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New youth outreach team searches for teens in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside


Searching through alleys, tents and hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, members of a new youth outreach team are doing all they can to get vulnerable teens the help they need.

With backpacks full of harm-reduction supplies and snacks, the Vancouver Coastal Health team spends four to five hours per day looking for clients.

"One thing we were noticing at Vancouver Coastal Health is that there were a lot of clientele that were falling through the gaps,” said Carlos Mendez Espinoza, a social worker and one of the original members of the team that launched late last year.

Espinoza said many of their clients have major trust issues with adults, often leading them to resist their help at first.

"When we approach them we have to work with a trauma-informed practice, to make sure we don't re-traumatize them and to allow us to engage in a supportive way to built trust,” he said.

That trauma often comes from extremely rough childhoods, and in some cases sexual exploitation.

"A misconception is often that the focus is the substance and the issue is the substance,” said Elaine Durand, an occupational therapist for VCH’s youth intensive case management team.

“The substance is a coping strategy and in some ways a medicine – there's unspeakable trauma that people have been through,” she continued.

Their goal is to build and nurture relationships with the teens before helping bridge the gap between them and the service providers they’ve stopped seeing.

Durrand said that might involve giving those service providers notice – "a heads up that this person might need a few tries to get to an appointment, they might be late, they might need extra time."

"They require extra space to be able to express themselves, they may get emotional. I can prime situations so that they can enter them, whether it's for physical health or mental health,” Durand added.

The team is currently operating out of the Downtown Community Health Centre near Powell and Princess streets – though plans to open a new drop-in facility in the Downtown Eastside are underway.

The group will also get some welcomed additions in the near future, with nurses and an Indigenous peer advocate set to join once the new facility is operational.

"I think and believe the work we're doing will definitely assist clients," Espinoza said. Top Stories

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