Huddling in a doorway at night was the only choice 17-year-old Tina thought she had. Rejected and alone, she lived on downtown streets for a couple of terrifying months.
Tina had been living with her mother in the suburbs. Her mom’s boyfriend would constantly yell and hurl insults at her. But her mother chose her boyfriend over Tina and kicked her out.
“I was scared to live with my dad again, because of his drinking,” Tina recalls. He had always been violent with her and her mother, but she felt she had nowhere else she could turn. She moved in with him and it was not long before he started hitting her again. She fled to the street.
“I was sleeping in front of stores and moving around until the weather started getting colder,” Tina says. Young and naive, she lacked the street smarts to survive and had no idea what to do to get help. As the night time temperature dropped, her sense of desperation grew.
Then Tina heard about Covenant House from another youth and she came to us for help. When she arrived, she was struck by our warm and welcoming atmosphere. “There are good people here and a good environment, so things got better,” she says.
While Tina stayed in our shelter, she attended our onsite school where she earned credits to help her finish high school. Since she had been a strong student when she was younger, returning to school gave her renewed confidence and the chance to feel like a normal kid again.
Kids like Tina, who have never been in the child welfare system in Ontario, but are fleeing troubled homes at 16 or 17 years old, are unable to access help that is available to their peers already in care.
We have found that kids under 18 like Tina need much more support and guidance than older youth. Just as a loving parent would provide emotional and financial support well beyond a child’s 16th birthday, our government should provide for vulnerable youth who have not benefited from a caring family. We will always be there for the homeless kids who come to our doors when there is no one else.
The provincial government is currently reviewing its child protection laws and Covenant House is urging the province to take long-overdue action to prevent more youth aged 16 and 17 from ending up on the street.
We are appealing to the government to extend the age of protection to 18 and find creative ways to help these youth find housing, stay in school and get the guidance they need to move successfully to adulthood. To date, thousands of supporters have joined their voices to ours. We have presented two petitions to the government to support this initiative.