Hero of the Month: Covenant House Vancouver

Hero of the Month is a new series launched in November 2023 that aims to bring awareness and visibility to one of our global Lime Hero partners each month.

This month, we are spotlighting Covenant House Vancouver. Covenant House Vancouver is committed to serving youth with relentless support, absolute respect, and unconditional love; to help youth experiencing homelessness; and to protect and safeguard all youth in need.

We spoke with Neil Henderson, Media & Communications Manager, and Farzana Sunderji, Marketing Manager, from Covenant House for a fireside Q&A:

Can you give us a brief overview on what you do?

Neil: I manage communications for the agency, currently focused on media relations and all our external communications about the agency’s work to serve vulnerable youth who are experiencing homelessness or who are at-risk of homelessness.

Farzana: I manage the Covenant House Vancouver brand and oversee any digital, print, and marketing projects for the agency. My team and I are also responsible for all of our digital platforms including our website, our blog, and social media channels.

Our main priorities are to create awareness about the homelessness epidemic, the work we do, and how we support vulnerable youth who are experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness, as well as any youth trying to exit human trafficking.

We are advocates for the youth we serve, sharing stories of hardship, resilience and strength and want the public to know that being homeless does not define them; they are worth much more than their circumstance and are worthy of love, respect, and right to safety.

How does Covenant House measure its impact on Vancouver?

Neil: Our capacity to stop the cycle of youth homelessness, while offering a full continuum of wrap-around service excellence for vulnerable and at-risk youth aged 16-24, all relies on continuous quality improvement. Precise, representative data is key to that. We use our client management system in concert with clearly curated key performance indicators and closely monitored outcome metrics. This is also all done in close consultation with youth to ensure quality of care.

Farzana: On any given night, 500-1000 youth don’t have a safe place to sleep in Metro Vancouver. Any youth that has the courage to walk through our doors and ask for help is a success. That’s one less young person off the streets and in our continuum of care. Our goal is to empower youth to change their lives and break the cycle of homelessness through.

We do that by meeting them where they are at and supporting them every step of the way. We offer them programs and services ranging from a hot meal and a shower to health care, mental health services and substance-use counselling, individualized goal setting and action plans, help with family reunification, education, employment, and housing, for days, weeks, months, or even years. Because a crisis takes as long as it takes.

In more tangible ways, we lean on our client management system in tandem with key performance indicators and closely monitor outcome metrics. As Neil mentioned, this is all done in close consultation with youth to ensure quality of care.

What is your favorite part about Covenant House?

Neil: The positive impact on the lives of vulnerable young people in need. That a network of Covenant House locations throughout the Americas can provide vulnerable young people with the resources and tools they need to create the futures they want and deserve for themselves, all thanks to our incredible partnerships and donor communities who continue to give so generously.

Farzana: My favorite part about Covenant House is hearing about the transformations and the courage that these youth bring to the table. Knowing that the work we do, along-side our supporters, donors, and volunteers, is life-changing and can change the trajectory of a young person’s life for the better is always motivating and amazing to be a part of.

What is the biggest obstacle Covenant House faces?

Neil: In addition to the combined impact of the affordability and housing crises, a lack of both appropriately developed housing and youth-specific public policy represent the biggest obstacles. Everyone is affected by these in some form, from the inspirational youth we serve through to our amazing donors. It’s an increasingly difficult time.

Farzana: Our biggest obstacle we face as an agency is the lack of affordable housing in the city and having appropriate and relevant youth-driven supports in place for young people. For youth experiencing homelessness, their immediate challenge isn’t just finding a way off the street; it's trying to navigate complicated systems and overcome barriers without adequate support or healthy relationships. All while experiencing complex trauma and hardships.

How did you get involved in Covenant House?

Neil: Covenant House was an organization I wanted to get involved with since seeing them on the ride from the airport the night my wife and I first moved to Canada in 2019. It’s only just become a possibility to work with them after the impact of the pandemic.

