Helping youth find home
Reprinted from the Young People: Transitions issue of Visions Journal, 2015, 11 (2), pp. 35-36
Watari Counselling & Support Services Society is guided by a belief in the individual’s innate strengths, capabilities and desire for wellness. “Watari” is a Japanese word meaning “small bridge” or “in transition.” It’s our goal to be the bridge to opportunities, options and choices for the individuals we work with.
Safe, secure, affordable housing is the foundation necessary for any person wanting a healthy, full life. Without housing, we cannot lay roots, nest for our children and feel like we belong or have predictability. Without housing, we can’t plan healthy meals, prioritize self-care or focus on any other basic need. Without housing, stability in regard to mental health and substance misuse is just not possible.
Housing in the BC Lower Mainland is difficult for most folks to secure, let alone a young person with no references and limited income. Youth are intimidated by the process of a housing search and often face scrutiny and discrimination by landlords.
The Watari Transitioning to Independence Program, or TIP, is a subsidy and support program for youth ages 16 to 24 who are struggling with substance misuse and/or mental health issues. Many come from the foster care system and have been homeless or unsafely housed, but now might be ready to live independently with support. Funded by Vancouver Coastal Health since 2005, TIP has space for 20 young people at any one time.
In 2008, funding was received under the Vancouver Foundation’s Youth Homelessness Initiative to adapt a TIP-like approach to the pregnant and parenting population of homeless youth—and TIP 2 was created, providing space for 15 young people.
The TIP programs—What they do
With the help of TIP, youth are given a leg up. TIP case managers offer advocacy and support to the youth during the housing search and assist in seeing that their rights are upheld.
Youth are encouraged to choose the neighbourhood they wish to reside in, instead of being forced to live in an area that may be triggering or feel unsafe. Unlike many other housing programs, youth may choose to live alone or with partners, roommates or family. The youth can determine what best suits their needs, and TIP wants to support any connectedness the youth has with others.
“I chose my neighbourhood based not only on affordability, but because it jives with my personality; choice is freedom…” —Sonia, TIP youth
For TIP 2, the definition of “parenting” is broad—the program welcomes youth who are pregnant, have their children with them or are working on getting their children back or setting up visitation with their children.
Youth are provided with a subsidy, paid directly to their landlords (up to $400 for non-parenting youth and up to $450 for parenting youth). This simple subsidy opens up the youth’s ability to secure market housing that is not substandard. In addition, youth are offered support with transit by way of monthly bus passes or fare tickets, as well as access to a food bank and essential skills classes. Parenting youth are offered access to baby items such as new car seats, strollers and cribs.
“The subsidy has provided me with the opportunity to focus on my mental health while being in a safe environment of my choosing. It’s freedom from the financial stress in a time of transition." —Mya, former TIP youth
The only requirements of TIP are that, while youth are receiving the subsidy, they continue to work with their mental health or substance misuse counsellor and attend Watari’s essential skills classes.
“I am grateful for where I am emotionally—I feel good. Because of the subsidy, I have been able to prioritize my mental health and my sobriety. I have time for AA and time for my counsellor, because I’m not working two crummy jobs. I’m not stressing about making that time for myself…”—Logan, TIP youth
The essential skills classes are an opportunity for the youth to connect with each other and share their experiences. The two-hour sessions are held once a month, and parenting and non-parenting youth attend the same classes. (For TIP 2 youth, parenting is supported one-on-one and with the involvement of other agencies.) TIP case managers offer topics such as personal responsibility, money management, creating boundaries, and nutrition on a budget. Usually, an organic process happens where the youth naturally direct the group’s focus to centre on whatever their greatest need is per the particular topic.
“I like the groups. I didn’t think I would [laughs], but we have great conversations and I always leave with a new way of looking at things.” —Rob, TIP participant
Youth are connected with various community partners who support them in securing employment or education-training programs. We believe in connecting with other agencies so the youth have more support options than just Watari.
The ultimate goal of TIP is that the youth can afford market housing on their own, or alternatively, that they can secure long-term subsidized or non-profit housing. However, each youth’s plan is individual.
“With my case manager’s help, I found an apartment I can be proud to call home. She helped teach me what to say to the landlord. She helped me get my son in daycare. Now I’m looking for work; I don’t want to be on welfare anymore.” —Christine, TIP 2 participant
The process of leaving TIP is based on what’s best for that youth. Currently, youth tend to stay in TIP for 18 months to two years. We start planning their exit around 12 months, so there’s always a solid plan to have each youth safely housed. No one leaves the program unless they have secure housing.
TIP fosters success
TIP is one of the few programs in which success means the youth stay in the housing and community they’ve worked hard to connect to.
Watari Transitioning to Independence Program (TIP) thanks the generous support and partnerships with Vancouver Coastal Health, Vancouver Foundation, Sanctuary for Kids Foundation (S4K), Spencer Creo Foundation and BC Housing.
As a case manager, I see how the TIP programs offer youth transitioning to young adulthood an opportunity to do their authentic best with dignity. Being homeless, at risk for homelessness or unsafely housed is traumatic and does not support growth, change or security. The simple gesture of a small subsidy to secure housing and a professional to assist with goals and direction—whether employment, education, health or parenting—offers youth the stability to bridge forward.
If you know a youth anywhere in the Lower Mainland who might benefit from this program, visit our website for more information: www.watari.ca.
About the author
Barbara is a Case Manager for TIP 2 at Watari Counselling & Support Services Society in Vancouver.* She is an advocate for women and children, anti-oppression and community inclusion. Barbara has been working in social services for nearly 20 years, primarily with young families and youth in Ministry of Children and Family Development care
* The unceded territory of the Coast Salish First People and the traditional land of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations