Mental Health Services Adapted to the Reality of Homeless Youth

November 9, 2016

Montreal, November 9, 2016. – A network of organizations working with young people in precarious situations—led by the University of Montreal Hospital Centre (CHUM) and the organization Dans la Rue—has launched a new model designed to provide 11 to 25-year-olds with rapid access to youth-friendly mental health services. This initiative is part of the ACCESS Open Minds project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Graham Boeckh Foundation. ACCESS OM has 11 other sites across Canada.


The goal of the RIPAJ/Homeless Youth Network is to strengthen co-operation between the community-based organizations working within the health care system in order to improve youth access to all mental health services.


“For these marginalized young people experiencing psychological distress or a mental health problem, there shouldn’t be any wrong doors to knock on to get help. ACCESS OM aims to ensure that they have fast access to an assessment and tailored mental health services that meet their specific needs,” explained Dr. Amal Abdel-Baki, a psychiatrist at the CHUM and the Principal Investigator at the ACCESS OM-RIPAJ/Homeless Youth Network site.


The uniqueness of the ACCESS OM-RIPAJ/Homeless Youth Network project lies in the flexibility and mobility of its intervention workers, who can meet youth at their home, on the street, at community organizations—in short, anywhere they may be. A clinician acts as a first point of contact for them and offers an initial assessment of their mental health within 72 hours. Young people can contact the clinician by phone, text or e-mail, directly, through someone close to them or another social worker, in order to arrange to see her at the location of their choice. Assisted by members of the support team, the clinician refers them, if necessary, to specialized care and supports them as they take the next steps, both at the site and in the system, until the required services are received.


“We offer young people and those close to them care that takes into account their developmental level, age, culture, gender, and sexual orientation,” said Diane Aubin, a psychologist with Dans la Rue and the Site Lead for ACCESS OM-RIPAJ/Homeless Youth Network. “When we align ourselves with their values, then young people become interested in their psychological well-being and in maintaining their mental health.”


A two-pronged approach: clinical and research


Data will be collected in order to determine whether the measures implemented by ACCESS OM-RIPAJ/Homeless Youth Network indeed meet the needs of young people in highly precarious situations more adequately and more quickly and if they can serve as a model to follow.


“We will be able to understand which factors hinder or facilitate access to appropriate mental health care in order to improve the quality of life of these young people, with the hope that they can get off the streets and achieve their goals in life,” said Dr. Amal Abdel-Baki.


ACCESS Open Minds relies on the expertise of the members of the RIPAJ/Homeless Youth Network and on their history of co-operation. And it is based on early detection and intervention programs which have already proven to be successful in treating psychoses. “Here, we are applying the same principles to treat all types of mental illnesses,” explained Dr. Ashok Malla, the project’s principal investigator. “In addition to transforming clinical services, we will evaluate the actual effectiveness of this transformation, which has never been done,” he adds.


Designed for and with young people


In order to succeed, the project depends on the involvement of young people, families and carers, according to the patient-partner concept, both in developing the model and in conducting research.


“The Government of Canada is proud to support ACCESS Open Minds in partnership with the Graham Boeckh Foundation,” said the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. “The Network will play a key role in improving youth mental health care in Canada. I offer my congratulations to the research team and community partners on the opening of this site in Montreal dedicated to helping young people living in precarious circumstances.”


“The RIPAJ network is deeply committed to helping the most vulnerable youth in downtown Montreal,” said Ian Boeckh, President of the Graham Boeckh Foundation. “The network’s innovative, collaborative approach, which involves a number of service providers, is an example of how youth-friendly mental health and social services can be provided in the community.


To learn more about the project, please visit


For interviews, please contact:


Étienne Lalonde
Senior Director, Philanthropic Development and Communication
Dans la Rue
(514) 815-5555


Isabelle Girard
Information Advisor, Research Division
University of Montreal Hospital Centre
(514) 890-8000, extension 12725


Caroline Arbour
Communications Coordinator
ACCESS Open Minds
(514) 761-6131, extension 6229


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