“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.-John 10:11-15
A teenager came up to us and said that he wanted our help to find a halfway house. We were a little hesitant at first because it was quite random. We thought perhaps he was just saying this because this is what we want to hear. It is quite common for the children to say things like that to get our attention. However, this boy was serious. He said that he just ran away from a shelter where he stayed for a week and he regrets his decision. Now he wants to return. This is not an easy task. We cannot just bring him to the nearest shelter and hope that they will take him. This boy is seventeen and legally he is still a minor. We have to follow the proper protocol for a minor. It is a walk through the labyrinth of bureaucracy.
Our first stop was at the Counsel for the Rights of Minors. This is the body which helps minors find a shelter and the Law states that whenever a homeless minor wants to leave the streets, they have to provide a shelter immediately. This is on paper, but the reality is completely different.
We entered the office and there was a balcony with three staff behind it sitting at their desks. No one wanted to attend to us even though there were five of us standing there waiting. Finally, one convinced the other that it was her turn. She came up reluctantly and asked what we wanted. The boy had his head down and was feeling intimidated. The staff did not help to make the situation better. She treated him with almost disdain and asked if he had a home or family in the city. The boy responded meekly that his parents died when he was two and he has been living in and out of shelters ever since. Then the staff turned to us and told us about the procedures to find shelter. She never once after this acknowledged the boy’s presence. She informed us that there was a slim chance that they might find a shelter today. However, while they try to find a vacancy, the boy had to wait in another agency which was about half hour away.
We walked together with the teenager to this other place. When we got there, no one had been informed that we were going there. However, the staff here were more cordial and they spoke with the teenager and tried to make him feel comfortable. There were at least five people in the office, but only one was in the streets working with the homeless people. We waited until six and there was no call from anyone. The teenager was told that he should return tomorrow. He had to spend the night in the street. He was used to it and he did not mind. We had our doubts that he would return the next day. We were surprised: he did.
The next day he spent the whole day waiting. Finally they received a call from another agency that was responsible for finding him a shelter and they claimed that in their system he was already living in another shelter. Therefore they could not find him a new place to stay. Well, this was the final straw and this boy gave up and went back to the streets. We called the agency and they told us that they made a mistake and the teenager in their system was another one with the same name. However, there was really very little chance that there would be a vacancy in any shelter for the next few days. They said that they would call us and then we can look for the boy and take him there if he still wants to go.
The teenager’s name is Kaique. This has been his reality his whole life. He moved from one shelter to another. We have visited these shelters and we understand why he would want to run away. They look like detention centers without locks and gates. Kaique wants a better life but he is trapped in two worlds. When he is in the shelter, he is thinks that life in the streets is better and when he is the streets, he gets disillusioned. The bureaucracy and the lack of compassion among some the staff makes it hard for a young boy to do the right thing. This is why we don’t want to receive any funding from the local government. We don’t want to be trapped in this world of bureaucracy.
Is there hope for someone like Kaique? Well, we don’t have the answers for his housing problem right now. We don’t know how to help him right now. However, there is an answer. It is not waiting for the government or the bureaucrats to do something for him. These agencies are the hirelings that Jesus talked about. They are not interested in Kaique. Only the Good Shepherd lays down His life for Kaique. It is best not to depend on hirelings. We hope to walk with Kaique and find ways to help him find his autonomy. The Good Shepherd is opening the way but we need to discern His voice. He is real and present. Most importantly, He has compassion for Kaique. I cannot say this for the government agencies that claim to be fighting for the rights of the minors.