Ojibway teen sleeping in Ottawa mall stairwell after aging out of group home

An Ojibway teen is sleeping in the stairwell of the Rideau Centre parking garage in downtown Ottawa after aging out of his group home.

It’s better than the shelters says the 18-year-old.

He was dropped off at the Ottawa Mission shelter a few weeks after he turned 18 on March 1 by staff of the Ottawa group home he was living in operated by Mary Homes.

The teen said he didn’t stay at the Mission long before finding a little nook on the top floor of the Rideau Centre’s parking garage.

“Ever since then I have been coming here to sleep,” said the young man, who APTN National News can’t identify because he is on extended care with his child welfare agency. For this story APTN is calling him Jason.

When it gets too cold at night Jason might go to the Salvation Army shelter a few blocks away but prefers his perch in the stairwell that overlooks Nicholas Street.

“It’s a nice spot, overall,” he said.

During the day he hangs out in the Rideau Centre using the mall’s free WiFi to stay connected with friends as APTN learned the mall is a popular spot for kids living in group homes in Ottawa.

He knows them and they know him – not just because he was once one of them but because a couple months ago he saved the life of a 13-year-old girl who ran away from her group home.

That girl was Amy Owen who has been in the news recently for being one of three First Nations girls to die Ontario group homes in the last six months.

Amy Owen, 13, is suspected of dying from suicide at an Ottawa group home on April 17.
Amy Owen, 13, is suspected of dying from suicide at an Ottawa group home on April 17.

Owen was living in Mary Homes group home when she died in the east end of Ottawa.

It’s also the same home where a 16-year-old Ojibway girl had been living at when APTN spoke to her at Rideau Centre on Thurday.

“Amy and I were really close. We were like sisters,” said the girl who APTN can’t identify as she is ward of the state.

Owen’s room was right above hers.

Each morning she would knock on the ceiling and Owen would knock back to let her know she was awake. They’d come out of their rooms and meet at the stairs and hug.

The day after Owen is suspected of dying by suicide in the home the 16-year-old knocked on the ceiling like she always had.

She had forgotten Owen had died.

“I burst into tears,” she said, adding she ran away shortly after that.

This is the 16-year-old girl who says she ran away from the group home after Amy Owen is believed to have died by suicide.
This is the 16-year-old girl who says she ran away from the group home after Amy Owen is believed to have died by suicide.

APTN confirmed with Ottawa police a missing person’s report was filed in her name but she was located a day later.

She said she talked to her social worker and told her she is staying with a friend until they find a new group home.

She remembers when Jason saved Owen’s life.

Owen had ran away and Jason tracked her down on Montreal Road near St. Laurent Blvd. where she was running into traffic trying to commit suicide.

“It is true. He found her and took good care of her,” said the 16-year-old.

“I stopped her from jumping in front of a car,” said Jason. “I told her if she killed herself she would be hurting people around her rather than just herself.”

He said he saw Owen a couple weeks later and she thanked him for saving her.

It was the last time he saw her. She died April 17.

Owen, Jason and the 16-year-old are all from the Kenora area, near the Ontario/Manitoba border. Each were placed in Ottawa group homes by Indigenous child service agencies that operate under the Ontario government.

APTN spoke to Jason’s former child worker with the Weechi-it-te-win Family Services in the Kenora area.

Andrew Letander said he traveled to Ottawa about a month ago to see if Jason would return back to Kenora but he refused.

“I did go there and he did not want to go back with me,” he said. “He said he had it all planned out.”

Letander said he is aware that Mary Homes dropped Jason off at the Mission.

Letander said it was explained to Jason that the group home needed his bed for other children, as most kids in the home were much younger than Jason.

Letander said Jason is on what’s called “extended care maintenance,” which he will be on until he’s 21 unless he decides he doesn’t want to be, which he’d then need to follow steps to do.

Jason up on his perch in the Rideau Centre parking lot stairwell.
Jason up on his perch in the Rideau Centre parking lot stairwell.

When he turned 18 he got a new worker that specializes in youth transitioning out of group homes but that worker has been on sick leave for a month said Letander.

“I gave him a heads up about what was going to be happening when he turned 18 and Mary Homes gave him a heads up on that, (too),” he said.

Letander said Jason is supposed to receive food assistance funding every month but they don’t have an address to send the cheques.

Jason has no parents to go home to. Both his parents died when he was a young child – his mom from suicide and his dad from cancer.

“He’s been bounced around from group home to group home all his life,” said Letander. “I am worried about him.”

As for Jason he said he’d like to finish school, as he only has his Grade 9, and go to college.

But that seems like a million miles away from his perch in the Rideau Centre mall.

He went to go get a Social Insurance Number Friday so he could at least get a job but was told he needed his birth certificate.

Service Canada wouldn’t accept only his status card.

He’d also like to do something else.

“I’d like to shut group homes down,” he said.

Mary Homes didn’t respond to questions by the time this story was published.

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38 thoughts on “Ojibway teen sleeping in Ottawa mall stairwell after aging out of group home

  1. The Odawa Native Friendship Centre might be able to help. It’s not downtown anymore, but at 250 City Centre Ave. I hope he, and all those in a similar situation, get the guidance they need!

