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How we help and why youth need us

On any given day, an estimated 500 to 1,000 youth experiencing homelessness are living on Vancouver’s streets. Some are fleeing abuse or exploitation. Others find themselves on the street after ageing out of foster care or being rejected by their families. Among those who do have a place to call home, thousands more struggle with life’s challenges, including mental illness and substance use. 

Yet life on the street offers no respite. Vancouver’s streets are dangerous. Sexual exploitation, abuse, poverty, and illness are commonplace. Many youth continue to face complex trauma, having fled one unsafe situation only to find their circumstances unchanged. The opioid overdose crisis has added to these risks, as a toxic drug supply claims life after young life. In BC, 364 people, aged 29 and under, died in 2022. That’s one life a day, gone 

While people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver is nothing new, the problem today is acute and complex. Mental health and substance-use issues have historically been barriers to housing, and for many of the youth we serve, who have unique needs, the search for housing is particularly difficult. The situation is exacerbated by the rising costs of living and, specifically, housing. 

Covenant House Vancouver Offers a Pathway Out 

For youth experiencing homelessness, their immediate challenge isn’t just finding a way off the street. The challenge is trying to navigate complicated systems and overcome barriers without adequate support or healthy relationships — all while experiencing complex trauma. In this context, figuring out which way to go and taking one step in that direction is a daunting challenge. 

Every day, Covenant House Vancouver (CHV) reaches out to youth on Vancouver’s streets, offering clothing, a warm meal, a shower, and a bed. Our Drop-In and Outreach teams offer hope as they convey to the young people that they meet that youth have choices and the resilience they need to make changes.  

Our Outreach workers go further still, offering to walk alongside them and letting them know that they can achieve their goals given the right support — support that CHV can provide. In 2021, CHV’s street Outreach team connected with 722 individual youth, and 253 stayed in our Crisis Program

At CHV, our purpose is to serve all youth with absolute respect and unconditional love, to help youth experiencing homelessness, and to protect and safeguard all youth in need. 

Our goal is to empower youth to change their lives and break the cycle of youth homeless. 

Our Approach: A Continuum of Care 

We support youth aged 16 to 24 who are homeless, at-risk, or exploited, by meeting them where they are. We offer them programs and services ranging from a hot meal and a shower to health care, mental health services and substance-use counselling. Individualized goal setting and action plans, help with family reunification, education, employment, and housing, for days, weeks, months, or even years. 

The young people we work with usually come to us with nothing, and sometimes as a last resort. We offer them absolute respect, unconditional love, and relentless support, and we wrap them in care and provide services that give youth a feeling of comfort and safety.  

We recognize that the process of healing and wellness is not linear, and that young people will journey in and out of our programming. They will need second chances, and we walk with them as they find their way. Our approach is caring and relentless and matches our determination to provide youth with the space and resources they need to take steps toward healing and success. 

At CHV, we take a client-centred approach that focuses on youth’s strengths and hopes for their futures. Our individualized planning takes into consideration, and is sensitive to, the trauma that they have experienced, and is shaped based on the goals that the youth identify for themselves. 

We measure our success based on maintenance and improvement, as youth progress along a continuum toward core outcomes for individuals that including housing, employment, mental health, substance use, and medical care.  

CHV helps young people experiencing homelessness, and those who are trafficked and exploited. Once their immediate needs are met, we provide them with:  

Strength in Numbers — CHV Is Part of an International Network  

CHV is one of 34 Covenant House locations globally. Each Covenant House location benefits from the experience of the others. Widely regarded as a leader and innovator among Covenant House locations, CHV is the largest youth-serving organization in Western Canada and is uniquely positioned to tackle youth homelessness. Our onsite social workers, clinical counsellors and other staff offer life-skills training, medical care, therapy, and many other programs and services that close the gaps, offering youth the services and support they need. 

1. Scope and scale — Covenant House is the largest provider of services to youth experiencing homelessness in the Americas. We are active in five countries and 34 cities, from Anchorage, Alaska to Managua, Nicaragua, and from Vancouver, Canada to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

2. Proven impact — Our programs have been proven to help youth over decades.  

3. Flexible/pragmatic model — We make it as easy as possible for young people to participate in our programs. Our onsite resources make it more likely that youth will use them. We reach out to them and meet them where they are. We welcome them in and respond to their needs. We recognize that our programs must be flexible and support youth as they formulate their plans on their own terms at their own pace. The introduction of CHV’s Sanctuary program is for youth with substance use challenges, untreated or undiagnosed mental illness, or other complex needs. The first of its kind in North America, Sanctuary is an example of this flexibility and pragmatism in practice. Future programs could be tailored to enhance the services we provide to Indigenous youth, newcomers, and 2SLGBTQAI+ youth. 

4. Strategic partnerships — CHV has strategic partnerships with a wide range of organizations that provide essential resources and expertise. Among these are government, community based organizations, housing developers and landlords, medical practitioners, businesses, school boards, donors, and funding organizations. 

5. Supported by research — The methods we use to engage with youth through our various programs are supported by research and brain science and have been developed, tested, and improved upon over the last 50 years. 

6. A wealth of data — We are collecting and analyzing data across our network to ensure we remain a learning organization, with a focus on constant improvement. 

With your support, we can help youth, realize their dreams. Learn more about how you can make an impact and get involved.