Q: Tell me about your work with youth.
A: I’ve been working with homeless youth for six years. Most of the kids we serve are ages 18 to 23. As part of our intake process, we ask people why they’re in this situation. They often don’t view themselves as homeless. They’re just kids. I think that’s why they won’t go to the shelters – what they see there doesn’t match their view of themselves.
Q: What kinds of transitions are these young people experiencing?
A: What I see happening with this age group is that they’re transitioning anyway – between childhood and adulthood. Typically in that stage, you’re testing boundaries, finding out how much of an adult you are, figuring out responsibilities. With these kids, we see them making that transition with no rules, no guidelines, nobody to say “no.” It’s a transition without boundaries.
Q: How do all of these transitions make working with youth different than working with other groups?
A: It’s been difficult to figure out how to run the Drop-In Center and set up programming. How do you set up guidelines and boundaries and consequences for a group that tends to rebel against all of those things? We’ve found that the best approach is to say to our clients, “You’re an adult, you make your own decisions, but let’s see how we can make this situation safe for you.” They respect that. It gives them a chance to buy into our program. They understand that we are the only ones who are going to accept them no matter what, which makes them come back to us.
Q: What is your philosophy in working with these young people?
A: The way I approach my work? Ultimately your life is up to you. I’m here to help you, but I’m not going to do it for you. I will provide you with the tools you need to create a healthy and happy life. It’s up to you to take it from there. That’s my philosophy.
Q: What happens when kids “age out” of your services?
A: We offer “aftercare” for a year after kids leave, which begins on their 24th birthday. It includes mental health services and some basic case management. We find that a lot of them don’t “get it together” until they age out. Usually, it doesn’t hit them until after their birthday. They have to face going to the adult shelters, which makes them think, “I’m ready to do this now.” Or we won’t see them again, but we’ll get letters from them telling us that they got a job or an apartment.
Q: What would you like to add?
A: I’ve thought a lot about transitions for my clients. I’ve always wondered – if they were homeless at a different point in their lives, would it take them more or less time to recover, to find a stable and healthy living situation? I don’t know the answer to that…