One chilly evening in October Myra was driving down the road and saw Jack and his girlfriend sitting on the corner. She recognized Jack from when he’d come in to Outreach a couple of times and stopped to say hello. Immediately she realized something was wrong. They literally had their head in their hands, their shoulders were slumped. All of their body language screamed “help me.” As Myra got closer she realized Jack had been crying. When you know somebody who is usually dancing and jumping around Outreach, and see them in a state like this it really weighs heavy on your heart. Turns out they had no place to go that night and didn’t know what they were going to do. Here’s a young guy who has hit rock bottom before he’d even turned 20. Myra gave them the number for Today House with detailed instructions for what to do and told them to come to Outreach the next morning. They never did make it in to Today House that night, but they did come in to Outreach the next morning. The team got busy figuring out a plan that would work for them.
Jack had no money, no bank account, no ID, nothing. He had lived off of whatever he could find in that moment. All those things that parents and teachers do to help our kids with throughout their teenage years, so they can become self sufficient adults, had not been done with Jack. At the point Jack came in to Outreach at 19 years old he had been a homeless youth for about 5 years.
Not having ID or any source of income is pretty common when you are homeless. Especially if you are a homeless youth. Here’s how it works…
You can’t rent an apartment unless you have a source of income. You can’t get on to EIA (welfare) unless you have a bank account. You can’t get a bank account unless you have ID. You can’t get ID unless you have an address. It’s a vicious cycle. Most youth use their parent’s address when they get their first pieces of ID, but Jack’s dad was homeless as well at this point and his mom was out of the province. He had no friends that had stable addresses or that he would trust with his ID when it would be mailed to them. It’s a pretty labour intensive process trying to prove that someone is a real person so that they can get ID. It can take a month or more. Only then we can start the process of getting them a bank account and on to EIA and into an apartment. Eventually we were able to find him a place with roommates that he could afford.
So as Irene was working through this process with Jack many more things came to light. Irene used to be a resource teacher and red flags kept popping up that made her resource teacher brain kick in. She did some digging and using the connections she had at HSD, she tracked down Jack’s assessments from elementary school. Sure enough early on Jack had had evaluations done and was diagnosed with low IQ and other disorders. All of this combined meant Jack couldn’t recognize when he had a problem, much less identify who he needed to reach out to get help solving his problems. He can’t read or write or plan ahead. He simply lives in the moment. When he’s hungry he eats whatever food happens to be around. When he’s tired he sleeps on whatever couch he happens to be sitting on. Had he gone to high school he would’ve been involved with resource who would have come up with a plan for life after graduation, and would have connected him with adult services (CLDS), but because he’d dropped out before he got to high school that never did happen for him. About a year ago Irene began the process of trying to connect him with CLDS (Community Living Disability Services).
Things were going well for Jack for about a year. He was settled and had a routine. Then covid hit. Jack and his roommates used to go out to party, but they couldn’t do that anymore. Nothing was open. Hanging out anywhere, outside or in was not allowed anymore. So they partied at home which led to their eviction. Stressed out because he was back to couch surfing Jack began cutting himself. Myra and Jack have made many trips to the hospital, talked to mental health workers and called CSU many times but they keep sending him back out the doors. They don’t have room or resources for him either. They are too overworked.
A recently retired resource teacher began volunteering with us a couple of months ago and it became her job to leverage her connections with CLDS and phone them every week to push his application forward. A year after the initial application went in and after several weeks of persistent calls and emails we finally got a response. Applications had to be resent and resent again. Delays caused by covid didn’t help much either. The verdict came back that they wanted to help but he would not qualify because his evaluations were too old. He had to have new ones which you couldn’t get unless you have a social worker, and he does not. As an adult he could pay $3000 to get them done at one place, or wait for years to get them free at the other place. When you are homeless you don’t have $3000 or years to wait. However, after a lot of back and forth we did manage to get a number for the person in charge of the assessments at the free place, to see what exceptions could be made because of the urgency of his situation. Obviously everyone wants to help so negotiations are taking place and things are looking hopeful. In the meantime Jack has applied to a rehab program and a local church is willing to sponsor half the cost. We are just waiting to hear back to see if he is accepted.
Jack’s story really illustrates how easy it is for people to fall between the gaps in the system. He doesn’t quite meet this criteria, or quite fit the profile for that program, and the third place wants to help but he doesn’t quite meet their requirements either. It has taken a team of people and several volunteers leveraging their connections and doing quite a bit of arm twisting, just to get this far. If it wasn’t for them Jack’s story would surely end in suicide.