“I became homeless in the summer of 2019. But in my heart I knew I’d never had a home, I never had stability.” — 16-year-old homeless girl
The Christmas Eve story is about homelessness and so is this: the story of a homeless teenager searching for a safe place for the night.
Violence, abuse, depression and contemplation of suicide should never be part of any child’s life. But for this 16-year-old who has been homeless in Surrey since she was 14 that has been a lived experience.
She won’t be named and much of what has happened to her she glosses over.
But this is what she is willing to share publicly — a mere fragment of suffering and loneliness — but a testament to her courage and hope for a better future.
Her account begins with the incident two years ago that brought her to the attention of Surrey school district’s Safe Schools team, whose WRAParound Program is designed to help the most at-risk students in the city — none at more risk of criminal exploitation than a 14-year-old girl with no money, no resources and no proper home.
This is how she describes what happened:
“I got jumped by three girls behind the library. It was pretty brutal and my school assigned me a support worker and she introduced me to Jon (Jonathan Ross of the Safe Schools team) so Jon could help me get the police to take me to and from school to make sure I was safe because these girls were following me.
“I’d just moved into my cousin’s house and was taking care of four kids. I began to live there because my mother was a drug addict and she was always coming into my life. My father passed away before I was born.
“(Before this) I was living with my grandparents — I called them mom and dad for a long time because I didn’t have anyone. Then my grandmother passed away when I was 11.
“It was hard on me and I took on the female role in my house.
“My mother was very abusive physically and emotionally throughout my life. I used to fight her all the time and I couldn’t. A lot of the time I’d lose because she was a grown adult and obviously I couldn’t defend myself.
“But when I got older, I started to defend myself more. The police found out and they pulled me out of the (cousin’s) house and I was placed in a backroom of the police station by myself for five hours, crying, while I told them everything my mom’s done to me.
“The police placed me in a friend’s house for a little bit and gave me the phone number of the ministry (of Children and Family Development) and they sent me to a safe house.
“But I got into an argument there and I left and I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I was staying at friends’ houses.
“I became homeless in the summer of 2019. But in my heart I knew I’d never had a home, I never had stability — even with my grandparents. I loved them a lot but they weren’t parents, they didn’t raise me and there were a lot of drug addicts in my house, a lot of abuse and trauma.
“It was not a healthy situation for a kid to grow up in.
“It never really felt like I had a home or much of a family.
“All I had was me, myself and I.
“(While staying with friends) I didn’t shower a lot and the only things I had were my clothes and my books and I’d bring everything I had to school with me every single day.
“I’d carry my entire life in a bag.
“I’d go to school early and they would provide me with snacks and food. That was the only food I had because I was staying at different friends’ houses and I didn’t have any money and I didn’t want to be living off them. So I just wouldn’t eat.”
At this point she describes how the WRAP team helps her.
“I reach out to them when I’m at my lowest. I’ve been suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts since I was 11 and as a teenager it’s very difficult for me to meet good people and to trust people.
“I am very responsible but I’m 16 and I know how to do things but I can’t do everything by myself and Jon comes and helps me a lot. I can’t thank the school district enough.”
The WRAP team has given her money for food and clothes and other necessities.
This money was provided by The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign as the team has no official source of funding that can be used to pay for emergency food, clothing or the other needs of children such as this.
And some emergencies require an inventive solution.
“Because of my mom I became very violent in school to other people and my friends. I’d have anger issues and I’d like to throw that all on other people. I was self-destructive and this one day I just couldn’t handle it. My emotions were spilling all over the place and I hit the wall, I was so mad.
“I told Jon I needed to do something physical to help me turn off my anger.”
Jonathan Ross of the Safe Schools team takes up the tale.
“She’s very insightful. She found a girl’s only gym that has boxing where she can throw some punches in a safe way. With AAS we were able to buy her the gym shoes she needs and a membership.”
The team has been working with the province to secure a youth agreement which would provide the girl with the means to pay rent and look after herself.
Tonight she is staying in a friend’s house and the plan is for her and the friend to move into the basement suite below in January.
“It’s taken me 16 years to find a home, or the beginning of a home.”
She has a message for teenagers suffering from depression.
“I just want to say, yes, I’m Aboriginal, and with my history … but anyone can have it bad. I’ve met all sorts of teenagers and we connect with each other and I want them to know that fighting to stay alive is important, going to school is important.
“When my grandmother was sick I never went to school for a large part of my life because I was in the hospital with her until she died.
“But now I go every day and am pulling my grades up to a B and A and doing that with having no real experience of school. I want kids like me to know you can do it even if you struggle with depression and anxiety.
“I used to have suicidal thoughts every day but I want to tell kids — you can get through it.”
The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund which administers AAS is being asked by over 100 schools across the province for more than $1 million to help feed and clothe impoverished children.
Surrey, the largest school district in the province, is seeking substantial help.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)