“There are kids who come in who are ready to end their life. They know how they’re going to do it. They have a plan and the means to carry out the plan, and because of the support they find at Chilliwack Youth Health Centre, young peoples’ lives are saved.”
Jim Flom, team lead on the Youth and Homelessness Initiative, gets emotional talking about the CYHC and the difference it makes in the lives of young people. Each year the non-profit provides medical and mental heath service to thousands of vulnerable youths between the ages of 12-26.
But a funding crunch is putting them in a tough spot, and they are calling on the provincial government to step up.
“Because of the goodwill of our community, we’ve been able to sustain this, but Chilliwack is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada,” Flom said. “We’ve gone from serving 400 appointments in our first year of operation nine years ago to 4,000 appointments last year. We’ve grown tenfold and the funding has not kept pace with that.
“So really, our backs are against the wall.”
CYHC currently operates at four sites and four schools and 16 per cent of their low-barrier services are accessed by Indigenous clients.
But Flom said they’re close to tough-decision time. If they can’t find more money, they’ll be forced to retract services and shrink their footprint.
“At a time when youth and young adults in Chilliwack need us most,” he added.
Twenty-three other communities, including Abbotsford and Langley, provide youth services through a provincially-funded organization called Foundry. These communities received $1-million in startup costs plus operational funding in the neighbourhood of $800,000 annually.
According to Flom, CYHC runs on a shoestring budget of around $150,000. Most of that comes from grants they have to apply for every year and he said CYHC has “been punching above its weight” with the services it’s been able to provide. There is frustration looking at other communities, including much smaller ones, who receive so much money when CYHC has to scratch and claw for every penny.
Flom said there have been talks in the past about Chilliwack becoming a Foundry that didn’t go anywhere. While he appreciates what the Foundry offers, he believes the CYHC model is worth preserving.
“The Foundry is at a single location at an urban/town centre,” Flom said. “We’re at eight locations right in Chilliwack. We’re at Sto:lo Health. We’re at Tzeachten First Nation and Ruth and Naomi’s. We’re at Chilliwack Secondary, G.W. Graham, Imagine High and Vedder Middle School. We go to to the kids. We meet them where they’re at.
“It’s all about being client centered and a big part of that is the ability to get outside our building. We have outreach workers who will walk with them and spend time with them, go to the store with them and connect them to the care that they’re seeking. We’ll walk alongside them in a way that we think is unique.”
Writing on behalf of CYHC, Chilliwack mayor Ken Popove has recently written two letters to decision makers in the provincial government. Flom and others have also written letters, but the result so far has been crickets.
“Everybody is saying what we’re doing is great, but we need more than encouragement. We need funding,” Flom said. “It’s simply a question of equity and fairness.”
Contacted by The Progress, Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter and Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon both said they are pushing for more funding.
“The Chilliwack Youth Health Centre does incredible work here in Chilliwack, and I know how important it is to the community that they stay open,” Paddon said. “In response to the conversations I have been having with CYHC, I have been working with my colleagues in government to make sure they are aware of the struggles the CYHC is facing and to advocate to establish an increased and more sustainable funding model. The CYHC receives support from multiple ministries including the Ministries of Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and Children and Family Development. My colleagues have recognized how important the CYHC is to the community, and we are having conversations about immediate needs as well as longer term solutions so that CYHC can keep delivering amazing services to youth in Chilliwack.”
“The work done at the Chilliwack Youth Health Centre is vital,” Coulter wrote. “I know that in 2021 when the former Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson, and several of our caucus colleagues visited and toured CYHC they were very impressed with the medical, mental health and substance use services provided across three sites in Chilliwack. Through ministries such as the Ministry of Children and Family Development direct program funding has increased over the past few years as multiple community service contracts were consolidated to support CYHC. However, we are aware that the CYHC is still facing funding challenges and are advocating to increase funding so they can continue these important services.”
Flom said the clock is ticking louder by the day, and CYHC doesn’t have the luxury of waiting. Money needs to come now.
“Our funding runs out every March 31, and we’re now into April, and we may have to reduce our services as soon as the summer,” he said. “So, who is not going to be served? What youth is going to be turned away? We do not want that on our watch.
“This is the 11th hour.”
See https://chilliwackyhc.com/ for more info and sign a petition to help the CYHC at https://www.change.org/p/chilliwack-youth-matter-the-chilliwack-youth-health-centre-is-getting-an-unfair-deal.