When a homeless youth knocks on the door at Noah’s Anchorage Youth Crisis Shelter, I’m prepared to offer a meal and a conversation. My job is to engage young people with their goals and their basic needs - a toothbrush, a razor, socks. Mostly, I lend an ear to youth who may have no one else to talk to.
There is no single reason young people find themselves homeless, and every one has some sort of goal, even if it’s finding a safe place to sleep for the night or getting to the next town. Sometimes I meet a traveling youth who is ready to go home and reunite with family, after years on the road. Sometimes I walk someone over to enroll in school. Other times, I help enroll someone in a program that teaches skills for entering the workforce. On rare occasions, if somebody meet certain qualifications, I get to offer housing options.
Trust is where everything begins. Distrust is often a means of survival for this population. Homeless youth are generally used to being neglected and/or abused by unstable families, hassled by police, looked down on by the public, and taken advantage of by adults and their own peers. Most do not wish to be homeless.
While empowering youth that their opinion matters, I ask what they want out of life. I break down goals into small steps that they can succeed in completing each week. If someone is drinking daily, it may be to drink less. If someone wants to get a job, I’ll help with a resume. These small victories give youth a sense of purpose and pride in their accomplishments.
This hope is something they may not get anywhere else. I am thankful that I get to inspire homeless youth every day.
Jaan Landheer of Santa Barbara is a street outreach worker with Youth and Family Services, YMCA. He recently released his first solo album, Tristero, and is co-owner of iambullyproofmusic.