Safe Schools is designed to intervene and prevent students — many of them impoverished — from being targeted and exploited by criminal gangs.
She wept without a sound, just a hand shielding her eyes and a slight heaving of her chest, as she sat in the principal’s office in a North Surrey school — a silent portrait of poverty fatigue and extinguished hope.
Homeless for the last six months with her two children — an 11-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy — the trio are now living temporarily in a Vancouver shelter dreading being told they must leave there too. (Postmedia isn’t identifying the mother to protect the identity of the children.)
Earlier this year they were evicted from their Surrey home and existed for awhile on the good graces and couch and floor of a friend before ending up in a Surrey shelter from which they were evicted after being there two months.
And now the hopelessness of trying to rent a two-bedroom home on her disability assistance income and federal child tax credits had sunk in. It was impossible. Given the price of accommodation, they wouldn’t be able to eat.
She paid $2,500 for rent plus hydro out of a monthly income of $3,000 until being evicted in the spring.
And they would have starved if it hadn’t been for the help of Surrey’s Safe Schools WRAP program and the food vouchers.
Safe Schools is a unique program designed to intervene and prevent students — many of them impoverished — from being targeted and exploited by criminal gangs.
And for those caught up in exploitation, the WRAP program offers a way out.
It’s supported by The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign and needs $25,000 so it can continue offering emergency help to families — such as this — whose extra food money came from an AAS grant.
So today this mother — a refugee from Sudan whose English is limited — says through an interpreter that her children are weary and suffering from the stress of “constantly moving from place to place.”
She needs to find them a place to live and dreads the children could end up in ministry care if she can’t.
The family’s only hope appears to rest on the exertions of WRAP supervisor Jon Ross who — sitting next to her — is on the phone with B.C. Housing trying to get them subsidized accommodation which, if found, would only cost a third of her income.
“It’s been very difficult for this mom, and we are trying our best for her,” said Ross, who drives her children to school from an east Vancouver shelter a couple of times a week to save them 75 minutes on buses and the SkyTrain.
B.C. Housing took all her particulars including a request from Ross that she live close to a SkyTrain station so her children could attend their Whalley area school — their only stable refuge.
“I sure hope B.C. Housing can help, fingers crossed,” said Ross.
From there he drove to a South Surrey warehouse to check on a young man, age 16, who was involved in organized street crime until Safe Schools showed him the way out.
A refugee from Syria who saw his father and uncle killed in front of him, he came to Canada four years ago with his mother, sister and two older brothers.
“I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know how to live. I couldn’t afford anything, my dad is dead, and I met the wrong people,” he said, describing conditions that make recruitment into criminal activity seem almost a formality.
“Jon, he’s the one who got me out of jail,” he explained.
Ross demurs and says his recovery was a team effort: “It wasn’t just me.”
Now the teen is working part time in the warehouse and attending school so he can graduate and take a post-secondary course in carpentry. His ambition is to build houses.
“If I never met Jon, I’d never have any success in my life. I’ve met a lot of counsellors and gone to a lot of programs that have helped me,” said the youth, whose wages are supporting his family.
“I still have to worry about my mom. I pay half the rent. There are so many things to worry about … I’m just 16.”
Ross’s final visit was to a Surrey school to see a young woman that WRAP team member Karen Von Kanel helped support through a tumultuous childhood.
At age 12, the youth was wandering the streets at 2 a.m., her home life a shambles. She was in-and-out of child care until she was old enough to live independently on a government youth-care agreement.
“I don’t know how I survived. I was into drugs and alcohol, probably some thug activities — didn’t go to school, didn’t do homework. But Karen was just a phone call away and she helped me. She’d give me gift cards for food … all of that.”
It wasn’t until Grade 11 that Von Kanel’s persistence paid off and her charge came to school determined to graduate.
Then this September she was hired as a youth care worker by the Surrey school district and is now helping teens as mixed up and needy as she was at their age.
For Von Kanel and Ross such transformation is everything they hope for.
“When the principal contacted me about her — asking for a reference — it was beautiful,” said Ross.
“Like one of the best moments I’d had all summer.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)