I wouldn’t call it a happy ending. But it might be a chance for a better future.
Maybe. If everything goes right and with a little luck, it just might be.
Readers of the Grant Rant will remember I wrote a few columns recently about a pair of teenagers who were living on the streets of downtown St. Catharines. Both had harsh family lives that drove them into homelessness, they both have cognitive issues, neither are in school and the girl is pregnant. Their cases are as difficult as these sorts of cases can be.
Their story is both a sign post for St. Catharines residents to stop at and reflect on the underside of this city, a tale of great compassion of some Garden City residents, and the extreme difficulty faced by our social agencies to help kids like these.
For those catching up, the system couldn’t find a solution for these kids who were discovered by some passers by on St. Paul Street. Some kind-hearted St. Catharines residents paid to put these kids up in a motel, where they were provided with shelter, food and clothes until local service agencies worked out a more permanent solution.
As of May 1, the young couple were placed in an apartment and have regular access to the services they need.
(You can also read more about their case over at the Practical Feminist blog.)
While this is a positive outcome, no one should be cheering. This isn’t a happy a ending because it is not the end.
If you are playing the odds, the long term outcome for these kids is not good, not unless they get a great deal of help along the way. The fact is uneducated teenaged mothers with learning disabilities do not often go on to great careers. Statistically speaking, the odds are against the girl’s child even before it has been born.
Ideally, these two would be moved into a supportive living arrangement that would provide them access to the kinds of services that can teach them the skills they need to be more independent over time. While those kinds of services exist in Niagara, they are limited.
And since both teens are nearly 18, the narrative of choice was already making the situation more difficult. Since they were over 16, the Family and Children Services couldn’t do much. Other agencies were frustrated by the teens’ behaviour and would say to me “Well, they are choosing to live on the street,” without asking what “choice” is supposed to mean for people serious intellectual deficits.
They will soon turn 18, putting them out of the reach of agencies that can otherwise take more direct action with youths.
All of this means that despite the best of intentions and efforts by many to help them, these two could end up right back on the street. As it is, despite having been moved into an apartment, they can occasionally still be seen panhandling downtown.
The tragedy here is that this situation is not any one person’s or agency’s fault. The teens had the decks stacked against them from the day they were born. Agencies are limited by funding, mandates, institutional cultures and, in some cases, the law.
What this case does teach us is that the system we have built to help our most vulnerable citizens isn’t adequate. More needs to be done to support and help young people in crisis that so that strangers do not have to put kids with nowhere to go in a motel just to get them off the street.
I know the chances are these kids won’t make it, but I certainly hope they do.