Since its inception in 1986, Watari Counselling & Support Services Society has impacted the lives of thousands of at-risk children, youth, their families and communities in the Downtown Eastside and the Greater Vancouver/Richmond areas.
Below you’ll find some of our success stories which we hope will inspire you to reach out to us if you, or someone you know, could benefit from Watari’s programs.
***Please note all names have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.***


It’s always a pleasure to have the opportunity to work alongside young people who have done some serious hard work prior to finding their way to Transitioning to Independence Project (TTIP II). Angela is a good example of how dedication to change can become a reality.
Angela comes from a family with significant mental health and substance misuse obstacles. Many family members are homeless or have passed on due to substance misuse related illness.
Some would believe that it would be easy for Angela to accept her fate and follow the path that many of her family members have gone down, and for a few years she did. However, after birthing her daughter and experiencing the struggles associated with this lifestyle (homelessness, violence, and no stability) she made a change. Focused on being a healthy parent and providing for her daughter, Angela was housing-ready – her challenge was the cost of market housing in the Lower Mainland.
With the generous subsidy support of an additional $400.00, Angela secured safe market housing for her and her daughter. She was able to select a neighbourhood that she was comfortable with and began to establish roots. Her daughter began Kindergarten at a school of Angela’s choosing, with a feeling of security that she wouldn’t have to constantly change schools due to homelessness. Housing is a vital component for these youth in order to focus on planning for self sufficiency and not being system dependant.
Angela is currently completing her high school and planning for post secondary in the fall. She has participated in other community partner programs for employment preparation and is job-ready. As Angela’s time in TTIP II comes to an end, we have been able to (because of her stability and sobriety) connect her to more long-term housing support. This support will allow her to continue to focus on her future, without the constant fear of homelessness. While we celebrate her success it’s not taken for granted, we know through experience that any success must be continually supported we do this by encouraging ongoing community connectedness.


Youth arrived in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside (DTES) from Saskatchewan and when outreach first had contact, youth reported to be a 21 year old, First Nations woman. While Watari’s Eastside Integrated Youth Outreach Team was relationship-building with youth it was found out that she was 17 years old. When in the DTES, youth stayed at several different places; with boyfriends in Single Room Occupancies (SRO( and finally with her brother in the Regent Hotel.
After breaking up with one of her boyfriends, youth was upset and stated that she would maybe like to go and stay with her father in Calgary. Our Outreach Team ran with that and encouraged youth to go into MCFD Vancouver Youth Services to see about getting repatriated to Calgary. Outreach team members Sandy, Laura and Mich all offered to go and support the youth with this matter.
The Outreach Team, along with case manager Saskia and Vancouver Youth Services did case-management planning around how to get youth to Calgary. However the youth did not want to speak to any social workers, so that plan did not work out. After doing more case planning, the Outreach Team and Saskia came up with a plan to phone the youth’s Indian Band to see if they could help with the repat to Calgary. Mich then made contact with the band and they were willing to pay for the youth to be repatriated to her home community in Saskatchewan and not just to Calgary. The band needed a few things in place first, such as confirmation of a safe place to come home to, and that the youth really did want to come back to Saskatchewan. Saskia phoned and talked with an Auntie of the youth and found out that she would take in the youth and that it was a safe place. Mich, Laura and Saskia were phoning the band daily with the things that needed to be in place first.
It was really helpful to have different team members working on different days to call the band and to keep in contact with the youth daily. During this planning stage, Outreach Team members Mich, Sandy and Laura set up a daily meeting time and place where team members would meet with the youth to keep her updated. This also was a good way to keep her motivated to go back to her home communtity. The daily check-in’s were also important because the youth’s substance abuse was increasing and the team knew that she had great supports back in Saskatchewan; that had set up planning for school and a healthier life style. After everything was set up for the youth to be repatriated back to Saskatchewan, the day came when Mich and Sandy took the youth to the bus depot and waited until she was on the bus and it pulled away from the bay.
The youth knew Mich, Sandy and Laura and felt comfortable meeting with us all. During the process of having the youth repatriated, everything went well because the lines of communication between the youth and the Outreach Team were seamless and open. When the youth arrived in Saskatchewan, she let the Outreach Team know via Facebook that she arrived safely.


A few years ago we met a young First Nations woman who was 30 years old.
Anna had been an active drug user, survival sex trade worker and a member of our community around the corner of Hastings Street and Campbell Avenue since early childhood. Many of our staff would see her standing on the corner trying to pick up a trick or sometimes flailing from the effects of the drugs she had consumed. All of us would encourage her to come up to our office for nutrition , less revealing clothing or just a safe place to sit and have a coffee away from the rigors of the street.
Eventually she courageously made her way up the stairs and appeared in our foyer where she was welcomed by our receptionist Karen, who met her basic needs and began to create a sanctuary. She finally convinced Anna to complete an assessment form and become eligible to see a counsellor. She was assigned to see this writer and so begins my story. It turned out Anna did have family on one of the local reserves where she was sometimes able to take refuge and most of the relatives were supportive and kind. Sadly, there were some safety issues, so she was not always welcome there. Housing was a huge issue; she said and I quote “all I want is a place of my own I have never had my own home”.
It took a while and a lot of advocacy but we did get Anna referred into a low barrier hotel on Cordova St. She was very proud and empowered that she had the key to her own room. No more nights spent on the streets or in doorways or some one else’s room where she was always vulnerable to being put back on the street if she didn’t do as she was told. We also supported her to connect more solidly with her mother in an independent healthy manner. Although Anna has not reached her goal of total abstinence, her drug use has decreased and she appears to be better dressed and carries herself with what appears to be more pride and dignity. Personally, it warms my heart and brings a tear to my eye when I see her and I feel confident her life will continue to improve.


