Dangers of couch surfing preferred by Red Deer youth to the loneliness and conflicts of home

‘I did not feel loved or cared for,’ said the homeless teen

A homeless 16-year-old knows couch surfing can be dangerous.

The slight Red Deer youth says he was sexually assaulted twice since leaving his mom’s house in January.

But Metrikis still refuses to return home.

He says clashes with his mother mean he’ll be back on the street again in a matter of days, or weeks.

“We’re too different … and maybe we’re also too much the same,” explains the androgynous adolescent, who was born a girl, but identifies as a boy.

Metrikis, who uses a nickname, has been shifting between staying at the downtown youth shelter and a series of friends’ houses.

While his mother pays his school fees, covers his clothing needs, and is keeping the door open, Metrikis admits his built-up resentments make it hard to live at home.

He grew up amid turbulence and anger until his mom and dad split when he was eight. His father moved to Edmonton, leaving him and his younger brother with their mom.

Metrikis didn’t like travelling up Highway 2 to visit his dad. He now realizes his father has bipolar disorder. But he says it rankled to be constantly criticized.

It didn’t help when kids from his dad’s previous relationships began moving in and out of the Edmonton house. While Metrikis gets along with his half brothers and sisters, he says this did not make for a stable environment.

By age 12, he convinced his mom to stop the weekend visits. But life at home was also “lonely.”

Although Metrikis believes his mother is OK with his gender identity (some other family members “disowned” him), his mom began spending time with a series of boyfriends.

“There were about five boyfriends,” he adds — including one who kept a list on the fridge of all of Metrikis’s faults, versus his brother’s faults.

“The one with the shortest list at the end of the week got a prize.”

Metrikis needed more of his mom’s attention and felt he wasn’t a priority. “I did not feel loved or cared for.”

After his parents’ split, Metrikis was pulled out of a private Christian school and put into the public school system, where he had a hard time making friends.

“I’m still bullied,” he admits, but now feels less need for approval.

Relations with his mother grew worse in his “rebellious” adolescence, he says.

“I love talking to people. I love being around people. My mom is more the leave-me-alone type,” he explains.

There were disagreements about boyfriends. Metrikis began going with guys and sometimes girls since the age of 12. He realizes he seeks intimate relationships to fill an emotional void.

Metrikis says his mother kicked him out after disagreements, then called police to say he had run away.

Since the beginning of the year, he’s been trying to make it on his own. He’s stayed twice at the local youth shelter, but didn’t like the downtown location, or being asked to leave after breakfast.

“I also got into a fight with a girl there and feared for my safety.”

He’s also been staying with friends, but usually has to move out after a week or two because these homes don’t have enough room for him.

Metrikis is trying to get a job. In February, he answered an ad on kijiji for housekeeping. On his first afternoon in the private home, he says he was sexually assaulted by his male employer.

Metrikis gave statements to police and the child advocacy centre and believes the incident is under investigation.

The other assault happened while he was staying with an ex-boyfriend. Metrikis adds, “I never expected him to do that…”

He’s been seeing the school guidance counsellor. Metrikis said his high school knows he’s homeless and has been pressuring him to get a permanent address.

While somebody gave him a referral to Heritage Family Services, he hasn’t started down that road yet. Metrikis prefers to try lining up accommodation with another friend first.

The teen, who gets B+ grades in math, imagines living in his own place one day and attending Red Deer College. Metrikis would love to take ceramics, but also aims to train as a pharmacy assistant.

“It’s kind of scary that I don’t have a solid plan, or even a backup plan… But I’d like people to know that it’s not always your fault when you’re homeless…

“Sometimes, it’s family dynamics, family situations. Quite literally, it could be anything…”

Shay Vanderschaeghe, co-ordinator of the Haven program for LGBTQ youth for Heritage Family Services, says there are limited options for homeless young people.

Apart from the downtown shelter, Children’s Services has some independent living options for youths 16 or older who cannot live at home.

Vanderschaeghe says group homes can be another alternative. Youths who don’t fit with these choices, or can’t move to Calgary or Edmonton for accommodations, often fall back on couch surfing — which is risky, she adds.

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