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Volunteering With Homeless Youth

March 8, 2013

I recently had the privilege to be of service to others when I started volunteering with homeless youth down in the University District of Seattle. This was an outreach program through the Presbyterian Church and was attached to the church itself. The youth could come during Drop-In hours and get some food, clothes, take a shower, obtain any array of things from socks and underwear to toothbrushes, toothpaste, chap stick, deodorant, shower items such as soap and razors to shave with as well as larger items that they would have to do chores for like bus tickets, sleeping bags and backpacks.

The people that I met that work there full-time with the youth were absolutely amazing people. They were warm, welcoming and really knew their shit when dealing with the youth. They were trusted and held in very high esteem by the youth and were given the respect that they deserved. The staff was simply awe-inspiring. I was very lucky to have met these people.

I had trouble after about a month. I could no longer intellectualize that these young, homeless people always had a choice, they could enter into the system, however flawed it may be, via the caseworker, Kate, and try to start a new life off of drugs and away from the street. A better life with a job and a place to stay and to become productive, independent adults. Intellectualizing this fact, that they had a choice, became less and less easy to sustain and my emotions quickly creeped in around the edges of my rational though and began to slowly break my heart.

Hopelessness began replacing my usually optimistic nature and coming from a place of hopelessness is a huge disservice to anyone especially young adults who are living a terrifying life and numbing themselves with drugs and alcohol to get through their every day lives. The sights and smells and stories of abuse were slowly driving me to despair for them and the long road they would have ahead of them to come back from whatever darkness they were now living through as well as the darkness that put them on the street in the first place.

I had a brief stint, 16 years ago with street drugs that lasted a couple of years. It was brief but intense and I did my fair share of Ecstasy, Special K (ketamine) and Crystal Meth in that 2 year span. I was luck though, I had a bank job that I worked at night and I have always been able to keep a roof over my head since I was 19 years old and moved out of my Mom’s house. My clubbing was reserved for the weekends, but that life and the drugs steadily made their way into my “regular” life and when I turned around, I was doing a bump of crystal before work to get a little high, and on and on until I knew that I hated the life I had created and I moved to San Francisco.

I had help though, and people who cared about me to help me along the way. Unlike these homeless young people who were so lost.  And then a story of sexual abuse by someone’s own mother along with witnessing a young woman tweeking out quite hard on Crystal along with other things all started to bring the past back up for me in ways that I wasn’t prepared for. I though that I was stronger, that I was prepared for the darkness and that I could face it head on with very few ill effects. I was wrong. I learned that truly knowing yourself is knowing what you aren’t or are no longer capable of as well as what you are capable of. I’ve been away from that darkness for too long and I started to see my son, Gabe in all these young faces with eyes too old. My heart was too fragile and my resolve was then broken.

I regret that I had to quit volunteering at Street Youth Ministries or SYM and I don’t deny that darkness exists I only know that I can’t live near it any more. I will volunteer again but I will find a better fit next time.  My hope is that those young people can have a life one day full of promise and great joy.  They deserve it.  We all do.

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