Kitchener-Waterloo·Special Report

Smooth transition for homeless youth possible, with proper supports

Two young adults who grew up in the child welfare system credit family, friends and post-secondary scholarships from family and children's services for helping them make the transition from care to independence.

"We can't just reach out and talk to our family and ask them for the support that we need."

Hope Natywary and Julian Hulan both received post-secondary scholarships from Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region. (Clare Bonnyman/ CBC)

Hope Natywary has to laugh when she talks about her choice of a post-secondary program.

It's not that there's anything humorous about studying social work at Conestoga College — not until you know that Natywary already has an intimate knowledge of the child welfare system. After all, she grew up in it.

"I actually have a goal of working for family and children's services," she said. "It may sound strange, but I want to be there to support the children and youth that are in care, that may be going through some similar situations."

Some of the "similar situations" she's referring to include homelessness and precarious housing, which are the focus of a report published in August by The Homeless Hub.

The report found that over 60 per cent of homeless youth have at some point been involved with the child welfare system, nearly 200 times the ratio in the general population.

Homelessness a common theme

Hope Natywary hopes to help children currently in the child welfare system have a better life. (Clare Bonnyman/ CBC)

Hope knows that her story is not the norm for children who have gone through the system.

"Just seeing some of the people that we grew up with, they don't have the supports or they don't have the people who actually stay in contact with them to keep them going forwards," she said. "It makes it really hard to let go of your past and be able to move forward and go where you want to go."

Homelessness, substance abuse and incarceration are all common endings to the story for these youth, according to Julian Hulin, an IT student at Trios College who also grew up in the child welfare system.

He spoke to The Morning Edition's Craig Norris about running into an old friend who was still precariously housed.

"He was just in his own little world. He was happy that he saw me, but I was asking him if he was doing anything to get cleaned up and he said, 'No. I really like my life the way it is.' And that's just because he's accustomed to living that way," he said.

"You grow up in care, you grow up neglected or abused — not by staff, specifically, but by a lot of the children as well — and you just adapt to that and it's hard to come out of that."

Making a smooth transition

Both Hulin and Natywary credit family, friends and post-secondary scholarships from Family and Children's Services of the Waterloo Region for helping them make the transition from care to independence.

"I worked hard to get a job and make sure I put a roof over my head," Hulin said. "I've had help from friends, who now I call family. Because much like Hope, we don't have family, We can't just reach out and talk to our family and ask them for the support that we need."

Julian Hulin encourages youth in the welfare system to reach out for help and resources. (Clare Bonnyman/ CBC)

Natywary said having support from family and children's services workers, even after leaving care, can help smooth the transition for youth in the system.

"Even though they can't do anything, it does go a long way, knowing that you have somebody there on your side," she said.

Both Natywary and Hulin encouraged youth in the system to reach out to the sympathetic adults in their lives and to make use of the resources available through family and children's services. 

"You may think that there's nobody out there for you," Hulin said, "but there is."

SPECIAL REPORT: Homeless youth in Kitchener-Waterloo