Feb 26, 2009

Responsible Exit

I am often asked, "How to street youth get off the street?" There are as many answers to that as there are street youth. However, I have observed some trends. I'll mention those and then tell a story...

Sometimes the youth repair relationships with a family member or someone close enough to be a foster or surrogate family member. One characteristic--the only characteristic that I am comfortable generalizing--about the homeless is that they lack a support network of any significant type. Typically, a worker like myself is the only adult the street youth has repeat and positive contact with. A repaired family relationship can be brought about because the youth ultimately sees the value of the relationship. Perhaps more often, the repaired relationship occurs because the family or surrogate family member sees how desperately a relationship is needed and forgives or re-accommodates the youth. We should not forget that broken relationships are very often at the heart of homeless issues.

[Restoration or family relationships is not always good, and we cannot jump to the conclusion that we should simply be in the reunification business. I learned that the hard way, but that's another story.]

Sometimes the youth creates new relationships for themselves. I would estimate that the second most common way off the street is by forging new relationships with a spouse or significant other. Sometimes this involves a new child. I will never suggest having children as a way off the street, and I strongly urge protected sex and abstinence for those under my care, but it is my observation that a newly created life often jars a street youth into having wider vision for their future. I pray that the child will not be involved in cycles of abuse, cycles of poverty, and that the street youth will embody that unwritten commandment that we want to give our children a life better than we had ourselves.

And sometimes, less often in my observation, the youth creates a new life for themselves through schooling or significant on-the-job training. They are finding new friends to surround themselves with. In such scenarios, I have heard the youth remark, "The worst thing I can do for myself, is come back down here and hang on the Drag." I believe they are building a support network from their new school and/or work friends, and slowly letting loose of their street roots.

So, in summary, the three most often used pathways off the street that I have observed, all involve creation or restoration of relationships.

Now... the story I promised.

A young man named Adam has been around for quite a long time (about 5 years). He had lots going for him and lots of promise coming out of high school, but broken relationships took it away from him. Adam ended up on the street. He learned various businesses common on the street, including several that are illegal. He got busted for them many times, and now has many legal issues and a felony record. Felony records mean you can't get a lot of government aid, and definitely means that you have a hard time getting work. Adam has plenty of relationships on the street and know how to get by.

Adam recently became a father. I don't know if this is the first time or not. However, it has really hit him hard. After years on the street, he wants to be the one to raise his child. He wants something better for this child. So Adam has decided to move away with his girl. He has arranged to move to a new, smaller town, and entered a job work program. He and I sat recently to make his resume together as the final act of support from me to him so he can get a job to start making money when he gets to the new place. I do pray that Adam will stick to his responsibilities. I do pray that he will cling to the mother of his child through thick and thin. I do pray that he will form new relationships that are 10 times stronger and more healthy than those that have sustained him over the past years. I do pray that he will heal his broken relationships with society. I do pray that Adam and mother will raise up a child in conditions better than his father had, in a home full of love. And most of all, I do pray that Adam will also repair one other relationship, that between himself and his Maker. Because Adam's true Father wants to make all these prayers come true.