancouver will continue to stand in solidarity with those experiencing homelessness. We will continue to be a place of absolute respect, unconditional love, and, of course, hope.