Youth on Kingston’s streets

University District

One young person’s experience with homelessness

Jason Beaubiah, director of the Kingston Youth Shelter, said his shelter receives volunteer support from Queen’s and St. Lawrence College, and some financial support from an AMS opt-outable fee.
Jason Beaubiah, director of the Kingston Youth Shelter, said his shelter receives volunteer support from Queen’s and St. Lawrence College, and some financial support from an AMS opt-outable fee.
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Last summer, John White was living on Kingston’s streets struggling with cocaine and ecstasy addictions.

The 18-year-old didn’t know about the city’s youth shelter until a friend suggested that he look into it. Now, White is going to school while looking for a summer job and a place of his own to live. He said having already lived on the street takes away the stress of wondering if he will be able to maintain an apartment and a job.

“I don’t really look at being homeless as a bummer for the simple fact that it sucked and I survived so I know if it gets good then goes bad again, I know it had been worse,” he said.

* * *

One morning, when White was 13, Hastings Children’s Aid knocked at the door of his Belleville home; he woke up and they took him away.

The incident marked the beginning of five years of White being shunted from place to place, in and out of detention centres before ending up at the shelter. “There were family issues, and they all split up and asked me to leave,” he said, adding that he was abused when he was 11 years old. First, he spent a year and a half in a group home before being sent to a halfway house. After nine months in the halfway house, he was sent to Brookside Detention Centre on a theft charge.

Around that time, White said he had been in Children’s Aid’s care for just less than the required
amount of time before the society would have to support him until he was 21.

Then, he said, his case worker told him to sign a form saying that it was in his best interests to leave
the system. “Next thing I knew, I was kicked out,” he said. “I’ve been on my own since 16 or 17.”
The Children’s Aid Society Belleville did not return the Journal’s phone calls. After White left the detention centre, a friend convinced him that he could start fresh by leaving town.

“When I finally got released, I was a little too happy I think.” He decided to move to Kingston but left without telling his probation officer. After spending time on the streets in Kingston, police arrested and charged him for breach of probation and theft, and sent him to the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee where he stayed for about three months.

He was released on Dec. 22 and has since been spending his days at school and his nights at the Kingston Youth Shelter.

“It’s a pretty good place. They treat you well.” He said the counsellors at the shelter have provided him with a lot of support. The shelter opened in 1999 after a successful six-month pilot program run on a grant from the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph, who own Hotel Dieu Hospital.

It’s one of six homeless shelters in Kingston, and holds from 10 to 15 people aged 16 to 24 every night. Jason Beaubiah has been the shelter’s director for almost a year. He said the shelter is an
appealing place for youth because its services are directed specifically towards a younger demographic
than the services of most shelters in Kingston.

“The people who were coming in [during the pilot] were saying it provided them with services that
other shelters didn’t,” he said. Beaubiah started working at the shelter four years ago as the volunteer
co-ordinator while he attended St. Lawrence College’s child and youth counselling program.

The shelter employs six counsellors to help residents with everything from minor mental illnesses to learning to cook nutritious meals and doing laundry.

It’s registered as a charitable organization and is run primarily on donations. As well, it receives a per diem grant for every person who stays there each night.

Beaubiah said the grants make up approximately 60 per cent of the annual budget. “We can operate comfortably for about $200,000 per year, which is pretty cheap compared to what other shelters are able to do.” The AMS has an opt-out fee that supports the shelter, and Beaubiah said they receive a lot of volunteer support from both Queen’s and St. Lawrence College. The space is also donated to the organization rent-free by Hotel Dieu. Beaubiah said many of the people who come through the door on a daily basis have been through the group care and foster care system.

“Because they were brought up without parents, alone or in lacklustre foster care, they just don’t have the skills to live on their own.” He also said it’s not uncommon for a parent with a new partner to choose the partner and ask the child to leave. First-time residents are often standoffish, he said, but warm up surprisingly quickly.

“Usually after a few days they realize we’re only here to support them,” Beaubiah said.

White said support is the reason he feels comfortable at the shelter.“I know there are others out there but it’s tough for me to feel safe. I don’t want to go anywhere else,” he said. “The people here know
what I’ve been through and they can help.” He said he hated having to tell and re-tell his story every time he went somewhere new, and he’s working hard to make sure he can stay at the shelter.

“I’ve had friends get kicked out for things like drinking or bringing drug paraphernalia into the shelter,”
he said.

As part of his probation, he will be starting a drug rehabilitation program in March. He said he had problems with ecstasy and cocaine during the summer, but now he only uses alcohol.

* * *

White said going back to school was something he wanted to do after getting out of the detention centre but he didn’t know how to go about it until a friend told him about StreetSmarts, a program run by Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute. “I didn’t know there was a school here,” he said. “It’s not something I would have done by myself.”

White has been going to StreetSmarts since September and has recently received credit for English at the Grade 9, 10 and 11 levels. He dropped out of school in Grade 10 and, upon enrolling in StreetSmarts and finishing Grade 11 English last semester, he automatically received credit for
Grades 9 and 10. His average last semester was 82 per cent. White is currently taking history and plans to graduate after first semester next year then go to college.

He said he believes every kid needs someone to talk to who has experienced what they are going through. “I kind of want to, myself, be a child counsellor,” he said. “Being someone on the phone helping kids, because it sucks, and I know what it’s like.”

Trina Voteary is a StreetSmarts teacher. She said students complete all the same requirements for
earning their diploma, including 40 hours of community service, but they do it in a less structured and,
according to Voteary, a less stressful environment.

“They can find success basically every day when they’re here,” she said.

Like the youth shelter, Hotel Dieu covers the rent costs for the school’s Montreal Street building. The school also has a food program called Food Sharing that provides food for schools across the school board. “It means students can eat whenever they want when they’re here,” Voteary said. One day a week, students and teachers come together to cook a big meal. She said at Christmas they made a full
Christmas dinner. She said programs like StreetSmarts are important because they recognize that a significant portion of the population doesn’t fit into the mainstream education system.

“They’re dealing with things outside the thought of most of us.” It’s also important to teach them not just academic skills, but concrete life skills they don’t get from parental figures, she said.

“I think what happens isthat in being homeless, they get so used to living like that, it becomes very difficult to change that pattern.”

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