“If he really wanted off the streets, he would be off the streets” is a phrase I hear all the time. Well, let me tell you about my day with Jamie:
Jamie is 16 and has been living on and off the streets for a few years now. He came into my office this morning looking worn out and exhausted. “I’m back on the streets and I can’t take it anymore”, he told me. He wanted to get into a shelter so I offered to help. He’s 16, I thought, this will be easy. After all, the City Of Ottawa has a mandate that states “No one who needs emergency shelter will be turned away.”
Jamie entered my office at 11am. We started by calling with City of Ottawa and had to work our way through their overly complicated and totally infuriating automated system to finally talk with a human being. After being placed on-hold for what seemed like an eternity, we were told we needed to come to the office in person. Why? They would not say. However, we complied and walked down to the office where we ended up waiting for over an hour and a half to finally be seen by a worker.
When we finally met with Lucy, a very kind and compassionate crisis worker, I was convinced that she would be able to find Jamie a place no problem. However, it took her over an hour to finally find him a bed — correction — a COUCH to sleep on at one of the shelters. Not only that, but Jamie had to provide letters from two separate resources confirming that he is registered for school, is applying for Ontario Works, and is no longer welcome in his parents’ home. Both Lucy and I were completely confused by this request for letters, as this is not normally a requirement when seeking emergency shelter. However, we complied.
When Jamie and I finally entered the shelter where he would be staying, it was 3:30pm. It took over FOUR HOURS to secure him a COUCH to sleep on for the night.
This lengthy process was full of barriers that would cause any one of us to get frustrated and want to walk away. Jamie was made to feel like a pest who had to prove that he deserved emergency shelter. How can we expect homeless youth to reach out to resources that make them feel this way?