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Young people in crisis continue to be neglected in our affluent city

When I walk home on Main Street, the alcoves in the stores at their 6 pm closing fill with sleeping bags nesting young people trying to dodge the rain that will soon be sleet and snow.

 Photo: PexelsPhoto: Pexels

I hate to have to do this. Again. And again. And again.

And I fear I will do it again. And again. And again.

Our city is awash in affluence. It has extraordinary wealth in pockets. The supercar dealers, the designer retail row, the pre-sales of condos at staggering per-square-foot rates, the global capital that feels as if it’s coursing through our drinking water.

Then there is what we do not like to acknowledge. It is not so apparent that we cannot avoid it.

When I walk home on Main Street, the alcoves in the stores at their 6 pm closing fill with sleeping bags nesting young people trying to dodge the rain that will soon be sleet and snow.

This is an expansion of what has been decades of night-to-night squirrelling of enervated, deprived, harassed and demonized sons and daughters in our midst who have escaped violence, abuse and trauma and may be harbouring physical and mental illness or addiction.

How we got here is important, but less so than what we do today and tomorrow about it.

I grew up in poverty, but nothing like what I have seen in some of our city’s streets.

I know hunger, but nothing like the foraging in bins I have seen or the premature aging of youth or the enfeebled energy that comes with substandard nutrition.

I know trauma, but not the violence or the abuse or the slippery path into addiction that I see is all too accessible to those who just cannot fight much longer.

And I mourn for us as we conduct our lives, with our own challenges but inured to those less fortunate.

It is not just that I want to help with purpose and meaning; it is that I feel there is no choice for anyone with my advantage.

But where do I turn?

I believe in several agencies in our community, because I know their leaders and trust they act with integrity. One such place is Covenant House, and I want through this column to ask you to help.

Here is what you would help:

Of the 400-plus who went into the Covenant House Residential Crisis Program, 70% have witnessed family violence, 50% struggle with substance abuse, 40% deal with mental illness and 33% have been sexually exploited.

Of those who aged out of foster care at 19, half are left to their own devices with no means of support – in other words, taken out of trauma and returned to it.

I am livid in my heart about this, and I am surprised more aren’t. With our capacity to build great structures, finance large projects and make our community a world-welcoming icon, we are frank failures at the important edges of a compassionate community.

Too many of us hide in our homes. Too few of us take comparable chump change and change a life.

I am going to sleep outside November 15 with about 50 others to raise what we hope will top $1 million to effect some change. The crisis program of Covenant House takes young people in, tucks them away to just get their metabolism in check, feeds them healthily, starts a conversation to counsel them out of their most sinister impediments and turns them toward school or jobs or a home.

It is an astonishingly smart program that meets someone wherever she or he is in our city – on the street, in some peril or just as a walk-up to the building – and provides a continuum of care. The results are eye-popping – lives are changed and outlooks are overturned.

I have used this column space annually to pitch for help, and I am doing so again. My personal support page for donations is here. If you can’t connect with it, find me at, and I’ll get the funds to the facility and a charitable tax receipt back to you.

If you have read this far, you may remain unconvinced. I may not have done my job in conveying the mixture of heartbreaking need and heart-healing help. If so, forgive me for failing, but do not use that as your excuse not to assist. Just because I can’t sufficiently say what kind of impact Covenant House has made, doesn’t mean you can’t help.