New substance use recovery program welcomes Greater Victoria youth

The program meets youth where they are and provides wraparound supports so they can clear a new life path, staff say.

Greater Victoria youth who are battling substance use issues now have access to a recovery program that aims to meet them where they are at and support them on their wellness journey.

In partnership with Island Health, Threshold Housing Society is expanding its services to provide youth with a recovery-oriented and healing-focused program. The Supportive Recovery Program is voluntary and provides youth who are battling substance use issues with wraparound services and care in a home environment.

“We know how prevalent and serious substance use and addiction is in the lives of young people who have experienced homelessness, trauma or are coming from the child welfare system,” says Colin Tessier, executive director of Threshold Housing Society. “And there has not been enough intensive support like this available.”

Meeting youth where they’re at

The supportive recovery program provides eight beds in a Threshold Housing Society home and one respite bed with a host family. Youth in the program will primarily be from the Capital Regional District, Tessier says. Youth are anywhere between the ages of 15 and 21 and access to the recovery beds is based on clinical needs and urgency. The respite bed is available for youth that might be having a bit more of a difficult time and is also there to meet the more urgent needs of the community.

Youth interested in the program can self-refer or be referred by a health-care provider, Island Health partner organizations, a family member or a support person. Tessier says the program has already launched and is starting to accept youth. Depending on their need, they’ll participate in the program for roughly 120 days.

“We’re committed to making sure that when a youth leaves the program they’re doing so in a way that they can access a healthy next step in terms of housing and safety,” Tessier says. “From the first day a youth comes into this program, we’re talking to them about what things look like at the 120-day mark or a bit earlier or later.”

Threshold Housing
Colin Tessier, executive director of Threshold Housing Society. Photo courtesy of Threshold Housing Society.

Tessier says the program is “really robustly resourced.” In addition to 24-7 staff at the Threshold residential home, there will also be a case manager, a full-time clinical substance youth counsellor and an Indigenous cultural wellness worker.

The clinical substance use counsellor will work directly with each youth in the program. Indigenous youth will be able to work with the Indigenous cultural wellness worker to access cultural support and connection to their communities. Given the over-representation of Indigenous youth experiencing homelessness and in the child welfare system, Tessier says having access to an Indigenous cultural wellness worker in this program is important.

While the program is intensive, it meets participants where they are at and is individualized to suit the needs of each person, Tessier says. Wraparound supports help ensure success.

Every day, there are group program offerings as well as one-on-one support for youth. Tessier says the group programs focus on a variety of topics not only related to recovery and substance use, but to other issues such as relapse and prevention as well. The goal is to give youth in the program the tools they need to pave a healthy path forward in their lives.

“It’s a mixture of social and recreational programming, digging-deep counselling and skill development,” Tessier says.

Filling service gaps

On Vancouver Island, Tessier says there has been a “serious lack” of recovery resources for youth.

Through his work at Threshold Housing Society, Tessier says he sees how prevalent and serious substance use and addiction is in the lives of youth experiencing homelessness and trauma and those coming from the child welfare system.

“It’s just a reality and there has not been enough intensive support like this [program] available,” Tessier says. “Our history at Threshold is that we regularly white-knuckle youth as they wait months for a place, and then it would be on the Mainland.”

To get support, youth would have to leave their community and other positive aspects of their lives. Tessier says he’s glad Island Health recognized the need for support in the region and created a funding stream for Threshold Housing Society to provide local resources for youth.

In 2016, The B.C. government declared a public health emergency due to a “significant rise” in opioid-related overdose deaths. A 2020 study from the BC Centre on Substance Use says more than 1,000 youth aged 10 to 29 have died due to overdose since 2016. The study says youth aged 15 to 24 represent the fastest-growing age demographic for hospitalizations due to opioid poisoning in Canada.

Street entrenched youth, meaning those experiencing homelessness and unstable housing situations, are particularly vulnerable to fatal and non-fatal overdose, the 2020 study says.

Read also: Cowichan makes strides towards help for unhoused youth

A report from Simon Fraser University says the death rate per 100,000 youth and young adults aged 19 to 29 has increased from 5.9 in 2010 to 40.5 in 2020. The report says youth and young adults account for about one in five of all overdose deaths in B.C. 

“The needs of youth have become more complex over time, and substance use is a piece of that and can create a lot of challenges if you don’t have the right resources for someone when they’re really in the thick of it,” Tessier says. “We know there’s over 150 youth who are experiencing homelessness in Greater Victoria and we know that there’s hundreds more who are hidden-homeless or in unsafe living situations who are battling substance use as part of their reality.”

Threshold Housing
Apartment-style units have been retrofitted and updated to welcome youth to Threshold Housing Society’s new Supportive Recovery Program. Photo courtesy of Threshold Housing Society.

Expanding a service model

Threshold Housing Society’s goal is to prevent adult homelessness by providing at-risk youth with safe housing, support services and community. The organization works with youth experiencing homelessness, youth that are aging out of the foster care system and youth who are fleeing violence in the home. 

Tessier says what’s cool about this new supportive recovery program is that it expands Threshold’s service model and adds nine beds for youth in the community.

Eight of the beds are part of a four-plex, with two beds per unit. Tessier says Threshold Housing Society has worked on retrofitting and updating the units so they are suitable for the supportive recovery program. 

Interested youth can contact Threshold Housing Society by visiting the website or calling 250-383-8830, Tessier says. [end]

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