The British Columbia government has announced a "no questions asked" housing project for vulnerable youth in the Downtown Eastside that would accept tenants without requiring them to refrain from using alcohol or other drugs.
The project, announced Tuesday as part of a $1.2-million package of services for vulnerable youth, comes as B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development is facing calls to do more to help children who are struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental-health problems while living in or near Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
The announcement also happened the same day the provincial coroner released a report into a high-profile death of a teen who was in government care, confirming that 18-year-old Alex Gervais killed himself by deliberately jumping from a fourth-floor window of a motel, where he had been placed after his residential home was closed.
Mr. Gervais is among several young people in the province who have died recently either while in government care or shortly after.
Those cases include a girl whose death was examined by the province's children's representative in a 2015 report, titled Paige's Story. The report described the life and fatal overdose of a 19-year-old girl living on the Downtown Eastside and said "professional indifference" – on the part of organizations and individuals who should have helped the girl – put her in harm's way.
And in yet another report released last week on a different, unnamed youth, Children and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond noted several similarities between her case and Paige's – including a lack of suitable housing options for troubled youth in the neighbourhood. Ms. Turpel-Lafond released few details about the most recent case, saying that her office investigated after an unidentified young person, who was in government care but eventually came to live in the Downtown Eastside, nearly died following an "episode of high-risk behaviour."
Unlike Mr. Gervais and Paige, the young person in the latest case is still alive, though Ms. Turpel-Lafond said the situation remains "dangerously unstable."
"In both cases, ministry intervention only came after each of them had experienced enormous trauma that would continue to go unaddressed," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said in the report. "Attempts to provide foster placements were likewise short-lived and largely unsuccessful, with the young person being placed in a hotel when first brought into care because no resources were available."
Following the release of Paige's Story, the province reviewed the files of more than 100 children and youth living in or frequenting the Downtown Eastside and announced a "rapid-response team" model designed to prevent children from falling through gaps in the system.
In a conference call with reporters, Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux said details of the new housing project – including the number of beds – are being worked out with partners.
"What I can tell you is that, generally speaking, this type of specialized resource would not have a large number of beds," Ms. Cadieux said. "Five would probably be a maximum, not just because of the availability of buildings, but that's generally what's seen as reasonable in terms of being able to safely manage and provide care."
Housing was also an issue for Mr. Gervais, the 18-year-old. A coroner's report released Tuesday found that Mr. Gervais died after deliberately jumping from a fourth-floor window of a motel in which he had been placed while in provincial care.
Mr. Gervais's death focused attention on the shortage of suitable placements for youth in care, especially those who are close to "aging out" of the government system when they turn 19.
In the days following Mr. Gervais's death, the ministry said hotel placements were rarely used.
But with numbers in question, the ministry and the children's advocate teamed up on a rare joint report. Released in January, that report found a total of 117 children had been placed in hotels from November, 2014, to October, 2015.
The report included recommendations for better tracking and monitoring of hotel stays and more emergency beds, especially in areas where hotel stays are most common. It also included a commitment to public reporting on hotel placements every six months.
The ministry is scheduled to deliver its first public report on hotel placements on June 1.