Teen girl under ministry care living in Victoria’s tent city
Published Thursday, January 14, 2016 5:21PM PST
Last Updated Thursday, January 14, 2016 6:54PM PST
A 16-year-old girl living in Victoria’s tent city who is under the care of the children’s ministry says she can do a better job taking care of herself than the B.C. government can.
The teen, who CTV News isn’t identifying because of her age, said she has been camping on the lawn of the Victoria Courthouse since October.
“I’m in the care of the [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.
She said she was in ministry care until she was adopted at four years old, but her adoptive parents gave her up 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 said she has been shuffled from foster care to group homes – all with poor results.
“I would not go back into foster care. 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.
She’s since joined up with the camp at the Victoria Courthouse residents have dubbed “Super InTent City” and said she’s a member of the group’s council.
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. This is inspiring a lot of people; a lot of people are coming together.”
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 hotels or homeless camps.
“I really worry about how well they’re being supported because a lot of things are happening there that present potential harms,” she said. “A 16-year-old…needs to be in a strong family setting with adults that care for them. Ideally, every child has a right to a long-term family.”
In a report she released Wednesday, Turpel-Lafond said the housing of foster youth in hotels is more widespread than originally believed.
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. “Any of us who have raised teenagers know a 16-year-old can have needs as significant as a two-year-old.”
The province wouldn’t specifically comment on the case of the girl living in tent city, but issued a general statement.
“In a case like this, social workers would collaborate with local law enforcement to encourage the youth to leave the courthouse lawn and return to a safe environment,” it said. “Efforts to return children and youth to safe environments often required continued attempts and engagement on the part of social workers.”
The girl says she has no desire to return to her group home and just wants to be left alone.
“It’s not fun having [social 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.”
A 16-year-old girl who has bounced from foster homes to group homes says she finally feels a sense of belonging in a homeless camp on the lawn of Victoria's courthouse. Thurs., Jan. 14, 2016. (CTV Vancouver Island)