A new outreach program in Abbotsford is addressing at-risk youth homelessness.
The SWIFT Program goes into homeless camps, high-risk living situations and schools to identify vulnerable youth ages 13 to 24 and connect them with supports, housing options and resources.
The program is a partnership among the City of Abbotsford, the Abbotsford Police Department, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Cyrus Centre.
SWIFT connects youth to a variety of services; responds to victimization, exploitation and abuse; provides basic needs such as food, harm-reduction and housing; and identifies already-established resources.
“Due to the vulnerability of youth, at-risk youth in Abbotsford often intersect with homelessness, substance use and mental health challenges, street disorder, educational challenges, exploitation and poverty,” says a press release from the city.
“Prevention and response are often considered as two different areas to address, and, as such, providing continuity of care for vulnerable youth can be problematic and insufficient to meet their complex needs, which the SWIFT Program aims to address.”
Since starting to work together in September, the outreach team has helped six previously homeless youth move into housing, located five youth who had been reported missing, and helped four youth into detox or substance-use treatment. The team currently has a caseload of 60 Abbotsford youth.
Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens applauded the work being done.
“The challenges faced by the at-risk youth in our community are complex, and trying to find and access the appropriate services and help can be overwhelming for a young person in need,” he said.
“By having team members go and visit with at-risk youth in their own environment and bring the information, make valuable connections and link them with services helps them realize that support is within reach and that people do care.”
Les Talvio of Cyrus Centre, which provides an emergency shelter and other services for vulnerable youth, said SWIFT serves youth “right where they are, building trusting relationships that begin the process of exiting the streets.”
Const. Shane Dueck with the Abbotsford Police Department said the program is also helping to enhance overall community safety.
“Having members with positive relationships with so many of our at-risk youth is having an effect in solving violent crime,” he said. “Some youth who would otherwise refuse to cooperate with police have found confidence in reporting violent crimes to SWIFT team members, which has directly led to important arrests in Abbotsford.”
SWIFT is funded through a one-year Strengthening Communities’ Services grant received by the City of Abbotsford.
The grant is funded by the provincial and federal governments and administered by the Union of BC Municipalities. The city hopes the success of the program will help in securing long-term, ongoing funding.
SWIFT is an acronym for:
• Seek out our most high-risk youth
• Work alongside community partners
• Intervene when necessary
• Formulate a plan
• Task out/take action