London, Ont., mom feels helpless as son struggles on streets, urges system changes


Stephanie Hanley’s son Steven spent years struggling, but things got worse.

“He sleeps on the streets. He’ll sleep wherever he can, like in a park or downtown in an alley,” said Hanley, 51, of London, Ont.

Steven was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager. Today, Hanley said, he is addicted to both crystal meth and fentanyl, and has had numerous run-ins with the law.

Hanley shares her story in hopes that others will better understand homeless people.

This week, Hanley worried about her son. She hadn’t heard from him for a few days and the last time she saw him he was thin and didn’t look well. When he finally called, he wasn’t in his right frame of mind, she said, but he agreed to meet her the next day.

Steven never came.

Stephanie Hanley holds her son, Steven like a baby; Steven at 9 or 10 years old (Submitted by Stephanie Hanley)

Recently, she posted a message on Facebook asking if anyone had seen or heard of him.

“It gets longer and longer between the two when I don’t hear from him,” Hanley said. “As a parent, you worry, even if they are adults.”

Steven also has two children, ages 12 and 13. They started asking about their father, Hanley said.

“It’s tough. I used to run to him if he needed the money,” a tearful Hanley told CBC News this week. “But now I have to take a step back and hold him accountable for everything he does. It’s very difficult.”

London morning7:38A local mother tells the story of her son’s life on the streets

Stephanie Hanley’s son has lived on the streets of London for years, struggling with his mental health and addiction. Stephanie shares her story with London Morning host Rebecca Zandbergen. 7:38

Spiral triggered by trauma

Hanley was a teenager when Steven was born, and his father wasn’t involved in his life until he was 12, she said.

“His dad was also a drug addict. There were issues and he had to blame his dad for something he did to him. That kind of triggered him. And then he got involved with the wrong crowd.

“And it just went from bad to worse.

We tried to get help from many avenues and ran into brick walls.​​​​– Stephanie Hanley

“We went for help in many ways and ran into brick walls,” she said.

Hanley’s son spent time in different provincial treatment facilities over the years, she said, but often left the programs early.

Hanley wants a court to order her son to stay in a facility for at least a year.

“I know they always say all the systems are overloaded…but I’m sorry, if the government can support other things in other countries, I’m sure they can provide more support for that.”

Not enough support

What Hanley is going through “is probably one of the hardest things parents could face – seeing their child struggle with these kinds of issues in a system that’s not designed to support them well,” says Chuck Lazenby , Executive Director of Unity Project – For Homeless Relief in London.

“The options in terms of resources are quite limited.”

Chuck Lazenby, executive director of Unity Project in London, Ont., says mothers like Hanley who can maintain a relationship with loved ones are doing the right thing. (James Chaarani/CBC News)

Lazenby said staff at his own charity were struggling to track down and get help for people in Steven’s position.

“And we are experts in this,” she said. If you don’t have the money to pay for a place in a treatment center, your loved one may face a long waiting list.

Lazenby said mothers like Hanley who can maintain a relationship with loved ones do the right thing.

“Try to keep that connection as much as you can,” she said. “We see a lot of people who have no connection to their family and that connection is really important.”