Adopt-A-School: Surrey Safe Schools team helps vulnerable children and families
Safe Schools is a unique organization comprised of school district staff and RCMP officers whose assignment is to protect and help the most vulnerable children in the district.
Terry is a large man, well spoken, intelligent, and whose main concern — like all good fathers — is to house, feed, clothe and protect his five children.
But he is amongst the poorest of the poor, and left to his own devices those tasks would be beyond him.
Simple arithmetic shows why.
Terry is disabled as the result of a stroke and other physical injuries and receives $1,800 a month in social assistance — the maximum benefit for six people — and his rent is $1,650.
And so he sits in a small meeting room in the Surrey School District headquarters trying to make sense of how he and his children can survive.
“We were doing quite well, could pay the rent, had material things, had vehicles and nice clothing for the kids and furniture and stuff. But then I had a stroke, and since then I’ve not been able to keep up,” said Terry.
“It has slowly got to the point that we’ve been faced with homelessness — even last month, as a matter of fact — because (poor) families are struggling with the choice of paying rent or the bills or food or clothing.”
He attributes the fact that the family is still intact and not yet homeless to the help they receive from the Surrey Safe Schools team.
“This organization has helped us in ways that were unimaginable. They’ve lined us up with other agencies that have helped us with rent supplements, safe houses for my children in time of need, when (they were a victim of a criminal act) I couldn’t provide a safe place for them, and many other services.”
Safe Schools is a unique organization comprised of school district staff and RCMP officers whose assignment is to protect and help the most vulnerable children in the district, many of whom have been in trouble with the law.
(It is for legal reasons involving his family that Terry’s surname is being withheld.)
“If it wasn’t for agencies like this — I’d really like to call them friends — me and my kids would be living in Tent City. It kinda shakes me up a bit, but with their help we are still there and making it.”
This is how making it looks.
Terry is wearing a threadbare pair of runners and a sweater he bought five years ago that he says is his winter coat. It’s ripped and tattered and full of holes and offers no protection against rain or snow.
His children never have new clothes. “We’d go to the Salvation Army or thrift stores because that’s all we could afford, but we can’t even go to those places now because their prices are going up beyond our reach.”
“You see kids going around in new clothes especially during the holiday season and my poor kids are going around with holes in their shoes and in their pants and stuff.”
“We can’t celebrate holidays because we don’t have the money. It breaks my heart as a father not to be able to give my kids gifts at Christmas or for their birthdays.
“I’m not trying to be an ass—- to them, but there’s no way I can do it. For birthdays, our usual thing is to take money from the Hydro bill and buy hotdogs and chips and cake. But it’s not a real birthday party. It’s just an appearance, an illusion. And when there’s no gifts, it’s not very real, it’s like, ‘Let’s just pretend it’s your birthday.’”
And during times when there’s been no money for food?
“My children have gone out and stole because they are hungry, and this is not a choice a child should have to make. As their father, I should be the one doing that. But I have told them, ‘Don’t do that. We’ll figure it out. We’ll sell something.’
“But it’s gotten to the point where we’ve sold everything we possibly could.”
Two years ago, the Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign began raising money to provide Safe Schools with emergency funds so that school staff could help families with food, clothing and other necessities as the team has no budget for such items.
Some of that money has been used to help Terry’s family.
It has provided emergency food supplies — including a turkey this year at Thanksgiving — as well as clothes and Christmas gifts, said team member Jon Ross.
“A lot of our kids go off the rails at Christmas,” he said.
Poverty excludes them from celebrations — there is no Christmas cheer, no new clothes, no presents, and the schools where they get fed are closed.
“It’s very stressful for them. It causes a lot of grief,” he said.
Last Christmas, Adopt-A-School money was used to buy clothing, food and gifts for over 50 families.
“It’s a way to let them know, ‘Hey, you guys are worth the same as everyone else, including the ability to stay dry and warm and not have to go to school feeling you are lesser than the person beside you,’” said Ross.
“Self worth is a fine line, and if you don’t feel you have it, there’s a vulnerability there. And a predator is going to tell you there’s great money to be had in the world of crime,” said Ross.
For some youth, that could mean joining gangs, selling drugs, or being sexually exploited.
This year, Safe Schools needs $10,000 from Adopt-A-School for emergency funds.
“We wouldn’t be able to have any dignity if it wasn’t for these people here,” said Terry. “They have stepped up for us. So have all those people who donate to Adopt-A-School and the food banks and community centres.”
“I guess we’re a perfect example of why it’s important.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)