Farzana: I first heard about Covenant House when I was researching youth homelessness and food insecurity for a project I was working on and heard about the Sleep Out campaign. I was so intrigued and after reading about who they are, how they support youth, and what role they played in the community, I knew instantly that this was an organization I wanted to be a part of. I always had an eye on their careers page and now have the pleasure and privilege to be a part of this incredible organization.

What was the biggest project you worked on in 2023? What was the impact?

Neil: Having only been in the position for 5 months, from announcing the start of our new CEO’s tenure, through to organizing our partnership with Coldplay on their world tour and orchestrating media coverage for our annual Sleep Out Executive Edition, there are too many to choose from. Our agency and the work we do is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Farzana: One of my major projects this year, scheduled to launch in late Spring 2024, is a poignant video campaign. It beautifully narrates the journey of a lovely lady, a former youth, revealing the circumstances that led her to find solace at Covenant House. Throughout her time here, she reflects on her transformations and, having moved on from our program, shares her aspirations for a brighter future that she deserves and is actively working towards.

Something that makes this project unique is that it was created with the principles of ethical storytelling at heart. What that means is, she (the former youth) directed us with what pieces of her story and herself she was comfortable sharing and she was very involved in how that would take shape. We were supporting her in how her story would show up in the world, and helped her bring that to life.

This was a very organic process and different from a typical shoot because at the onset, none of us knew exactly what we were going to capture in the end. It was only after a series of discovery sessions and meetings with her, were we able to come together to map it out. It was beautiful working in this way, working alongside the her and empowering her to own her narrative, giving her the autonomy and the platform to shape how her story and their evolution will be presented, in a way that honors her journey and feels authentic to her.

I was fortunate to get to know the former youth very well as we worked on this project for almost two months; we laughed, we cried, and we celebrated the incredible human that this person is and has become and created something really special that we can all be proud of, her especially!

This project will have an impact by inspiring other youth who may be struggling to have hope and to find the courage to ask for her. It will highlight the ways Covenant House is important and needed in our community. The project will inspire hope and show people that anything is possible, as long as you have love, respect, and encouragement around you.

What's ahead for 2024 for Covenant House?

Neil: We have some really exciting developments coming up in 2024. These include the launch of our newly renovated 3rd site that will almost double the capacity from 25 to 44 beds in one of our key programs called Rights of Passage. We will also be rolling out various program developments, such as our expanded complex care programming, in response to developing and immediate needs that we have identified in the community.

Farzana: There are so many exciting developments underway for 2024. One is an exciting construction project that is set to be completed next year which is our third site and will be the home of our Rights of Passage Program, which provides young people with safe, affordable housing and support as they transition to independent living. The capacity that we will be offering in the program will nearly double from 24 to 44 beds meaning we can serve more youth, which is pretty incredible.

Rapid Fire Questions

E-bike or E-Scooter?

Neil: E-scooter

Farzana: E-bike

Favorite place to take a Lime in Vancouver?

Neil: 800 Robson Plaza and the̱ Square around Vancouver Art Gallery

Farzana: Granville Island

Favorite part about partnering with Lime?

Neil: Your commitment to working in the communities where you operate and contribute towards the solutions that are needed.

Farzana: Your investment and involvement in making communities safer and more vibrant. We share many of the same values and we were honored to be featured as a lime hero. We are confident that together, we can make a serious impact and spread some positivity and goodness.

Three words that describe Covenant House?

Neil: Respect, Love and Compassion.

Farzana: Resilience, Love, Respect

If Covenant House had a superhero mascot, who would it be and why?

Neil: In all honesty, the superheroes are the young people we serve. Maybe our mascot would be a little model of Professor Xavier’s school, helping young people with superpowers to hone their skills before going out to help society.

Farzana: That is a great question! To be honest, the youth that come through our doors every day are the real superheroes. The challenges and burdens they face, no young person should have to endure. And in the midst of those difficulties, they find the courage and the space to ask for help and show up for themselves.

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