Monthly Archives: February 2016

May

In light of a recent conversation with a taxi driver friend, I asked him to sit down with me again, to see if he would tell me about more of his experiences. The driver agreed because he felt that it was important for people to know about what’s happening to some of the young people living in their community. He recalled another incident from back in December that had stayed with him.

The driver got a call to go to an apartment in downtown Kemptville. He had given rides to the guys at that address before, though he didn’t know their names. Previously, the driver had only remembered picking up guys at that address, but this time there was a girl too. When they got in the taxi, the guys seemed excited, but the girl was very quiet and subdued. The driver guessed that all four of them were in their early twenties and had probably been drinking. He took them to a private home just outside of town and dropped them off. One of the young men told the driver that they would be calling him later to pick them back up.

Sure enough, the call came about 3:00 in the morning to come back and pick them up again. When the driver arrived, five people got in the taxi. There was now another girl in the group. Everyone piled into the taxi with the girl from the first ride “May” sitting in the front seat and the other four passengers sat in the back. The guy that usually paid for the rides and did the calling for the taxi, asked the driver to detour to a convenience store so he could pick up cigarettes and snacks before taking them home.

So the driver took them to the store and the three guys got out of the car and went inside to get their supplies. The two girls remained in the car, May in the front seat and the other in the back. May was very animated and energetic this ride. She talked very quickly and very openly to the other girl. The driver got the impression that the two girls didn’t really know each other very well, but May was talking to the second girl in great detail about her current situation.

May explained that she was living in an apartment with two of the three guys and that she was getting very uncomfortable with the situation. She said that one of the guys was pressuring her to have sex with him and that she didn’t want to, because she didn’t see him as anything but a friend. So the second girl asked what she was going to do about it. May explained that she was soon going to leave and go live at a friend’s parents’ house. They lived just outside of town. She said that her friend was away at school, but told her that she could go stay in her room at her parents’ house until she got back from school. The second girl asked if the parents really knew about the arrangements that were being made and May replied that her friend said that they did. The second girl asked how long she had been living with the two guys and May responded that she had only been there for about a month. The second girl asked if she felt safe with the two guys and May replied that she did, but that the guy who was interested in her was getting very moody towards her, so she wanted to move out before it got too awkward.

Just then, the guys returned to the taxi with their supplies and the taxi set off. When they arrived at the apartment, everyone quickly got out except for May. She kind of lingered in the front seat after the rest had got out of the taxi, so the driver asked her if she was sure that she felt safe where she was staying and she replied “Ya. I’m ok.”. So the taxi driver wished her ‘goodnight’ and reluctantly drove away with an uneasy feeling.

The driver said that he has picked up those guys at that apartment several times since that night, but he hadn’t seen the girl again. Had she moved to her friend’s parents’ house? The driver said he had no idea, but he hoped that wherever she was, that she was safe and hadn’t become a statistic.

April

Homelessness is not really a subject that people think much about here in North Grenville. If you don’t see someone sleeping outside on the street, it’s easy to assume that there are no ‘real’ homeless people living here. Homelessness to most people is a ‘city problem’. However, let’s consider the following definition of homelessness from a Canadian homelessness advocacy website: Homelessness describes the situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it.” So the definition of homelessness also includes things like people who ‘couch-surf’ and stay temporarily with friends, or those who rent a bedroom in a house for a few months and then move on. Statistically, the majority of these people are youth under twenty five. We’ve all passed these young people on the street without any way of knowing their situation.

I sat down with a taxi driver recently who he told me an interesting story about a fare he had back in December. It was late on a Sunday night when he got a call to go pick up a fare at a private residence in Kemptville. The caller said that they needed a ride to the bus station in Ottawa. The driver told the caller that he had a couple of other calls to do first, but he would be there in fifteen to twenty minutes. The caller called again ten minutes later and asked where the taxi was. The driver told the caller that they were his next fare and that he just had to finish his current one. The caller asked the driver to hurry because she had been ‘kicked out’ of her brother’s house and she was waiting outside. It was cold and snowing, so the driver said that he would be there as soon as he could.

When the driver arrived to pick up the caller, “April” (who appeared to be a young first nations woman in her early twenties) was waiting outside on the street in front of the address she had given him. April walked over to the car carrying two small bags and got in. The driver asked April if she had the cash to pay for the trip to Ottawa and she said not to worry that her friend would email the driver the money for the ride. The driver explained to April that she had to have the cash for the trip and that emailing the money to him was not an option. April got on her phone to call her friend, but got no answer. She told the driver that if he took her to a bank machine, she would try to get the money for him. So the driver took her to a bank by the 416, but didn’t charge her for it. She went in to the bank machine, but came out five minutes later empty handed. She said there was a problem with the bank machine and she’d try to call her friend again. When she got no answer again, she asked if the driver would take her to Walmart so she could get cash back with a purchase. Once again, she came out empty handed and said there was a problem with her card. She got back in the taxi and once more tried to call her friend.

Sitting in the back seat, she started crying and got very upset saying that she had to get to Ottawa to catch a bus because she already had her ticket paid for and she couldn’t miss it. The driver said that he simply couldn’t take her if she didn’t have the money for the ride. Through her tears, April said that she had to go to the bus station tonight because she had nowhere that she could stay in Kemptville. She said that she had been staying at her brother’s house, but he had kicked her out and wouldn’t let her stay there any more. The driver felt badly, but he knew that he couldn’t afford to pay for the trip himself (about $80).

Being unsure what to do, the driver decided to drop her off at Tim Horton’s, but promised to make a couple of phone calls to see if he could find her a place to stay for the night. He called the executive director of a local charity at home and woke her up, but she said that they weren’t able to help the passenger at this time of the night, but to try calling the Salvation Army and if that didn’t work to try calling the OPP who may be able to give her a voucher for a night’s stay at a local hotel or find another appropriate place for her to spend the night. The driver tried calling the local Salvation Army, but there was no after hours phone number to call on their voice mail, so as a last resort, the driver called the OPP. The OPP dispatcher asked the driver a number of questions about the situation, the physical and emotional state of his former passenger and where she was currently. They then told the driver that they would send an officer over to Tim Horton’s right away to check on the young woman and then they’d make a decision on how to proceed. The driver asked if they would call him back and let him know what happened, but they never did.

The taxi driver said he felt very guilty that he wasn’t able to help more than he did that night. He said that now he’ll always remember that night, and for him, homelessness now had a face and that her name was April.