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Foundations: Supporting Youth in Mental Health and Substance Use

Last month, we shared that Covenant House Vancouver recently completed a two-year harm reduction pilot project. The outcomes of this program showed us that it made a real difference in the lives of young people struggling with substance use. 

We believe that harm reduction is not about enabling people to continue to do drugs. Harm reduction is about emotional intelligence and a set of principles that is based on humanizing and caring for everyone. It is about building safe and trusting relationships, reducing stigma, and ultimately, and most importantly, it is about saving lives.

At the end of June, we were thrilled to officially open the doors on our fifth floor for our Foundations program, conceived to support youth who have identified working on their substance use as a primary goal. This program aims to provide crucial support to youth who are grappling with the detrimental effects of the pandemic on their mental well-being and the escalating, unregulated drug toxicity crisis.

Provincial data indicates the mental health and substance use patterns of youth have worsened throughout the pandemic. Some of the public health restrictions that were implemented negatively impacted the well-being of young people. It has never been more important to provide a range of substance use services specifically tailored to the needs of youth, in our region.

Foundations is a program designed for youth who do not require medical detox and is a residential program based on harm reduction. Young people will focus on whole-person wellness and wraparound care supports that use a tailored, one-size-fits-one approach and will be guided by each young person’s individualized goals and case planning. Like our overall approach to care at Covenant House Vancouver, this helps ensure that precise supports and care are made available at the right time for youth, based on their journeys and specific needs.

How is this program different from others at Covenant House Vancouver
Foundations is a residential, harm-reduction based program; the first of its kind at Covenant House. It is our first licensed program and is being run in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). Unlike our other programs at Covenant House where youth can self-refer, referrals for this program must be made through the Central Addiction Intake Team (CAIT).

Why are VCH and Covenant House partnering on this new program? 
Covenant House was the successful proponent of a public procurement process, led by the VCH Regional Addiction Program, to award the provincially funded youth substance use beds.

VCH is committed to building a robust and responsive substance use system of care for youth across our region. The new Foundations program will offer seven new supported recovery beds to youth with substance use issues. Covenant House has the infrastructure, operational capabilities, and expertise to deliver this healthcare service to at-risk youth. We look forward to partnering with VCH on this new service to benefit youth in Vancouver. 

Some supported recovery models require abstinence as part of their eligibility. Foundations will instead meet youth wherever they are at on their substance use journey and will take a trauma- and harm-reduction informed approach.

This service is aimed at youth aged 16 to 24 who are living in Vancouver and are looking to make changes to their substance use, without any requirements to access treatment services.

We are hopeful that this will encourage youth to continue to seek support and care in the healthcare system over the longer term, to improve their overall health outcomes and well-being.

What services will be offered to youth through Foundations? 
Youth accessing this service will be offered a wide range of trauma-informed harm reduction focused care. Some of these services will include: 

  • Primary care 
  • Counselling 
  • Case management team support 
  • Substance use care, including harm reduction services 
  • Individual, group, and drop-in therapeutic opportunities 
  • Art therapy 
  • Recreation and wellness activities 
  • Registered social worker 
  • Family support work as appropriate 
  • Access to life skills opportunities 
  • Access to cultural and spiritual supports 
  • Access to the CHV gym 
  • 24/7 staffing 
  • Nutritious meals and snacks 

Covenant House has an existing, close partnership with Foundry Vancouver–Granville — both are located in downtown Vancouver. Foundry Vancouver–Granville provides medical oversight to youth accessing care at the not-for-profit’s clinical site in Downtown Vancouver.

Physicians from Foundry Vancouver-Granville will also provide medical oversight to youth who are accessing care through the Foundations program. Services may include:

  • Primary care 
  • Addictions medicine 

What services are available for youth who complete the supported recovery program? 
Once youth are ready to transition from supported recovery, they will have access to Covenant House’s full suite of supported housing services, including their Crisis and Rights of Passage programs. Youth can also access the continuum of services available across Vancouver, including primary care, harm reduction, treatment, and ongoing recovery supports. 

During the discharge process, Covenant House’s case management team will connect youth with appropriate services that meet their unique needs. 

How many youth are in need of MHSU services in Vancouver? 
It is challenging to predict the exact number of youth who are in need of mental health and substance use supports. Sadly, some youth who are at high risk are not currently connected to healthcare supports. 
This strongly indicates that there is a need and demand for additional substance use supports for youth at high risk. 

How will eligible clients be referred to access this service? 
Eligible youth can be connected to this service through VCH’s youth mental health and substance use teams. If you are a parent or guardian of a youth who may benefit from this service, you can reach out to Vancouver Community’s Central Addiction Intake Team by phone at: (604) 675-2455 or 1 (866) 658-1221 or email at  

This service operates daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday. 

If a youth is in crisis and needs immediate healthcare support, please call 9-1-1 for assistance.