'I want to be independent': 16-year-old foster child living in Victoria's tent city

A 16-year-old foster child in Victoria, B.C. who has bounced around group homes since she was 13, is supposed to be under provincial care until she is 18, but instead, CTV News has found her living in a commune of tents on the lawn of the Victoria courthouse.

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The teen, who CTV News won’t identify because of her age, has been living since October in a large tent city that was the scene of a stabbing and a fatal overdose just last month.

The girl is supposed to be under government care but says she wants nothing more to do with group homes.

“I’m in the care of the MCFD (Ministry of Children and Family Development), but they didn’t do a very good job of taking care of me, so I decided to take care of myself,” she said.

The girl says her birth mother was a drug addict so she was placed in ministry care and then adopted at four years old. But she claims her adoptive parents kicked her out when she was 13.

“Things don’t work out and they’re like, ‘No, we don’t want to deal with her anymore so let’s just throw her back,’” she said. “It’s kind of like a return gift almost. It’s kind of hard to deal with.”

Since then, the girl says she has been shuffled from foster homes to group homes. Her social worker knows she lives at the tent city, the girl says, but she refuses to go back into care.

“I’d rather be here in tent city than in any care homes,” she said.

“… I don’t want to be reminded daily that I’m owned, and I don’t want that monitored living. I want to be independent,” she said.

The girl now lives in the camp at the Victoria Courthouse that residents have dubbed “Super InTent City.”

She also said she recently received her certification for Narcan treatment, a chemical used to reverse drug overdoses before they turn fatal.

“It’s a very close-knit community and everybody’s really caring,” she said. “It’s nice to be part of something that’s bigger than I am.”

The camp exists in a legal loophole. While municipal parks in Victoria have a rule that campers must pack up and move along by 7 a.m. each morning, the courthouse land is owned by the province, which has no such bylaw.

Since last fall, its population has exploded to about 100 campers.

B.C.’s children’s watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said she’s disgusted by the number of kids under government care who are living in homeless camps or in hotels. She says the system has failed kids like this teen.

“I really worry about how well they’re being supported because a lot of things are happening there that present potential harms,” she said.

“…Any of us who have raised teenagers know a 16-year-old can have needs as significant as a two-year-old.”

The province’s Ministry of Children and Family Development wouldn’t comment specifically on the girl, but said in cases such as this, social workers would collaborate with local law enforcement to encourage the youth to leave the camp and return to a safe environment.

“Efforts to return children and youth to safe environments often require continued attempts and engagement on the part of social workers,” the statement said.

The teen says outreach workers visit her every day but she has no desire to return to her group home and just wants to be left alone.

“It’s not fun having [outreach workers] show up every day at my door,” she said. “It reminds you that you’re owned by a government corporation, and other people at the camp don’t understand it.”

In a report she released Wednesday, Turpel-Lafond said the housing of foster youth in hotels is more widespread than many might believe. Between November 2014 and October 2015, 117 foster children were placed in hotels in B.C., the report said.

The issue gained media attention after it was revealed that Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old in government care, was found dead outside of an Abbotsford hotel he was checked into. It is believed he committed suicide.

“I think British Columbians need to open their eyes and realize that there are kids living on the fringes, feeling rejected and spit out,” Turpel-Lafond said.

With a report from CTV Vancouver Island’s Robert Buffam



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