Turn-Away

I knew there was a good possibility that when I walked home I might see him wandering the neighborhood. Setting a boundary was hard enough in this case, without having to see it first hand, on my way home, when I was supposed to be “letting work go.” A healthy goal, not always so easily achieved.

He was a smart, good-natured, 19 year old kid. He had been hanging around the Community Center I worked at during that time on the West side of Chicago. The younger kids loved when he came by. I got to know him when I heard drums playing upstairs and saw that he was playing alone in the music room. After talking awhile, he asked “So are you the social worker here?”

After explaining my role as the MSW intern, he said ” so can you help me find a place to sleep tonight?”

He had been sleeping in an abandoned building down the street. I knew the house well- it was on my route home. It looked liked a house that had been condemned for good reason. He couldn’t go back. Last night he had a close call with the police and a trespassing charge was the last thing he needed.

Over the next hour, he outlined the neighborhoods that would be dangerous for him to be seen in, which left us with only a handful of shelter options. After some calls, we were in the Community Center van driving to a shelter on the Westside. I waited in the van as he stood in line waiting to be checked. A few people before him, the shelter reached capacity and he had become a “turn-away,” the name given to those who there is no room to shelter each night.

I drove him back. We had reached the end of our options. I knew there were certain police stations one could sleep at until shelter could be located. We talked about it, but he refused due to violent experiences he had with people in those neighborhoods. By that time it was after 8. I was supposed to go home a few hours ago. I gave him a blanket and asked him to come see me again tomorrow.

I’ll admit, I wanted to let him sleep on my couch. It was one of the most difficult times I had to set a boundary.

But I did have an important take-away from this turn-away. It made youth homelessness a real, living, issue to me. I hope this post makes it more real to you too.

Who serves homeless youth in your neighborhood? How can you support them? #NoMoreTurnAways

Mandy

Something Worth Keeping

I want to highlight this fact: It is possible to end homelessness.

In the meantime, there are people in your community who may die on the street this year. It happens , all the time. That means we have to capitalize on the solutions we know work.

One of the most proven tools to ending long-term homelessness is the Housing First idea-basically an apartment, no strings attached.

60 minutes has a must watch video if you want to understand how this idea works. Here is a clip of the most essential footage.

 

“We are paying more as tax payers to walk past that person on the street and do nothing than to just give them an apartment.”

I have worked in the homelessness field for about four years. I have seen this idea work and I am convinced that it is the most successful model to end long-term homelessness.

The most surprising part about working in this field was the anger from communtity members I would encounter when I explain this idea. The anger is stemming from the idea that persons in these programs are receiving an apartment that they haven’t earned or somehow don’t deserve. To my constant surprise, I’ve beenĀ  harrassed and called names for advocating this model.

But at the end of the day, I think about those persons experiencing long-term homelessness that I was with on their move-in day. Many have the same reaction. They stare at the key to their new apartment. They remark how strange it is to have a key and how long it has been since they had something that required a lock, something that belonged to them. Many that do have challenges with mental illness, addiction, or other issues are motivated, sometimes for the first time ever to seek help.

They are motivated because now they have something worth keeping.

Mandy

P.S. I will be posting ways to support Housing First services and funding in coming days. Keep an eye out!