Responding to Mental Health Concerns on the Front Line: Building Capacity at a Crisis Shelter for Youth Experiencing Homelessness
This book chapter describes activities undertaken by Covenant House Toronto to build its capacity to respond to mental health challenges of the young people it serves. Research indicates that 30 to 40 percent of homeless youth experience major depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use. Data for Covenent House Toronto show that about 30 percent of the young people in its emergency shelters have a serious mental health concern, including thoughts of suicide. Shelters face numerous challenges in supporting homeless youth with mental health issues, including that youth present with a wide continuum of symptoms, homeless youth tend to access services sporadically over a long period, and many youth workers lack the expertise and skill set necessary to identify and address most mental health concerns. Among the strategies implemented by Covenant House Toronto are: 1) providing mental health care with trained counselors and clinicians in a drop-in setting; 2) increasing staff training opportunities; 3) employing a strengths-based philosophy of care that draws on the notion of resilience; 4) developing partnerships with university-based researchers and mental health professionals; and 5) partnering with mental health organizations that can work directly with youth. The authors recommend that practitioners in other organizations put supports in place that meet youth where they are, secure young people's basic needs and develop relationships, and establish meaningful partnerships.