For a homeless youth, turning 19 can be devastating…

For a lot of people, turning 19 is an extraordinary day. It is a day where you spend time with your family and friends to celebrate officially being declared an adult. For many people this is a day filled with joy and hope for the future. For a homeless youth, turning 19 can be devastating.

Something many people don’t realize is that for a lot of young people in foster care, turning 19 means losing a lot of your supports. You can no longer stay in your foster/group home or underage shelter. For some young people this is the place where they feel safe. Turning 19 can often be the singular moment, which causes homelessness.

Imagine leaving your foster home on your 19th birthday, with all of your belongings and having to head over to a homeless shelter where you don’t know what to expect. Does the thought scare you? For a lot of our youth, turning 19 and celebrating your birthday inside of our doors is a reality. For one young person, Samantha, this day was especially hard.

Samantha came to us just a few days prior to her aging out of her underage shelter as she knew she was no longer eligible there as of her birthday. In the Crisis Program, we provide a birthday cake for each youth decked out with candles and an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung by Youth Workers and residents. These moments can be very special. Of course, not everyone feels the same about birthdays or likes to have a spotlight shone on them. For some people, birthdays come with memories of childhood trauma or being let down by caregivers in their life.

One of our key principles is Choice and to honour that, we first ask our young people if they would like a cake and also if they want their birthday to be a secret, or if they want to be celebrated. For Samantha, she said she would like cake but for it to just be handed out and for no song to happen. Samantha said she felt uncomfortable to have “Happy Birthday” sung to her by a bunch of strangers.

As the day went on, I could see Samantha was struggling with her birthday and she had tears welling up in her eyes from time to time. I could tell this day was disappointing to her, and overwhelming at the same time.

Just prior to handing out the cake, a few Youth Workers called Samantha into the kitchen and shut the door. Inside we had lit a single candle on Samantha’s piece of cake. We whisper sang “Happy Birthday” and watched Samantha’s face light up. Samantha expressed that this gesture meant a lot to her and made her feel special on a very hard day.

A while later, while handing out cake another resident asked, “whose birthday is it?” Samantha quietly replied, “oh it’s mine”, and smiled. All of the girls in the Crisis Program wished Samantha happy birthday, which lead to conversations starting and friendships forming. All of a sudden, the Crisis Program didn’t feel so scary to Samantha, and strangers became connections.

Shared by Youth Worker, Lindie