With an inquiry into Quebec’s youth protection system ongoing, Annie Ste-Croix tells her story of growing up in that system. She now works with Montreal’s homeless and advocates for them having access to more services.
I grew up in and out of Quebec’s youth protection system.
When I got out, I decided I wanted to change my life for the better.
I started speaking with some intervention workers who knew a lot about my Inuit background. They gave me reading material so I could learn more.
As time went by, I started feeling like I belonged to something, but I was still missing the biggest part of belonging — family.
When I was 16, I was living in a group home with about a dozen other girls.
I went to court and took procedures to get emancipated — it meant I wouldn’t stay under the guardianship of my adoptive parents while I was there.
The judge approved my request.
Around that time, an intervention worker, who was a father figure to me,took steps to help me find my biological family.
When he found out that I was emancipated, he made the best possible decision for me — one that I can never repay him for.
Since he was good friends with one of my cousins, they made a plan for me to meet my family, without my knowing.
They made Dec. 21, 2015, one of the biggest days of my life.
That morning, my intervention worker came to me and said he was going to bring me to a place where a lot of Inuit gather.
I was reluctant to go, since at the time, I didn’t like meeting new people.
I still went.
When we got there, my cousin came up to me and shook my hand. She told me how many brothers I had.
She didn’t want to introduce me to the rest of my family until my father got there.
About two hours later, this man came up to me, tears in his eyes, and gave me the biggest, longest hug ever.
I knew then that this was my father and that my life was going to change.
After he held me, and wiped his eyes, the rest of my family came over.
My three sisters, stepmom, five nieces, and my brother came over and said, “hi.” They talked about how they remembered me from when I was so small — it had been many years since we last saw each other.
I was taken in by the youth protection agency, Quebec’s Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ), when I was two.
I was placed in foster care and then adopted at five.
By the time I was 13, my adoptive parents had adopted four younger children and they put me in a group home.
My biological mom died when I was eight and I never had contact with my dad — an Irish-Montrealer without siblings.
But after the reunion, I had regular visits with him.
We had a good relationship, and we were getting caught up on the 12 years that we hadn’t seen each other.
Every time we ran into one of his friends, his face would light up when he would tell them I was his daughter. You would never see a smile so big and proud.
My journey to helping the homeless
After I graduated high school, I took a few months to decide which career I wanted to go into. I decided that paramedics would be best for me.
I’ve always been caring, and never liked seeing people hurt — whether physically, or emotionally.
I started going to John Abbott College and was doing basic courses to get into the paramedic program.
But with me wanting to fit in with the crowd, I quickly turned to the bottle.
Once a week. Once a day. Until it became unmanageable.
I quickly fell into a depression, got poor grades and eventually dropped out.
I met up with my dad a few times at the Open Door, where he introduced me to the most caring person in the world, David Chapman, who was its acting director at the time.
From there, I knew where my place in the world was: working with the less fortunate.
I started volunteering at the Open Door, a drop-in centre with services for homeless and low-income people in downtown Montreal. This was around the same time that I started studying at John Abbott.
I just wanted to be with my family most of the time, so I wouldn’t lose something I had lost before.
While I was volunteering, I worked multiple jobs for a few years — from a café, to shoveling snow, to working for the city.
But my heart always went back to helping the homeless.
The fact that some of my family members were homeless inspired me to do more to help.
If I could go through a rough patch in my life and get through, so could they.
I got sober for a few months, which helped a lot. I was able to focus more on my tasks and was able to work.
I was working at Café de la Maison Ronde in Cabot Square in the summer of 2018, when I got a call from the hospital.
It wasn’t the best news. It was probably the worst news I could have gotten.
My father was in a medically induced coma, on life support. He didn’t have that long to live.
With tears in my eyes, I messaged my sisters to come meet me at the hospital.
It wasn’t the best thing I’ve seen in my life — tubes connected to every part of his body. He was cold to the touch, and so skinny, so frail. I refused to believe it was my dad lying there, helpless.
The doctors met with me and told me he had walking pneumonia. With his HIV status, the infection went into his blood and there was nothing they could do.
So I had to say my goodbyes, once again.
He had been sick on-and-off since 2015, but he was a fighter. He was always fighting through whatever he had. But he didn’t win this time.
I continued volunteering at the Open Door, even though the main reason I went there was gone.
I tried to motivate others to work on getting themselves better, even with little things.
I would spend most of my time, especially in the evenings, sitting with people who weren’t in the best spaces, and I would listen to them.
Some of the stories I heard weren’t so happy, but it pushed me further in wanting to help them. I did a lot of work with them that I wasn’t trained to do — like suicide prevention.
It was hard, but I managed to convince people there are reasons to stay alive. To this day, I still see those people regularly.
When a job posting for Médecins du Monde (also known as Doctors of the World) was posted, I was hesitant.
Would I be doing more than I could on my own? Would I really be helping others?
Becoming an outreach worker
I spoke to a few outreach workers about it and they convinced me to apply.
So despite my hesitations, I did. And I was happy to know I got the job. There isn’t a more fulfilling one I could have asked for.
I see about 100 people each day and do medical accompaniments, but for the most part, my work is outreach.
I’ll go to different organizations across downtown Montreal and speak with their clients. I support them in any way they need.
I give out harm reduction materials — like needles and alcohol swabs — and refer clients to different organizations depending on their needs.
I also accompany people to the pharmacy, the hospital, or the CLSC.
My main job is to make sure people get the services they need.
In some cases, there could be a language barrier, so I’ll translate. Or I’ll have to educate medical staff about Indigenous Services Canada’s Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Program.
At times, clients will want somebody there at their appointments with them, just for support.
It’s not uncommon for some medical staff to see patients as stereotypes, which is a big issue. I try to erase that from their minds and get them to treat everyone equally.
I couldn’t have asked for a better job. The strength I witness every day from my clients is the best feeling in the world.
Different organizations tell me that their clients are proud of me and what I’m doing — it’s a wonderful feeling.
I’m proud of the work I’m doing too. I’m giving people a bit of the guidance and support that I didn’t have.
The road here has been long, but now, I get to change people’s lives for the better everyday.