  2. These homes are supposed to be just that, this means someone has to show how they can take care of themselves, cook, clean, budget, find a job or find funding if they want to continue in school, as well as think things out. No child knows these things on their own they need to be taught and shown how these are done at home. Treated with love and affection also as if they were at home, also when they aged out then they need not only to be prepared, but also help find an affordable apartment and work or school or both, otherwise it is not a suprise if they are found sleeping on a stairwell. As for the young ones I think the conditions must be pretty bad if they do not want to stay in the group home, that needs to be addressed promptly not with a study that takes a year or two and then more years for implimentation.

  3. Its ironic to realize that this tragedy is playing out in the Rideau centre less than 1 km from Parliament Hill and the Prime Ministers Office.

    1. Dear Jason.
      Plz Know you are loved and wished only the best by your ppl. My heart goes out to you.
      Firstly. They had no right to just drop you off. Even Covenant house prepares for a youth to have their own home when they leave under proper circumstances. And they had lots of time to prepare. Housing is the first responsibility your supposed worker had to have in place. What kind of agency allows their workers to let a youth be dropped off at a shelter. They failed and need to be fired for neglecting their duties. How dare they treat Jason like that. Get a lawyer and sue them. That’s complete neglect on their part. I m so angry that they treated you without real genuine care. Can we set up a hot line for these youth. My name is Judy Rheaume.I was adopted. I understand some of the pain. This whole situation for Jason and the girls in that group home is so frustrating just reading about how difficult it is for them. Their needs to be way more support for them. Transitional homes is an answer. Etc.

  4. This is terrible, to say the least. What can be done by the government and by any citizen to help these kids?

  5. Sad. The group home and/or the workers should have prepared him with getting all his IDs before he exited the program. How many go thro this & how many more are going to go thro this.

  6. It would seem a logical step to have a transition program where local residents could house young people who are in this boy’s situation. As long as there are no addiction or violence issues that require professional intervention, I am sure there are many of us that would give a temporary home to someone to get a hand up to becoming independent – to finish school, to navigate bureaucracy and get training for the workplace.. Especially as our own children grow up and we find ourselves with empty space in our homes.

  7. Dear dad in heaven,
    I boldly present this young man before you and ask that you make a way for him to journey this life where the pain of yesteryear is not only understood by him but also reworked into an unstoppable life force that will show others your grace and love.
    Dad, you are not limited by what we see. I ask that you unleash your Great Spirit above below around in front behind and through this young man. I know that you are a gentleman dad and would never force your Spirit where you are not welcomed. Today, and every day forward may he see you in action all around him . Nya Weh king Jesus.

  8. Isn’t it just like the same old story. House young ones in group homes and still make good paying jobs but don’t help the child to grow up. Withholding their right to acquire birth certificates, social insurance numbers, Heath card #. Come on caregivers if you really care about the child your housing help them grow up, prepare them for society. “telling them is a whole lot of difference than helping them filling out those much needed applications for work! Prepped them for life. Really care.

  9. Kinna wiiya helped
    N others get the identification needed like birth cert . I didn’t even have my status card n I got my birth cert . I pray for u young one <3

  10. Does this wealthy society not have the will to treat people as equal. Provide the necessities of life and give these youth a reason to live and grow and enjoy the world. It should be a beautiful world for all.

  11. It makes me angry for this poor kid trying to make it ( obviously a stellar human being ) and he is just dumped. He is also told he can get food checks but has no address so they can’t be sent anywhere. I know in some states in the US they allow the person to pick them up directly from the welfare office so this worker should be getting off their butt every time that check comes in, picking him up wherever they dumped the poor guy snd bringing him to cash that food check and at least make sure he’s fed. It’s literally the least they can do it sounds like.

  12. There is so much wrong with our systems it boggles the mind….. The up side is native communities across our country are getting alot better at defending their youths right to a brighter future. I hope this young man gets help and lots of it. Its a shame he wasnt in school like most kids getting a part time job before he was 18…. Im 48 and got a part time job at 13. These days the kids are cawdled and always told oh thats ok… Its ok… To what ever. Some things are NOT ok. Like not going to school. Running away. Wanting to kill yourself. Some what normal yes. Ok no. Those are the times we need to know someone will look and find us. Someone will help us see death is not the answer. Society is too busy with selfies…. money and crap that other countries are going through. We need to take care of our own WAY BETTER.

  13. I notice there has been wonderful success with inmates in some prisons working with “assistance dogs” training them to be used for handicapped people. THis brings me to wonder how about placing some of these at risk youth and homeless youth on farms where they can work with horses. Learn responsibility by way of caring for an animal, build a strong and loving bond of friendship and receive love and trust and respect in return. There are plenty of farms and riding stables in Ontario. I know because my cousin owns one with 30 horses which are boarded by owners. Help is needed in places like this. Or perhaps a job with the Blind Institute learning how to train guide dogs for the blind. Anything where they learn mutual trust between themselves and another living creature with no judgment attached. 🙂

  14. Aren’t there transition homes for youth at 18 in Ottawa? Specifically for youth who come out of the system? Think refugees get more help than that… the system is just a system when it comes to social services unfortunately.

