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New Victoria recovery housing for young opioid users aims to reduce overdoses

Addiction recovery sessions, counselling available for residents, who will stay up to four months
Cait Marco (from left), Kacie Stirrett and Jasmine Campbell, staff with the Threshold Housing Society, stand outside the organization’s recently opened home for people aged 15 to 21 who are at risk of homelessness or overdose. Programming at the house aims to fill a gap in available opioid recovery services in Victoria. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

Following B.C.’s deadliest year from opioid use – the second-deadliest for those under 19 in five years – Threshold Housing Society has opened a new home specifically for 15 to 21 year olds at risk of homelessness and overdose.

The two-storey craftsman-style home on Niagara Street is the first to be fully purchased by the society in its three decades of housing work across Greater Victoria. It includes eight beds in five bedrooms, each of which has its own washroom. As well as necessities like storage space, laundry, a full kitchen and office space, guests have access to daily addiction recovery sessions and, in light of a shortage of in-person mental health services during the pandemic, text-service counselling.

Sylvia Parke, a cultural wellness worker and member of the Haida First Nation, leads wellness sessions with drumming and smudging. Indigenous youth are said to make up as many as 80 per cent of waitlist clients.

“It’s cool that we can see the (Niagara house and its programming) in the beginning stages,” said Jasmine Campbell, the society’s development manager. The society receives more than 100 applications a year for people aged 15 to 21 who have unstable housing, who are then triaged, she said. “Five years from now, we can think back to the number of youth who have been impacted by this program. It’s going to be wild.”

Threshold staff do not supply Niagara residents with a safe drug supply; the program is abstinence-oriented, and prospective guests are required to have seven days abstinence before admittance. However, the adolescents have the final say on their recovery goals. Prescription “safe supply” from the Foundry harm reduction centre is an option for them, said Cait Marco, a Threshold youth engagement liaison.

Once admitted, youth have up to four months in the Niagara home and its services – with some wiggle room – said supportive recovery manager Kacie Stirrett.

During that time, Threshold’s goal is to establish basic and essential adult skills for taking care of oneself and their home, while dismantling barriers to recovery from opioid addiction.

READ ALSO: ‘She didn’t deserve this’: Victoria teen’s death a reminder of overdose crisis facing youth

For adolescents who use opioids, addiction and its related activities become a placebo for community by offering connection, Stirrett said.

Community has become especially difficult to come by throughout the pandemic given the restrictions, she added.

One of Threshold Housing's rooms in their newest building. The room fits two beds, and features a room devider and washroom. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

The BC Coroners Service announced in January that 2021 – not including the final two months of data – was the deadliest on record for opioid deaths with 1,782 fatalities by the end of October. Of those, 23 were people under 19, marking the second-highest total ever behind only 2017, when 25 under-19s died from an overdose.

The reportedly higher presence of benzodiazepines in the street drug supply, and drug experimentation brought on from boredom during the COVID-19 pandemic were contributors to the record deaths, Marco said.

In its 30 years operating within the bounds of provincial policy, Campbell said Threshold noticed a gap for 15 to 21 year olds in need of recovery services. Dependants considered legally adult when they turn 19 stop receiving several provincial supports for low-income families.

Adult-level addiction recovery services have massive waitlists, Marco added.

READ ALSO: New drugs, COVID measures feeding record-breaking Victoria overdose pace: expert

Threshold’s housing programming is licenced and primarily funded through Island Health, with the Ministry of Children and Family Development also contributing.

Other proponents for youth opioid recovery, including Darin Reimer, Sanctuary Youth Centre executive director, have recommended that government be allowed to take custody of youth at risk of serious harm due to drug use, for the sake of treatment. Legislation introduced in 2019 by then Opposition MLA Jane Thornthwaite would have allowed opioid-using youth to be held by the government for as long as a month for the purpose of entering treatment.

Campbell voiced optimism for the government’s response to the opioid crisis because of the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s funding.