Local youth rehab proposed

The Okanagan currently has no publicly funded rehabilitation facility beds for teens under 17 struggling with alcohol and substance use disorders, and one local group is working hard to change that. 

The Bridge Youth & Family Services is based out of Kelowna, but will be doing the rounds at local government council meetings all around the Okanagan looking for letters of support for a proposed 16-bed Youth Recovery House that will allow kids as young as 12 and 13 to break patterns of addiction early in a controlled environment while still being close to home. 

On Monday, Celine Thompson and John Yarschenko represented the program at Oliver town council, telling the room about the intense need for action.

"We have been underserved here for a while, and I think with this particular population with the young people, it’s not a matter of expanding what exists, there is nothing that exists,” Thompson said. 

Currently, there are fewer than 50 publicly funded beds available in the entire province at live-in facilities, and it's even harder for younger teens. The closest facility to the Okanagan is in Keremeos, but that organization does not accept kids under 17.

The vision for an Okanagan facility is only in its early stages, but Thompson said they have had interest from a few landowners potentially willing to donate space. 

“Anything that’s in this entire region that we want to serve would be appropriate," said Celine Thompson. “My dream vision for this property is it will be a rural property with access to water and trees.”

Thompson and Yarschenko are seeking help from local governments and First Nations around the Okanagan in the form of letters of support. They have already begun making appearances at meetings, recently in Peachland and Monday in Oliver, and will be petitioning many more councils this fall.

"We really need to bring a coalition of partners together to get something like this done,” he said, explaining strength in numbers the best way to put pressure on the province to fund the initiative.

In a letter submitted to council, The Bridge director of fund development Kelly Paley wrote about the driving reasons why now is the time for action. 

"Given our area of expertise, families call our front desk on a weekly basis in distress, looking for treatment for their son or daughter — only to be told none exists here," she wrote. "And we know, based on the referrals to our Youth Detox, and the data from the BC Coroner's report that we need to have places of solace, learning, recovery and healing for children as young as 12 and 13. Perhaps younger."

Yarschenko stressed the importance of not shipping local children hundreds of kilometres away for treatment. 

"For any young person under the age of 17, the nearest live-in treatment program services are in Vancouver or Prince George," Yarschenko said. "When we look at recovery capital [...] working with their families, working with their friends, working with their school and bring able to really help them be supported by their environment, you can't do that when you send somebody so far away where those local supports can't be made accessible."

Oliver and Peachland councils were both convinced, agreeing to send letters of support for the project. 

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