Eight years ago Katie Lentz was 17, homeless and addicted to drugs. The services she needed to get off the streets weren't available then, she says, but that may be changing.
Vancouver Coastal Health opened the first-of-its-kind no-barrier home for teens aged 15 to 19 in East Vancouver last month. Youth Haven offers a less structured environment than typical options for homeless teens — something that Lentz says is crucial.
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"The ability to have some breathing room and to have the ability to come talk when we are ready, that is what I needed," Lentz says.
"I needed to get to a place where I was broken enough and vulnerable enough that I was willing to reach out for help. I have never seen it work when someone is prying at someone for questions and answers."
Opening up to help slowly
"We have heard from youth they want a place to stay where they don't necessarily have to give their name or where they are from or their whole history," says Mary Dowdall with Vancouver Coastal Health.
"It is really a place where they can come and relax and start to get to know us more and us get to know them more."
Dowdall says there are no questions asked and pets are allowed. She says youth can stay anywhere from an hour to 30 nights and come by to have a shower, eat dinner or just get some sleep. She says a nurse, an elder and a counsellor are all available to talk to.
"[The] goal is to catch youth at the right time when [they're] contemplative, when saying this isn't working for me anymore, this life isn't working. I am struggling with addiction and I need help now," says Dowdal.
"We want to be able to say, 'OK here it is,' as opposed to: 'You can't get into a program because there is a one-week wait list.' "
Lentz, who was able to get off drugs at 19, says that's a key to recovery.
"I see kids I went to school with who are on Main and Hastings now who were passed around in the foster care system," Lentz says.
"If they had had access to low-barrier, low-income housing when they were going through the early stages of all this and instead of being in foster homes and places that weren't working for them, this would have really made a difference."
And Lentz says the issue has never been more urgent.
"I was pretty lucky. I narrowly avoided the beginning of the fentanyl crisis and got clean," Lentz says.
Two additional homes will also be available
Once teens have been to Youth Haven and gone to treatment, two other homes with a total of 10 beds will be there to support them.
Vancouver Coastal Health worked with B.C. Housing to secure the homes that with be run by the Pacific Community Resources Society.
Teens can stay for up to three months and have support for addictions and mental health issues before moving to more stable housing.
"Historically, if someone had an addictions issue that they wanted to get treatment for, but had an untreated mental health issue, then the addictions resource wouldn't take them in and vice versa," says Debbie Anderson Eng the director of youth services with PCRS.
"Often people fell through the cracks because they had both issues going on."