A 14-year-old boy was brought this morning by his mother to the Repheka Clinic at Pernier, with fever, headache, and weakness as chief complaints. The mother was quick to say that the boy is mentally ill. She said that he ran away from home for two months, and that while on the street he had diarrhea and vomiting for two weeks and lived literally in a car. She seemed very concerned about not just the boy’s sickness, but his craving for the street. She was probably asking why his boy refused to stay home, like a normal child. She’d certainly welcome any help from a therapist or social worker to make his boy stay put.
This boy is perhaps one of those boys seen on street corners, a dirty towel in hand, sweeping cars for spare change. They may call that working, but it’s more like an indirect way of begging. Drivers despise them; some are simply scared of them, fearing that anytime they could pull a handgun and make you cough up any money you have. These boys choose living on the streets, where they can make some money, over living at home, deprived of food, but under the protective eyes of their parents. True, they’ll make money, maybe more than their parents would ever have, but at what price? On the street, they don’t go to schools, so they’re heading straight to a life of professional beggars or, worst, thugs and gang members. Plus, they have to fend for themselves, pay or fight for a place to sleep, and find a way to get health care if they become sick.
My patient did get sick, and he had to return home, so his mother could take care of him. After getting some IV fluids and antibiotics, he was sent home with his mom. Once he gets better, how long will it take before he leaves home again for the street?
As any other Haitians, boys on the street need access to dignified and quality health care, not just medical care, but mental care as well. We should consider having a rehabilitation center for troubled youth, where they will receive educational and vocational support, so that, when they turn 18, they’ll be ready to integrate the larger society and make a decent and law-abiding living.