A Victoria mother is voicing concerns about the location of court-mandated youth counselling services in Victoria.
Lee, whose real name CHEK News isn’t disclosing to protect her teenage son’s identity, says her son’s struggles started when he was just 14 years old.
“Addiction is what that looked like, it looked like not coming home, going away for days at a time,” she said.
When he got into trouble with the law she was relieved to learn he would be mandated by the courts to attend counselling, until she found out where that counselling would take place.
Victoria’s Youth Forensic Psychiatric program is in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, the heart of the city’s mental health and addictions crisis. It is an area known for open drug use, trafficking, and sometimes, violence. Yet teens, many of them experiencing addiction, are forced to receive counselling services at the centre, sometimes weekly.
“It really is like putting an Alcoholics Anonymous and then having a big bar party here and a 24-hour free liquor store there, you’re just waiting for the kids to fall or fail,” Lee said.
Just last week a man died from toxic drugs right outside the building. On Wednesday, Victoria police arrested a man for throwing rocks at the building then trying to steal a woman’s car with her inside.
One addictions outreach worker says it can be a traumatic and triggering place for teens trying to turn their lives around.
“We talked to a youth the other day that said going downtown, it’s very likely they’re going to use, so when they’re trying to not use they have to just avoid downtown altogether,” said Zack Senay, an outreach worker with the Umbrella Society.
In fact, some are ordered by the courts to specifically avoid that area altogether. Those who work with vulnerable youth and their families say many have voiced concerns about the location.
“For the families to have to bring their youth there or the youth to have to go there alone it can just feel like taking them to place that doesn’t feel so safe for them sometimes,” said Chantal Brasset, family peer supporter with the Foundry Victoria Youth Clinic.
“I think that’s a great area for adult services to exist because a lot of adults there are going through a hard time, but for youth let’s put those services somewhere else for them.”
While the forensic youth counselling centre has been in that location for years, Lee understands why nobody has spoken publicly about their concerns before.
“We are so maxed out emotionally, physically, we don’t have the resources mentally to take on anything else,” she said. “As a parent, you don’t have the ability in the first few months to say hey this is really not okay.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Children and Families says the well-being of staff and clients is of utmost concern and that it’s currently evaluating what steps can be taken to better support people accessing and providing services at that location.
While her son’s mandated treatment is nearly over, Lee is hoping change will come for all the other vulnerable kids and families who have no choice but to attend the centre for help.
“We need to protect them instead of giving them more reasons to re-offend or to be extra vulnerable to do something that maybe they shouldn’t.”
Victoria’s Adult Forensic Psychiatric Centre is located far from Pandora on Nanaimo Street which is also where the Youth Probation Office is.
Sources say there is a vacant building in that area the province could inquire about leasing. The Foundry is also calling on the ministry to partner with it to find a better location.