From the CSM Urban Update blog, the experiences of a student volunteer in Toronto. –
“I wanted to share who I had my divine appointment with – While we were at one of the ministry sites in Toronto that work with participants who are mentally challenged. I got the chance to spend some time with a girl named “R”. I met her on the first afternoon we were there. I looked down and realized she had prominent scars all over her arms…” –
It’s particularily moving to me because of the young woman she met, identified as “R” only to protect her identity. I’ve known “R” for years – first met her at an Out of the Cold program for street youth. She has been street involved and homeless since she was thirteen. She has endured a youth no one should have to face, and she bears scars in deeper places than just her arms.
I met a psychiatrist who worked in Chicago’s inner city with troubled youth. He told me the significance of scars due self-inflicted cuts: It is the major indicator of victims of child sexual abuse. From Wikipedia, self-injury or self harm is described – The illness is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a symptom of borderline personality disorder and depressive disorders. It is sometimes associated with mental illness, a history of trauma and abuse including emotional abuse, sexual abuse … A study in 2003 found an extremely high prevalance of self-injury among 428 homeless and runaway youth (age 16 to 19) with 72% of males and 66% of females reporting a past history of self-mutilation. [Tyler, Kimberly A., Les B. Whitbeck, Dan R. Hoyt, and Kurt D. Johnson (2003), “Self Mutilation and Homeless Youth: The Role of Family Abuse, Street Experiences, and Mental Disorders”, Journal of Research on Adolescence 13 (4): 457–474
I include this technical background because although “R” is now a young woman, she has been on the street since she was a child in more than one Canadian city. Many more people than our organization have become familiar with her. This would of include coming to the “official” attention of the authorities. Why has everyone been so inneffective in helping her, how has she remained homeless for so long? As a teen, “R” was labelled by society as a “runaway” with all of the negative connotations that carries. In effect, most people would write her off as the author of her own condition. Far from it. “R” is a victim. She deserves better. I met her once on a street corner in Toronto, Spadina and Queen, where she was panhandling. She was in particularily bad shape that day, very high from her drug of choice at the time, which caused her to slur her words and made her body twitch uncontrollably. When I arrived, she dragged herself up from the foot of the lightpole she was leaning against and, arms wide, asked for the only thing she has ever requested of me – a hug. Not the little, hihowareyou hugs we deliver in polite company, but a great big, bone crushing, head burying HUG.! It always cheers her up. Standing to one side were two semi-official looking people with those City of Tornto ID cards hanging around their necks. One had flashes from a private security company on his shoulders. He was “protection” for the city worker carrying a clipboard. Part of a new task force set-up by Toronto’s Streets to Homes programs to reduce panhandling. They were trying to interview “R” by asking a very long list of canned questions. They seemed oblivious to her state – as if she could be coherent while jonesin for a fix. After our hug, she turned to them and said, “I can’t talk to you now, Andy’s here. He saved my life”. After we talked for a while and I encouraged her to head for a woman’s shelter down the street, I left and went into a store at the corner to buy her bottled water. Her lips were cracked and bleeding she was so dehydrated. As I brought it back to her, the city social worker was back at it again, making little check marks on her clipboard survey. How those little pen strokes were supposed to bring healing to “R”, I’ll never know. She certainly deserves better.
Thanks to all the volunteers who come and meet people like “R” on their home turf. You bring with you a very precious commodity: love!
CSM brings hundreds of volunteers out to Project417 to take part in sandwich runs to the homeless on the streets of Toronto every year. Visit them at csm.org or donate to “R” at project417.com
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