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.
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.
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.
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.