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Life of CAS graduate

January 6, 2005 permalink

The article below by Carline Grech appears in the yorkregion newspaper the Era-Banner. It shows the life of a recent graduate of Children's Aid. The author holds no grudge against Children's Aid, though may be a bit naive about how kids get into foster care. It is not an uplifting story. Foster care often does not produce successful outcomes. A former crown-ward in Orangeville at age 24 was attending night school, to learn how to read.



Transient talks of drug use, anger

Homelessness is like 'walking through darkness'

Jan 6, 2005, Caroline Grech, Staff Writer

The following is an in-depth interview with a Newmarket native who is homeless, in an effort to paint a picture and put a face on who is using local shelters, how they got there and where they are going.

Twenty-two-year-old Chris Robb fidgets with a necklace a former boss gave him, clearly unable to focus for very long on anything.

Etched on it is a message reading, "Leave no man behind."

He rubs the necklace between his fingers gently, seeking comfort in it.

There is a coldness and emptiness in his blue eyes that betrays an otherwise typical man in his 20s.

With blond hair and his face seemingly devoid of emotion, dressed in jeans and a winter jacket, people sitting in a coffee shop wouldn't be able to tell Mr. Robb has no permanent home to go to at night.

Life has not been kind to Mr. Robb.

He is homeless and has been in and out of shelters and group homes since his mother first sent him to one in Cookstown at 13.

"Being homeless, you walk through darkness and then you're starving for life. It's walking in darkness and always being hungry," Mr. Robb said during an interview at a coffee shop.

He didn't know his father and when his mother couldn't handle him anymore, he had nowhere to go.

After thinking for a moment, the Newmarket native singled out numerous visits to his mother's home by the Children's Aid Society as one reason for being sent to a group home.

Fighting with his sister was one of the reasons he ended up at a group home, he said.

While Mr. Robb admitted to being verbally abusive, taking drugs and not being the easiest person with whom to get along, his first experience at a group home wasn't all negative. He was even let out a day early for good behaviour, he said.

Although his first experience wasn't all bad, it was not a permanent turning point in Mr. Robb's life.

After his time at the group home, he went back to live at his mother's house but that was short-lived because he was still doing drugs and his mother didn't want him there.

Getting kicked out a second time landed him in another group home in Aurora.

He stayed there just under a year, before he got kicked out.

"I was swearing at staff and breaking stuff. I was an angry child," adding his childhood was extremely unpleasant, a fact with which he has only come to grips as recently as two months ago.

Becoming a Crown ward with the society gave him the ability to move out on his own and rent a room.

The society provided him with $663 a month so long as he went to school full time. At the same time, he worked part time at White Rose as a general labourer.

A slip back into smoking pot and drinking again, he found himself in bigger trouble when he was searching for a better high and turned to cocaine.

"It's always curiosity: you just want to try it. You're always looking for a better high. I put myself there again," Mr. Robb said.

Getting involved in drugs again started to lead to reckless behaviour where he took his landlord's vehicle to buy a lighter but crashed the car, causing thousands of dollars damage.

Despite empathy on the part of his landlord, the organization didn't want him to stay on.

That incident landed him at his best friend's house for about a year where he stayed until, once again, he found himself without a place to live.

The final straw for his best friend's mother was when he got caught doing drugs in the kitchen in front of his buddy's 13-year-old sister.

"I was smoking hot knives in the kitchen. I was just doing drugs everywhere and didn't care who saw me," Mr. Robb said.

He pauses telling his story as someone comes to clear away his coffee mug.

"Thank you," he said quietly, again starting to tell his story.

For the past two years, Mr. Robb has been in and out of shelters.

He has taken odd jobs here and there, but has never been able to hang on to them; his last one being a construction job he left in October.

Clare Leyenaar, Mr. Robb's former employer, who gave him the necklace he still carries, said working with him could be difficult.

"It was a challenge to work with him. He's a really nice guy, he's just got a lot of demons from his past," Mr. Leyenaar said.

Right now he isn't working and is living on $26 a week, which he admits he spends mostly on cigarettes.

"It's simple I just have to decide what I want to do and then go out and get a job," Mr. Robb said.

"I have had opportunities and I've messed them up. I just have to start caring about life again."

Despite his predicament, Mr. Robb is not one to expect sympathy from others.

"How can somebody who can make a choice complain?" he admitted matter-of-factly.

Although he is not happy living in shelters, he explained he doesn't know where he would end up without them.

Despite being in a bad place at the moment, Mr. Robb does foresee a day when he won't be in and out of shelters.

"I see myself in the future as someone who will look back and get over my stuff," he said.

The rough times haven't made Mr. Robb want to embrace life.

"I am resentful to life, period. I don't like life, I have a hard time being around people," Mr. Robb explained.

To help him get back his appreciation for life, Mr. Robb has turned to the church, sometimes going four Sundays in a row.

The church has helped him in some ways, allowing him to forgive his mother despite his difficulties growing up.

For now, there doesn't seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel for Mr. Robb, who said if things don't turn around for him when his time is up at the Gorham Street shelter, he will likely end up at another one.

As for his outlook on his situation, there is a bitterness and sadness there.

"I had something great (life) that was taken away from me," he said.

Since his interview with The Era-Banner and despite a call to him Monday, Mr. Robb has since disappeared and, according to staff, no longer lives at the Gorham Street shelter.

Staff will not comment on if he was asked to leave or if he left on his own accord.

While refusing to comment on Mr. Robb specifically, a resident will be asked to leave a shelter only in extreme situations, according to executive direct of Transitional and Supportive Housing of York Region, Monica Auerbach.

Behaviour would have to be seen as causing a risk to others through violence or threats or having a blatant disregard for rules when previous warnings have already been given.

"We give people a lot of benefits of doubt," Ms Auerbach says.

As for residents suddenly leaving the shelter, Ms Auerbach explains it is fairly common, noting shelters are only temporary emergency residence.