How many people really impress you? If you’re like most people, not many. But I think even the most jaded among us will be impressed with what Andree Cazabon has done. There are some shocking things I could tell you, about her being a street kid at 13, about her drug addiction, about some of the horrible things that have happened to her. The fact that she has recovered, gone to university, and now works in the film industry may raise the odd eyebrow. There must be more – or why am I writing about her? Well, Andree has done something truly courageous: she has gone back to her painful past, looked it over, and realized that she has something to say about it.
A few years ago, Andree got the opportunity to make a short film called Letters to a Street Child. It was a story about a young girl from a safe suburban home who leaves, becomes addicted to glue, and finally is sent off to a treatment centre by her parents. In the beginning, she passed this story off as fiction. And why not? Who wants to blab about any part of their past, especially one as difficult as that? But she couldn’t quite do it. She realized that she was in a unique position to explore the issue of drugs and street kids. So she did. And the documentary No Quick Fix was born.
The concept is simple: a former street kid talks to some street kids who are open about their lives, their problems and their pain. But Andree had more to say than that. She wanted to tell the parents’ story too. Now, maybe you’re thinking “what about the parents? Aren’t they to blame for their kids being out on the street?” And fair enough. According to Dennis Long, of Breakaway Youth and Family Services in Toronto, about 60-80% of street kids are running away from abuse in the home, whether physical, sexual or psychological.
But in Andree’s case, her parents were the normal, worrying, over-protective parents most of us know and (try to) love. Andree doesn’t blame her parents. She recognized that they went through an incredibly difficult ordeal when she left home. In her documentary, she follows the lives of two young Montrealers and their parents. Laurent, who began doing drugs at 10 years old, and Cathy, who became a prostitute to support her heroin addiction, both have parents who care and worry about them. At one point in the story, Cathy says: “It’s hard to go on your merry way when your mistakes, the pain you’ve caused the people around you can’t simply be erased.” And Laurent, who appears bright and sensitive, explains that “you get so desperate for a hit, you’d sell your own mother for the cash.”
And the parents? Andree’s parents remember the pain of giving custody of their child up to Children’s Aid, only to watch, helpless, as Andree acted out even more under their control. And Laurent’s mother, after enduring years of fearing for his life, finally admits that she cannot visit him in jail because it hurts too much. Imagine being Andree, the director, who entered these peoples lives as an observer – watched Cathy’s mother drive the streets looking for her, and watched Cathy wandering them looking for a hit. The pain on both sides is almost tangible, and Andree can only watch and record. Cathy’s mother says, “it’s as if I were dead inside. Sometimes I just want to die. I don’t know how to cope anymore.”
This is not a documentary for the weak-hearted. It is also not a documentary full of hard facts and cold statistics. Instead, it’s a heartfelt personal essay by someone with the strength to re-examine a part of her life that most people would want to forget. And she has a message that is echoed by the professionals I have spoken to in the field: there are not enough treatment centres out there for young people, there is not enough money or energy being poured into the issue of drug use by teens on the streets.
Andree was lucky. She knows that many are not, and she’s dedicated this film to letting us in on a world many of us try to ignore. Being on the street isn’t about being cool, or rebellious, or independent. In a published statement, Andree writes “Wanting to be ‘cool’ almost killed me when I was 14.” Maybe this article has convinced you that we need to put some solid thought into why kids turn to the streets to escape from their lives. But solving the problem involves more than just money. There are a lot of different treatment options out there, and a lot of different views on what we should do to help.
There’s the idea of “tough love”, which says: if your friend/sibling/child won’t stay sober or continues to steal from you, cut him out of your life. There’s something called “harm reduction”, which is a treatment approach that says: we can’t make you get off the streets, but here are some things to do to protect yourself. There are Methadone programmes, which replace heroin with a less destructive addictive drug. There’s outpatient treatment, day patient treatment, short-term residential and long-term residential programmes. All these things work for some people, some of the time. But is there more that we could be doing? How do we convince the kids who need help to get it? How do we keep more kids from turning to the street?
Maybe the politicians, therapists and doctors of the world need to hear some new voices – voices like Andree’s.been there, done that and made it out alive.
The No Quick Fix cross country tour, sponsored by The National Film Board of Canada in partnership with Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy, has scheduled stops in Montreal, Halifax, Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Sudbury, North Bay, Ottawa and Quebec City.
Director Andrée Cazabon will attend screenings in most locations for a post-screening Q&A and discussion. It is a dream come true for Andrée Cazabon, allowing her to use her films as a tool for advocacy and public awareness in the hopes of instigating change in this ever-growing problem.
Art images by Linsai O