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Outreach: Meeting Youth Where They Are At

What Is Outreach?

Covenant House Vancouver’s (CHV) Outreach team helps young individuals, age 16 to 24, who are currently residing on Vancouver’s streets, facing the risk of homelessness, or living in unstable housing conditions. This dedicated team navigates the downtown area on foot, actively reaching out to youth both on the streets and those residing in single room occupancy (SRO) hotels, temporary housing, or hospitals. These youth often find themselves trapped in the complexities of homelessness, relying on social or community services that inadequately address their multifaceted needs. 

For the Outreach team, meeting immediate needs happens quickly and, on the surface, can look very simple. Outreach workers may chat with a youth for a few minutes, offer them something to eat, offer them harm reduction supplies, and possibly invite them to our Drop-In Centre. While these interactions are somewhat brief, they communicate to youth that CHV staff are respectful and safe to work with, and these interactions lay the foundation for a deeper and more trusting relationship. 

Regular contact allows Outreach workers to form strong connections with youth. Outreach workers may accompany youth to drop-in clinics, hospitals, or help them get government-issued identification. 

Outreach workers may also introduce youth to our housing programs when appropriate. Most importantly, this connection gives youth the opportunity to engage more deeply with CHV. However, the Outreach workers’ initial focus is to show these young people dignity and respect, and to remind them of their worth. 

More than a Sandwich

CHV’s Outreach team hands out countless sandwiches every year. They’re sometimes taken with gratitude and sometimes with indifference. Whatever the case, they meet a need and sow the seeds of connection.

Last year, our Outreach team connected with 462 youth.

One day, as the team made their rounds throughout the city, they reported that they had met a youth who just got out of hospital. He had a blanket wrapped around him and his patient bag that contained his belongings.

He wasn’t familiar with CHV, so the team members introduced themselves and told him about CHV’s programs and services and what support they could offer him. He listened intently to our team members, as they described our services. During the discussion, a member of the Outreach team offered the youth a sandwich. As soon as the youth saw the sandwich his eyes lit up, “You’re going to give me a sandwich?”

As our staff continued to talk to the youth about what CHV had to offer, he focused on his sandwich. He ripped it open and ate it enthusiastically. “This is so great. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that you gave me a sandwich!”

It was touching to see how something as simple as a sandwich could make somebody’s day a little brighter. Providing somebody with food when they are hungry is important because you are meeting someone’s basic needs, which is a critical first step in supporting youth. The young people that our Outreach team encounter appreciate the support — it’s a single moment in time that can make a difference in someone’s day and in someone’s life.