Things are not always what they seem

Tom had been living on the streets, on the beach and in adult shelters before he first came to Covenant House. He had fled the family home because of conflict with his parents. Tom managed to get odd jobs now and then but was unable to keep them. He was a daily pot smoker and because of this was discharged from our shelter several times as he would often come back "high".

Though staff couldn’t put their finger on it, there was something about Tom that wasn’t "quite right". During his 7th intake into the shelter, one of our youth workers, Tracy, noticed Tom staring at the desk. She asked Tom what he was looking at and he said it was a bug. Curious, Tracy started asking Tom more and more questions and it became apparent that he was experiencing both visual and auditory hallucinations. He had never told anyone before. A myriad of delusions plagued Tom every day and he was using marijuana to quiet down his mind.  

Once this piece of the puzzle was assembled, Tracy got Tom a psychiatric assessment which confirmed that he had schizophrenia (a mental illness that causes hallucinations, distortion of reality, paranoia and disorganized speech and thinking). Tracy was then able to trace back the beginnings of Tom’s family conflict to age 15, when his symptoms first appeared (75% of those with schizophrenia become ill between 17 and 25).

Tom had been living on the streets, on the beach and in adult shelters before he first came to Covenant House. He had fled the family home because of conflict with his parents. Tom managed to get odd jobs now and then but was unable to keep them. He was a daily pot smoker and because of this was discharged from our shelter several times as he would often come back "high".

Though staff couldn’t put their finger on it, there was something about Tom that wasn’t "quite right". During his 7th intake into the shelter, one of our youth workers, Tracy, noticed Tom staring at the desk. She asked Tom what he was looking at and he said it was a bug. Curious, Tracy started asking Tom more and more questions and it became apparent that he was experiencing both visual and auditory hallucinations. He had never told anyone before. A myriad of delusions plagued Tom every day and he was using marijuana to quiet down his mind.  

Once this piece of the puzzle was assembled, Tracy got Tom a psychiatric assessment which confirmed that he had schizophrenia (a mental illness that causes hallucinations, distortion of reality, paranoia and disorganized speech and thinking). Tracy was then able to trace back the beginnings of Tom’s family conflict to age 15, when his symptoms first appeared (75% of those with schizophrenia become ill between 17 and 25).

Knowing what impaired Tom’s independence allowed the shelter staff to help him devise a plan to get him off the streets for good. Staff contacted EPI (Early Psychosis Intervention) and got Tom on a waiting list for mental health housing, a place where Tom would be supported and reminded daily to take his medication. Likewise, they were able to secure Tom Disability Income Assistance or IA, (despite Tom having been denied IA four times previously applying on his own).

Finally, staff encouraged Tom to address his outstanding legal issue which was an arrest for shoplifting food. Tracy accompanied Tom to the courthouse where they received advice from the court appointed lawyer. Tom approached the judge and advocated for himself explaining why he had stolen. Tom told the judge that he was taking medication now and that he wouldn’t be stealing anymore.

The judge asked him what type of medication he was taking. Tom said "I can’t remember, can I ask my youth worker from Covenant House?" The judge replied "of course, that’s a good place Covenant House". Because it had been his first offense, his charge was stayed and Tom was ordered to complete 20 hours of community service which he did volunteering for Covenant House last December assembling backpacks for other youth’s Christmas presents.

Tom stayed with our Rights of Passage program while he waited for his mental health housing to become available and is now living safely and securely in a supported living environment. Tom still regularly visits our daily drop-in program to keep in touch with staff and other young people he met while at Covenant House.