When Darren was only 13 years old, his mom threw him out. His mother suspected one of his friends when some of her jewellery went missing, so she flew into a rage and told her young son to leave her home immediately. With nowhere to go in his small Prairie town, he imagined the big city of Toronto was the place to be and hitchhiked across the country.
When Darren arrived here, he had to quickly learn how to survive. He would eat what he could scavenge from dumpsters and make a long trek to collect day-old bakery rejects he knew he could rely on. But he was often fiercely hungry.
“Being on the street was rough most of the time,” Darren recalls. “We were hungry half the week.”
Darren walked on cowboy boots worn until the nails in the soles stuck out and his feet were bloodied. He slept on grates, in parks, on the subway and in open office buildings until he was asked to leave. Eventually, he found an abandoned hotel with dozens of other homeless youth. Despite the cockroaches and frequent argument over the best beds, the hotel was the most comfortable sleep he could get. Many of the youth there became his friends who would protect and care for him and each other.
It was the early 1980s. In many ways, the life of a homeless youth is similar today, but Darren believes it is even harder now. He thinks that the violence has escalated, the drugs are even more dangerous and there seems to be less camaraderie among the youth.
As a young teen, Darren saw more pain and violence than anyone should see. He was attacked by men who robbed him. He witnessed two boys killed in fights. He held a girl dying of an overdose in his arms. He also had his own struggles with drugs from a very young age.
One day, a youth told Darren about an outreach van from a new shelter for youth right downtown. Covenant House had recently opened and had a van with workers to connect with youth on the street. It had been over four years of surviving on the cruel street.
Darren was a child who raised himself without stability, food, shelter or caring adults. He knew it was time for a change, so he sought our help.
At first, Darren stayed in our shelter. Not long afterwards, we connected him with an employment program in the community.
Today, we continue to create bridges between youth and the programs and resources in the community. Homeless youth often do not know the opportunities available to them, but our workers are well-connected. They inform youth about the extensive programs within Covenant House and also create collaborative partnerships with other organizations to connect our youth.
“I am grateful that Covenant House connected me with the employment program. That is what set me on my path,” Darren says.
Darren began to thrive. He was able to use the resourcefulness he developed on the street. The first job led to a government job in Ottawa, and he left us to embark on a new life of independence.
Over three decades later, Darren decided to look us up and share his story with us. The brightest lights in his life today are his two daughters, now both in university.
“One daughter wants to be a pediatric neurosurgeon and the other wants to be a forensic anthropologist,” Darren says proudly. “I won’t ever let them get into any of the trouble I got into.”
This year, we marked our 35th anniversary. Since 1982, we have served more than 90,000 young people and helped them move to a life with a future.
*The top image is a stock photo representing Darren at a younger age. Here is Darren today.