The intent of this focus group was to hear young people who self-identified as non-heterosexual about the dynamics of being gay in a rural community, as it related to their migration decision. An agency in Middletown that provided service to LGBTQ people arranged with a group of youth 16 to 18 years of age who met regularly to participate in a focused discussion in lieu of their usual agenda. The facilitator did not think the young people were necessarily from rural communities, but we agreed to relax that criterion. Six young people and their group facilitator participated.
This focus group was held on March 4, 2013 with a group of five Lake County non-migrant youth and Alicia, an adult who runs a treatment foster home program in which Barry had been served.
In addition to Barry and Alicia, Danny, Eddy and Fanny knew each other previously. Fanny had seen a poster for Phase 1 of my research in the Middletown Ontario Works office and had been in touch as that phase was closing, at which time I go permission to be in touch when Phase 2 began to see if she might participate. She then recruited Eddy and later Danny; they had known each other since high school.
Crissy was recruited through the [college upgrading program] in Littletown.
During the first phase of my research I was unable to successfully recruit any non-migrant youth from Lake County and so this group represents, and was my attempt to engage, that 'invisible' population in order to hear directly from them about whether their perceptions and thoughts differred in any significant way from other non-migrants, and why they thought they were invisible.
The intent of this focus group was to hear the reflections of migrants who were relatively homeless on the process of leaving their rural homes: whether and how it was experienced as a choice, what might have kept them in their rural homes or motivated them to return, and what interventions might have reduced the long-term harm of high-risk behaviours. Staff in Toronto agencies serving this population had difficulty identifying youth as being from the catchment area, so we expanded and simplified the criteria to include any youth ‘raised south of Sudbury in a centre too small to have a Staples store’.
The focus group took place at an Out of the Cold program (hot meal and mat on a gymnasium floor as sleeping accommodations) in a neighbourhood centre in downtown Toronto. Four youth had confirmed attendance, but two appeared; we chatted informally while awaiting them. The staff person did not participate with the group. It was direct scribed by a recorder as much as was possible with spirited, rapid-fire discussion. The two participants, Roger, age 29, and Jerry, age 26, each of whom gave their address as NFA (no fixed address) did not know each other previously. Roger said he’d rented an apartment that month with a girlfriend, but it hadn’t worked out and he’d moved out. (The focus group took place on the 5th of the month, so it was a short experiment.)**
Both participants are ‘systems youth’, utilizing a variety of systems to little evident positive effect. They are eloquent in a disjointed way about the process of spiralling toward homelessness, clearly identifying social exclusion as the operant mechanism, a consequence initially of poverty, exacerbated by not fitting in to the systems provided to help, and being rejected by / ejected from those systems as a consequence. Jerry worries that the time for fitting in may have run out, although he has dreams; Roger contends that he can and will fit in if/when he chooses to do so, but so far sees no alternative that motivates him. Each identifies moments of possible connection that came to naught because of systemic rigidity; Roger tells an interesting story of making the system admit it had failed him, but being bested by it, even then.
Molly is a 51-year-old mother who lives with her daughter, Karen, age 8, in an all-season cottage on an upscale but remote lake in Cottage County. Her two older sons, Joe age 22 and Dennis age 20, left home about a year ago to work with their father in [a city]. She is a personal support worker. I have known Molly for many years and requested this interview to get her perspective, as a parent who has struggled, on some of the early intervention recommendations I was considering. I indicated when I set up that appointment that I was interested in exploring paradigmic change. Molly describes eloquently and in detail how social exclusion / differentiation / inclusion operates in a small community, in her experience, and suggests a number of interventions to encourage earlier and easier recognition of what individuals have in common that would support their differences being used to mutual benefit.
I asked Dr. Fournier, the principal at JDHES (grade 4–8 school) in Haliburton, to respond to an initial draft of the research paper, in particular responding to the observations and recommendations relating to the school system.
Dr. Fournier draws on her experience as Principal in an elementary school in a small village generally deemed quite disadvantaged, and in a larger middle school in one of the larger villages in the County, to comment on the importance of government-funded recreation and infrastructure that would address inequity of opportunity. She also shares some well-developed ideas about how community is formed, illustrated by school-based recreational programs, including the barriers to such formation and its importance in developing healthy communities and strong citizens.
This interview with Chris Duchene of Guidance Services at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School is re-created from extensive notes taken during the interview, primarily attempting to capture the voice of the responses. This interview took place on May 10, 2013.
Obama is a key informant; he didn’t qualify as a participant only because he does not meet the criteria for insecurely housed, since he is in the process of selling his first house at a handsome profit and acquiring a bigger one to accommodate his wife and child. He is, at 24, licensed in Heating and Ventilation trade; he considers it financially smart to not have left home to take post-secondary training, and has much to say on that matter. I invited him to participate because I wanted to hear him on being raised by lesbian parents, which is where the interview starts, but with his permission, we continued through the regular participant protocol.
Hummus is a very young-looking lad, having just turned 16, very recently arrived in Middletown and very much in the throes of finding a way forward. He was upset at times in telling his story, but determined to be heard. As is evident in the interview, I had some concerns about his safety. I shared information with the agency that referred him that a continued focus on finding housing that would allow him to be reunited with his pets, challenging as that would be, had as good a possibility as any I could envision to keep him engaged. They have some resources they can bring to bear and are very conscious of his vulnerability. I also alerted the Crisis Service that is/has been involved with him of my concerns. He has a difficult family life, including, from his perspective, outright cruelty, and has not found the help offered helpful.