  15. Isaac Murdoch wants to get in contact with this youth. Contact Issac on Facebook if you can help. Taken from his FB page:
    Isaac Murdoch
    Can someone please help us find this youth? Is there anyone in Ottawa that can help?? We would like to ask him if he could join us at Culture Camp Forever. Pretty soon we are building cabins and there is tons to do. There will be other youth there and it would be cool to have him. Can you please help? Miigwetch.

  16. What can we as a society do to help? I read this and am saddened by the plight of our youth. Yet our band councils can do little to keep the youth safe and happy.

  17. I find this so sad, I would be more than willing to take this young man into my home and give him a loving home and a good life. I recently finished the Pride Program that Childrens Aide offers but have been told there are no kids in my area. I have wanted to take in older children because they are the ones that end up in the system for so long and I would like to make a difference. If I can be of help please email me.. This young man deserves a chance and a family.

    1. I agree I’d love to be able to help also, just not sure how to go about it.

    2. What a beautiful offer!! Thank you for caring and offering yourself and your home as a loving safe haven to guide and nurture these young adults into healthy stable adults

  18. You know what pisses me off, these homes …group homes …seeing our young native as money for thier programs, then dumping them off to shelters without any support or guidence, trainings, etc just so as they are 18yrs they are dumped to the curve becoming homeless …where is the support system for these young people that have been taken away from homes! Too many lives lost through this way that they think it’s supposed to help them out only causing more damage for our young people!

  19. Sad Ottawa should help more children/young adults that are in care and help transits into adult hood by getting their i’d’s before they turned 18 so they can provide for themselves by getting into housing and planning for there future by continuing into their schooling or working. in winnipeg we got programs for everyone that need’s help and i’m pretty sure they got programs that help these children transits into adult hood but kicking them out for a bed by their 18 ain’t gonna help before they turn 18 they should have the proper identification too seek out a life.

  20. there is a lot one can do to help in these situations the group homes can help them get jobs or job placements so they have a skill set, It takes effort in both parts the young one has to learn so much to survive how to shop how to budget how to ration food. Work hard every job know what it is like to earn money. Me and my girlfriend have had 5 at risk youth in our home 3 graduated every job i got as a contract i got the boys to work with me i showed them how to work. i worked hard to be role model to them they live on there own in the big city. We teach them to shop in the grocery store budget there money do small things around the house they werent just given anything or let them run around we let them know we love them and would give them good birthdays teach them to cook it takes a lot on both parts to be succeed in the transition part we could only do so much we succeed with three having hard time with two of the girls they aged out we still take care of them it is different from a group home. it takes a lot because i know some are in depression hurt from being apart of there family there is a lot involved each one is different but the world is the same

    1. So happy to hear stories like yours and that there are some people willing to sacrifice to help young people who badly need help! You are literally helping to save lives! Good for you!!!

    2. Care givers to traumatize young ones must be willing to give the utmost understanding and nurture capability with knowledge of the greater societies mode of living. Also; to foster a kinship regardless of whether they are under child services or not. So! KUDOOS to fostering or care givers that can give humblely to another needing them.

      1. Prayers to all that are out there . that help . and pray these children. Respect all the help they are getting .

    3. I wish all the kids in care could have had caregivers like you. Keep up the good work, they need you!

    4. You are one great person wish we had more people like you to help these young people….

    5. Chris, I just wanted to send a huge thank you, to you and your wife. I just happen to be a first Nations woman, who grew up crown ward. At 18 I was told about extended Care and maintenance. However, my birth mother asked me stay with her. Being a hopeful teen I went to her, in doing so I was discharged from c.a.s and no longer given the opportunity for that support until 21. Bad choice on my part, bc my mother threw right back out a month after I was discharged. But reading what you shared shows me that not all these places can be bad. I once had foster parents who literally made us remodel their home. At this place, I learned many skills but also that I was just a pay check and free labor. Thank you for making such a difference in these young ones lives… As in Jason’s situation, once I was kicked out I went to a women’s shelter, then into the youth shelters in Toronto.. thank you again for being a bright light in a foggy world

    6. Youre truly a good soul your heart is in the right place and hopefully the 2 girls in your care will soon realize rhis. Thank you for helping caring and loving them, they need more ppl like you both.

  21. Ottawa must have his birth certificate on file, also he must be registered at in his home town local band, they should be able to help him acquire his ID

    1. It takes money to get around town and to cover costs of a birth certificate. He needs an address according to social assistance policy.

  22. Seems that’s a continued epidemic these agencies should be more accountable.

    1. I strongly recommend and believe these group homes should be closed down because we are losing to much of young native people. The government should provide treatment program at their home towns. Not putting them in surrounding they are not formial of the surrounding.
      My daughter and went through this with Delico family services where they sended her all over Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa and Sudbury. She learnt more bad habits over there then she started with. It took a few years to get her home again. I had to get a lawyer and fight for her to come home. She’s an young adult ,now. But I know there’s a lot of pain inside of her due these group homes. It’s like a modern day residential school happening again to our young native people.

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