This weekend at the transition house, I faced some new experiences. For the first time, I had a resident tell me I "don't have a fucking clue." I had another resident so high she followed me like a shadow, licking her lips and whispering that she didn't want anyone to hurt her. There were paranoid delusions like a contagion in the house. How the system can ignore the multitudes of mental health cases that all helping services are burdened with now, I will never understand. How a woman can be homeless and obviously suffer from severe mental health issues - never mind addiction-based psychoses - is beyond me.
Our transition house is for women with addictions who are fleeing violence. But at least 20% of our intakes are women who started out with mental health issues (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression, ptsd, etc) and became addicts when the system failed them. It's much easier to be homeless and rejected when you're high. That is obvious. It is much easier to bear the cold nights in doorways when you can't feel the pain. And it is much easier to spend three years living in a tree, when all the system has ever done for you is to take your children and tell you how dysfunctional you are. That saying about people falling through the cracks. They're falling into crack if you ask me.
Did you know that there are social workers in hospitals that can take your baby from you when it's born - just like that? They have the power and authority to take womens' newborn babies from them. Just like that.
I see pregnant women trying to stay clean on a weekly basis. I see women with newborns doing everything in their power to abide by the Ministry's conditions so that they can visit their babies. They hope to have their children back one day. But rather than find support and help to be the mother's they long to be - they face ridicule, judgment, obstacles at every turn. One woman is required to find safe housing for herself before she can bring her baby home. She is on income assistance, not using, and pregnant with another child. But because her baby does not currently live with her, her shelter allowance is $375. She has thus far been unable to find safe housing for herself for that amount. So goes her life - supervised visits, constant efforts to please the Ministry, parent courses, programs of every kind, jumping through one hoop after another so she can be with her child. She lives in fear for the day when the next baby is born and they take it away from her. She doesn't even know why they took the first one. They told her it was because she was too young.
What I want to know is why all this money goes into foster care and putting children through the system, when those exact same dollars could be better spent supporting the mother to be with her child. I am there. I am on the front lines. I know these women better than their fucking social workers. And I have faith in them. I know they can take care of their children and do it well. So why are their no services aimed at keeping kids WITH their fucking mothers? I'd say THAT is a serious GAP in the system. A giant, enormous, horrible gap that tears families apart.
I apologize for my strong reaction to what I see every week. And I know that my rant has started in one place and moved to another that hits home. As a mother I am horrified at the power the Ministry can wield over a family. I can't imagine someone taking my babies from me and I have not been a perfect mother. I challenge them to find a woman who is. I know women who've lost their children in court battles focused on their occupations as strippers. I've been a stripper. I know women who've lost their children for smoking pot. I've smoked pot.
One woman I know had her baby apprehended from the hospital about two weeks after he was born. At a supervised visit a week later, the mother fell asleep with her child against her chest. They slept together like mothers do with their newborns. But that wasn't okay according to the supervisor and the visit was cut in half. "This visit is over." When my child is three weeks old, and I am holding him or her against me and I fall asleep - will that make me an unfit mother? By whose standards are we held accountable as mothers? By what authority can a woman have her precious visit ended for a peaceful moment of slumber with her child in her arms?
Tonight I locked myself in the office with another worker when one of our residents became threatening and aggressive. The police were called. She was removed after threatening our lives, our children's lives, and the house. "I'll light this house on fire." A woman that is known by the workers in this house for years and has never behaved so erratically before. A drug-induced psychoses? It's possible. And the woman whose lost three homes to fire puts the house under lockdown, repairs the broken door frame, and ensures the safety of us all. She's the one who lived in a tree for three years. I feel honoured to know her. I hope the angry woman finds somewhere warm to sleep tonight without having to start any fires. I wish I'd known her before she succumbed to whatever it is that's upon her.