The crisis isn’t over, but there might be enough breathing room now to work out a more lasting solution.
On Thursday, I wrote about a trio of teenagers – including a pregnant girl – who were living on the street in downtown St. Catharines. If there is a list of boxes to check off for difficult cases, these three check off every single one.
Since I wrote that column, one of the boys was able to stay at a local shelter, and on Friday some kind-hearted people managed to put the girl and her boyfriend in a motel for a few days and provide them with some decent food. So at the very least, they are out of the rain and off the street for the weekend.
It needs to be stressed, however, that this is a very temporary measure. With any luck, it will provide enough space and time for a local agency to find some emergency housing for the kids and provide access to services that might make their lives a shade better than dreadful.
If that solution is not found, those kids will end up right back on the street.
A lot of people in this city like to talk about Mayor Walter Sendzik’s “compassionate city” concept, designed to improve how City Hall interacts with the community’s most vulnerable citizens. There is a tepid social media campaign using the name “compassion city” but is mostly about seflies and memes that misquote famous authors.
Just how compassionate a city and its people are isn’t determined by doing those things that are easy and require little effort or no risk of failure. It is measured by how it responds to those who are in the most need – even if those in need have, in many respects, made bad choices that put them in their awful situation. It is measured by its willingness to say “I know this situation is difficult, and no easy solution is at hand, but doing nothing is simply not acceptable. So we will try.”
It is telling that the response from the local political class was silence, even as a few local agencies had to face the hard reality that, given the specific circumstances of these teens, their ability to help was limited.
It fell to those who looked at homeless children on the streets of a city in Canada – a nation with more wealth than it knows what to do with – and said they had to do something to help. Maybe it will be for naught. Maybe it will only be a break from the harsh reality of abject homelessness. But they had to try all the same.
Our social services and our justice system exist to try and set things right when everything else has failed. In this case everything else has failed. The system failed these kids. So did their families. These teeenagers have also failed themselves. None of this is in dispute. There is no question the situation is as difficult and intractable as there can be.
But do we really mean it when we say St. Catharines is a compassionate city? Or do we just treat it as a cute hashtag and easy slogan? Can any of you reading this look yourselves in the mirror and say it is OK that a pregnant girl is left to fend for herself on the streets of our city because finding a solution to the problem is frustrating and difficult?
If we, as a community, are content to allow children to fall through the cracks, to exist in that grey circle between bad choices and gaps social services, then what does it say about us?
Just how compassionate are we?