Both locations follow similar guidelines in terms of rules around drugs and alcohol.
- Consuming or possessing drugs or alcohol on Covenant House property or during Covenant House activities is prohibited. This includes prescription medication not prescribed to the youth. Selling substances is also prohibited. Breaking these rules is cause for immediate suspension and possible discharge.
- Youth who come into the ROP under the influence will be asked to go to their rooms and are not allowed in the common areas.
- Disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated.
- If necessary (due to moderate or severe intoxication) safety checks may be conducted (two staff entering room to check on the youth).
- A young person may be asked to receive medical clearance to stay in the program if there are significant concerns for health.
- If it is recognized that substance use is creating or contributing to problems in a youth’s life, their case plan will be adjusted to address this.
In Toronto, a Substance Use Counsellor works with all youth who are identified as having drug and/or alcohol problems. If they are committed to working on their issues –with a goal of sobriety—they are entitled to engage in the Abstinence Support Program. Youth need to meet with the Substance Use Counsellor within 24 hours of returning to the building under the influence. An Abstinence Support Plan will be developed and the youth must work with the Case Management Team members, including their Consistent Worker and the Substance Use Counsellor, to maintain sobriety.
Toronto’s safety planning procedures, which supports the ability of a youth to remain in program while under the influence, is geared at ensuring there is no risk to the safety of themselves, the building or others. These are outlined in the ROP Residents Using Drugs or Alcohol Policy found in the resource section.
Homeless Hub Thoughts:
The issue of substance use is always challenging in a congregate living situation. Covenant House supports abstinence-based housing and this is evident in their program design. While a harm reduction model is our preference – and indeed forms one of the core components of Housing First – there may be some youth who prefer and need abstinence-only housing to maintain their own sobriety. When an agency has multiple housing options this can be addressed more easily, but when there is only one shared space, rules such as those developed above become more critical.
Age is definitely one consideration, as the ability to purchase, and the legal right to consume, alcohol varies by jurisdiction. Legality of substances is also something that needs to be examined (including the right of some people with certain health issues to hold a legal entitlement to use medical marijuana).
An approach that encourages sobriety but does not punish for lapses is more positive than a punitive approach. In fact, CHT only changed its policy in early 2015. Prior to that date returning to ROP under the influence could result in a suspension and a referral to a shelter program.