A team leader with Directions Youth Services, temporarily located in the back of the now defunct Kettle of Fish restaurant on Pacific Street, says the program strives to connect with homeless and street-based youth.
“We run under a harm reduction model,” said John Kehler. “Some of them come to us pretty messed up, but we always wait for them to say, ‘I want help.’ That’s when we’re there to make sure their housing and health needs are met.”
Staff attempt to forge bonds with the young men and women, between the ages of 12 and 18, by helping meet their immediate needs through hot meals, showers and laundry facilities. To encourage youth to frequent the centre, services also include locker space and pet kennels, as well as educational, recreational and artistic programs.
Kehler said allowing youth to shower and clean up before a job interview, a family meeting or for their own sake is vital to making those connections. Unfortunately, the centre is almost out of all of the vital toiletries, such as disposable razors, shampoo and bars of soap, needed to make connections happen.
Directions, operated by Family Services of Greater Vancouver, is the beneficiary of the Courier’s annual Christmas drive organized by office manager June Stafford. For the past eight years, beginning in November, Stafford has placed ads in the Courier asking for donations, which are then picked up by Directions staff a couple of weeks before Christmas.
Stafford said most Vancouverites have so much, particularly at Christmas, when these kids have so little. “When we’re all enjoying our turkey at home with family, these kids are on the street, cold and hungry,” said Stafford. “It’s the least we can do.”
Stafford said the most practical and popular donations are gift cards for almost anything, but particularly for fast-food restaurants and coffee shops such as Tim Hortons.
Kehler said it’s all about building trust with youth, many of whom suffer with addiction and some who have been exploited sexually. Once that trust is built, Kehler said it’s easier to assist youth with taking the next steps with their lives, be it returning home or to their home community, finding secure, affordable housing, getting a job, achieving literacy and education goals or going to a doctor, nurse, addictions services or mental health counsellor. Kehler noted Directions is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There is a long list of items the centre hopes to collect before the holidays, including gift cards, new underwear, runners and boots, warm jackets, gloves, hats, socks, new or used rain pants and jackets, and any teen-appropriate clothing. Needs for the youth shower program include soap, shampoo, conditioner, talcum powder and towels in any condition. Personal hygiene products in most demand include deodorant, razors, shaving cream, tampons/pads, toothpaste, floss, toothbrushes and hair clippers — centre staff help cut the young people’s hair. Homeless youth are always in need of sleeping bags, backpacks, tarps, sheets, blankets and first aid items.
For more information about Directions, visit fsgv.ca. Donations can be dropped off at the Courier office, 1574 West Sixth Ave., between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. before Dec. 14.