I would like to take this opportunity to talk about my experience since the first moment I came to Watari Counselling & Support Services. My name is Manuel, I am 56 years old originally from Mexico. I don’t exactly remember who referred me to Watari, but I am sure now it was the exact place and referral I needed.
I don’t remember because my health was in pretty bad shape. Those days I was feeling very depressed, sad, and lifeless. I had just gone through a divorce, had no hope, and a lot of it also had to with my way of drinking; my alcoholism. I was feeling completely dejected. But I went to Watari. God put me in the hands of a lady by the name of Ingrid Méndez at Watari’s L’Huerta Communal.
Thanks to her valuable help, her patience and professionalism, she helped me change my way of thinking. She gave me hope and helped me understand that “we can all do it” and believe me – that is true! I always remember her words “When you want to do it, you can do it and you can definitely do it don Manuel.” She would repeat that to me all the time. “Come on don Manuel, you can do it!”
As I don’t speak English, she is kind to provide her time to help read and translate my correspondence.
It was because of Watari’s help that I was able to obtain my pardon from the U.S.A. It was a very difficult and fastidious process that lasted 2 years. I was also able to get my status as a Permanent Residence of Canada. And most of all, I have learned to control my drinking. During the last four years, I have been working in different companies doing cleaning, and today I feel very proud of myself to be a painter. I am contemplating the idea of starting my own business. Step by step and effort after effort, I have reached success in my life.
I am writing this from my heart and thanking once again Watari, Ingrid, Byron and Karen.


Watari’s S.T.A.R (Stop Think Assess Respond) Program for Kids has had many successful experiences teaching in schools around Greater Vancouver. One experience that stands recently is about a student who approached them after one of their sessions. She came to the S.T.A.R team asking for help and support around a friend that had recently started using substances.
The youth was very concerned about their friend as they are only twelve years old, and were starting to hang around older people. The fear, also, was that these friends were going to high school next year and may separate. Because the S.T.A.R Program allows the team to be in the school for several weeks, they are able to find out who this person can talk to in her school. Services were coordinated with administration staff in the school, a designated school counsellor and the youth’s parents were also informed.
Watari’s S.T.A.R program allows students to feel their issues are real and important. The first step in someone reaching out is to create a place of trust, and this is how the S.T.A.R team is able to reach so many students and hear their experiences.


In late April 2011, a 29 year old male was arrested on a ‘Theft Under’ charge and placed in custody at Downtown Community Court (DCC). Information collected from the police report and his lawyer identified this client as a suitable referral to Watari’s Vancouver Intensive Supervision Unit (VISU) as part of his Bail release. Further interview and collaterals revealed the subject to suffer from schizophrenia, active drug use, and the stress of potential homelessness.
Fortunately, this particular client was engaging and amiable from the start which also helped us to understand his vulnerability. This small statured, soft spoken, young man who seemed eager to please and agree with others was also prone to being victimized by other drug using peers. His history has many sad components including being sponsored by his father from the Ukraine and then within months, abandoned to start on his own as a teenager. When you couple the hardships with the mental illness and addiction, the circumstances seem overwhelming for the client.
Prior to his involvement with VISU, the client identified a valuable relationship with his community mental health worker and together with her, VISU worked to address the ongoing drug use and compliance with treatment. This consisted of regular contact with the mental health team, frequent attendance at DCC for social engagement, and transporting/meeting the subject in the community. The client also complimented his 1:1 with attendance at DCC programs such as SMART and others. On the two occasions the subject entered detox, VISU members visited him regularly and tried to assist in his comfort through the ability to offer cigarettes, phone cards, and coffee outings. Following his last visit to detox, members of VISU facilitated the plan to admit him to Maple Ridge Treatment Centre by driving him out there and accompanying him in the orientation with staff.
As occurs with many, this client relapsed after Maple Ridge Treatment Centre, but we like to think the strength of his relationship with VISU helped him to reconnect when he needed assistance or a new plan. Recently, the outstanding referral to Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions as requested by VISU was fulfilled with the client entering BCMHA a few weeks ago. This long term treatment plan also contributed towards the completion of his court matter last week, resulting in a Probation Order (Conditional Discharge – no criminal record) with simple conditions.
Although the disposition brings his file to a close with our team, we continue to assist him adjust to BCMHA and have his needs met in the community. Just today, we drove him to his bank, a pawn shop and for a haircut. As always, he indicated his gratefulness and reinforced his plan to continue treatment and a life which is guided by responsible management of his mental health and the absence of drugs.
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