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York Region homeless youth receiving needed psychotherapy through pilot project

March 21, 2022
March 21st, 2022. By: Michele Weisz,, Original Article. 
Housing homeless youth not enough, root cause must be addressed, Blue Door CEO says

As part of a pilot program, youth accessing services from Blue Door have been able to receive free psychotherapy counselling to help them on their journey to rebuild their lives.

The program, funded by the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation for ages 16 to 30, has been a great success, said Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite.

Many youth experiencing homelessness, including those served by Blue Door, have suffered some sort of trauma. The trauma isn’t addressed because they don’t have the opportunity to receive counselling for the core issue, Braithwaite said.

“If they don’t treat that it could be a lifetime in and out of homelessness. . . we see that and this is preventive in nature. If we can treat the trauma as soon as possible by making accessible, affordable psychotherapy available for youth, they’re not going to repeat that pattern.”

Even if homeless youth could afford the cost of therapy, wait times for counselling and therapy for children and youth in Ontario can be six months to one year, according to Youth Mental Health Canada. A 2016 study found 85.4 per cent of homeless youth in Canada were experiencing a mental health crisis.

As program manager for Leeder Place, an emergency housing facility, Mel-Rose Harvey witnessed firsthand how beneficial psychotherapy can be for youth, including one in particular who has had little support throughout his life.

His ability to participate in a Blue Door employment program was impacted due to the state of his mental health, but after accessing the free counselling he was able to successfully complete the employment program.

“Without access to free psychotherapy, he may not have been as successful in the employment program. In my previous role as a case manager, I supported a lot of participants in need of psychotherapy but cannot access it due to long wait times and high costs. Therefore, the ability to actively refer participants to this service was a moment of success that is irreplicable,” Harvey said in an email.

Though social workers currently provide support to everyone involved with the charitable agency, the program allows youth to access one-on-one personalized, intensive and focused therapy.

Hatty Wong, a psychotherapist who supported Blue Door during the pilot program, is thankful for the opportunity to help youth who wouldn’t otherwise have access to therapy.

“Through working with some of the clients at Blue Door, I have got to know who they are, their individual stories, their challenges, and resiliency, and more importantly, the honour to be part of their journey. I look forward to continuing my contribution with Blue Door in 2022,” Wong said in an email.

Eight youth are currently benefiting from the program but Braithwaite said he hopes to continue the program permanently and expand to include it in the organization’s upcoming Health Hub.

The Health Hub will be housed in a soon-to-be-completed transitional housing complex in East Gwillimbury — built by York Region and funded through a $7.3-million provincial investment. The hub will incorporate a registered practical nurse and in-reach worker who will help to address the health challenges of the homeless.

The program is offered virtually but a hybrid model may be implemented in the future to accommodate whatever works best for clients.

Blue Door is looking into various options for future funding, including government funds, said Braithwaite, because housing may not be sustainable for homeless youth unless the root cause of it is treated.

“Unfortunately, there’s some wonderful psychotherapists out there but it’s not really accessible and it’s not really affordable, so we would love for the government to help us make it accessible and affordable for anyone in need. In the end, it saves money because there’s people that can move forward with their housing and move forward with their employment and are going to hospital less with these supports. So it saves lives, it saves dollars and makes sense. Everyone wins.”

The TELUS Friendly Future Foundation is a Canadian organization founded in 2018 to provide grants to Canadian registered charities that offer health, education or technology programs to youth.

Blue Door was founded in 1982 and is the largest emergency housing provider in York Region. It provides support to people who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness to attain and retain affordable housing. Blue Door addresses the root causes of homelessness through emergency housing programs, the seasonal emergency housing program Mosaic Interfaith Out of the Cold, transitional/supportive housing, health supports, and Construct – A Social Enterprise by Blue Door.