Vancouver youth detox facility to close after funding cut

Click to play video: 'Vancouver youth detox program loses Coastal Health funding'
Vancouver youth detox program loses Coastal Health funding
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Advocates for at-risk youth say they worry the closure of a Vancouver detox facility serving young people will create a critical gap in services for people who need it most.

The Directions Youth Detox Centre provides residential services and support for young people detoxing from substances that don’t need around-the-clock medical supervision.

Read more: 22 new substance-use beds announced for Interior Health region

Directions Youth Services offers a variety of services for at-risk youth, including an emergency shelter, food, medical access and social services, in addition to the “social detox” program. Most clients are aged between 16 and 24 years old.

“It’s a five-bed detox. Social detox means that it is available in a home-like setting. It’s not a medical environment. And we are qualified and able to support people who are withdrawing from some but not all substances,” said Marnie Goldenberg, vice-president of parent organization Family Services of Greater Vancouver.

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“People come, they can sleep a lot, they can eat food that makes them feel comfortable, they can take a bath with Epsom salts. They can speak with an addiction counsellor, get referrals for post-detox supports, and they can be treated with kindness, with respect, in a trauma-informed way.”

Goldenberg said Vancouver Coastal Health notified the organization in December that it was withdrawing funding for the detox because “there are other service delivery models they are looking to pursue,” including home detox.

The loss of funding will mean the detox centre will close on June 3.

Read more: More people died from illicit toxic drugs in 2021 in B.C. than in any other year

Goldenberg said defunding the program will remove a vital and well-known resource for the region’s youth, and that if there are issues the solution is to adjust the program, not to eliminate it.

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It’s a position echoed in a recently-launched petition that seeks to preserve the facility.

“This detox environment needs reform, not closure,” the petition states.

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“Nurses should be funded to be on-site to support with benzo and alcohol withdrawal, this resource should not be closed during an opioid epidemic and while there is a poisoned drug supply circulating.”

In a statement, Vancouver Coastal Health said the social detox model at Directions “doesn’t align with current best practices around opioid use disorder.”

The health authority said it is shifting funding to a “more flexible withdrawal management model,” which will include more access to home and community detox with wrap-around services. It was also working to secure a “caregiver support home space” for homeless youth.

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Read more: Toxic drugs are now the leading cause of death for people between 19 and 39 in B.C.

That model will also expand VCH’s home stabilization team and create a new Downtown Eastside youth outreach team, along with the procurement of a new two-bed resource site for youth detox, it said.

VCH said the new model would be ready by May 31.

But Goldenberg said at-risk young people could get lost in the cracks, with the loss of the three-decade-old resource.

“We have developed over decades a lot of relationships, and young-people know that Directions Youth Services provides low-barrier, trauma-informed, client-centered supports including social detox, and that important resource won’t be available,” she said.

“In some ways, it’s a resource of hope, right? If you step into a detox, it’s because you believe you can get clean, because you believe you deserve something different, perhaps better. And without it, there might be people who don’t feel that way.”

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