Financial support returned to Ojibway male after aging out of care without even a SIN card

This is Martell Bob back in 2017 when he was sleeping in a downtown shopping mall's parking garage stairwell for several weeks as seen above. APTN file photo.

When Martell Bob turned 21 on March 1 he officially aged out of care, otherwise known as continued care benefits, losing all his financial support.

Bob also didn’t have his status card or Social Insurance Number.

“My last payment was February 15th,” said Bob, of the $1,100 monthly assistance he was getting through Weechi-it-te-win Family Services, a First Nations child welfare agency in Fort Frances, Ont.

Seven days ago his last caseworker, Kayla Morrison, said she was going to see about getting him some “food cash etc” according to text messages provided to APTN News.

“I find it funny that they were like ‘yea will give him money for food’. I check my account once a day,” said Bob.

“There is $-14.35. It’s f**king ridiculous.”

Bob’s landlord wrote Morrison Mar. 23 asking if she had his status or SIN cards, so he could apply for social assistance.

“I don’t have it in my files, but have been trying to track it down. I’ll see what I can do on Monday if they’re able to help with some food cash etc in the meantime but we’re all in lockdown (at the moment), replied Morrison, according to the text message.

This is 23 days after Bob lost all his supports.

He was a Crown ward most of his life, meaning the Ontario government was legally his parent. When he turned 18 he was dropped off at the Ottawa Mission shelter by his Ottawa group home, Mary Homes.

That’s when APTN first spoke to Bob because instead of staying at the shelter he was sleeping across the road in the stairwell of the Rideau Centre’s parking garage.

This is the first time APTN is identifying Bob, who lost both of his parents at a young age and bounced around group and foster homes ending up in Ottawa where he continues to live.

Morrison said Weechi-it-te-win had been shutdown for two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It knows it’s a crazy time for sure!!,” Bob’s landlord wrote Morrison during the Mar. 23 text exchange. “It has been hard on us as well as Martel since he has no money coming in.”

“I understand, he should’ve had his IDs awhile ago,” responded Morrison. “I will go through my files when the offices open back up. Everything has been shut down for two weeks.”

Bob said Morrison came to Ottawa in February to help get some identification before his age out date, which was his birthday.

“Just my health card, which is pretty much useless and a corn-dog in a vending machine,” said Bob, as to what Morrison got him. “She may as well have said ‘this is your life now good luck.”

APTN wrote Morrison Sunday explaining it was doing a story and asked that she reach out to Bob.

Bob also wrote Morrison and explained APTN was doing a story.

“Hey, Martell! That’s really interesting,” she wrote, now saying she was trying to get funding for more than food.

“The offices in Onigaming have been closed the past two weeks, this week still closed but I’ve been in contact with my supervisor and he said he will get back to me about financial aid/ccsy in the meantime tomorrow. As for your documents, I went to the main office before this lockdown & was waiting to hear back but with all of this happening the docs will take some time.”

CCSY stands for continued care and support for youth and is an agreement Bob signed when he turned 18 in order to receive financial support until he was 21.

Financial support returned after APTN emails executive director

Monday morning APTN wrote Weechi-it-te-win’s executive director, Laurie Rose, explaining much of what is in this story asking that she respond by 2 p.m.

At around noon Bob received a message from Morrison.

“Good morning, I’m happy to share with you that our team continued to work on this and were able to get approved by the Executive Director to continue the CCYS program until further notice. Finance will be working on sorting it out, you should receive a direct deposit by Thursday,” said Morrison.

“In the meantime, I’ll continue to help with your SIN/docs to the best of my ability during this time. I can’t wait for everything to go back to normal! Stay safe, let me know if you have need help with anything else.”

Now Bob is back to staring at his bank account waiting for that deposit.

“Woohoo money for food,” he said.

The Ontario government first told APTN March 26 it wasn’t going to allow youth age out of care or continued care benefits during the pandemic. A directive was sent out that day saying the new regulation was going into effect immediately.

Indigenous Services Canada told APTN late Friday it also will take the “exceptional measure” of not letting youth in the on-reserve child welfare system age out of care during this pandemic.

An email went out to First Nation child and family service agencies Sunday night at about 9 p.m.

“I am confirming that as an exceptional measure, from at least March 9, 2020 to September 30, 2020, Indigenous Services Canada will continue to cover the eligible maintenance costs to First Nations child and family services agencies who are currently providing services to youth who would normally be aging out of care during this period,” wrote Natalie Nepton, director general of First Nations child welfare for Indigenous Services.

So far it appears only Ontario is the province or territory that has confirmed to keep children in care during the pandemic.

Rose never did respond to APTN, including whether or not her agency was shutdown to children in care for two weeks as Morrison said in text messages.

Producer Nation to Nation - Ottawa

Kenneth is a journalist with nearly two decades of reporting experience who focuses on crime and social issues, including child welfare and wrongful convictions. He has worked out of APTN’s Ottawa bureau since October 2012.