May 8, 2012

Enablement and Status Quo Maintenance

Often we hear concerns voiced by supporters, "Are we enabling their lifestyle? Is it too easy?" And it's a valid question, but I think it's one that doesn't factor in the high cost of time and energy requires to receive pretty much all safety net services. SYM struggles and constantly asks if we are enabling street youth. We don't want to do that and we are constantly on guard.


But we also ask ourselves a harder question: "Are we keeping the street youth down by our own actions?" Do we require them to do too much for safety net services? Are we keeping them from doing things that would be better for them? Do they have enough time and energy left over to act on what we teach them and ask them to do? This becomes very difficult sometimes.


We don't give away bus passes, but if we did, we'd want to do it in such a way that it honors the street youth's time and energy. A tempting option might be to give away a 24 hour bus pass. But let's think about that. A bus trip in Austin in an hour average, maybe two with transfer. Then an hour or so of our event. And then back to where they live (greenbelts, outskirts, etc.). So that's 3 to 5 hours for one bus pass with a value of $3. That's not a very good hourly wage. And it doesn't leave a lot of time to do other things to improve their life. So we'd explore other options as well: giving out bus passes for specific purposes, allowing youth to receive a weekly bus pass in exchange for some commitment or performance. Each of these has problems, too, but we'd explore them all prior to starting the endeavor. This hypothetical situation demonstrates how difficult it can be to make sure we're really doing good and not maintaining the status quo... keeping the street youth down. 


A less complex and probably more controversial instance of this question is, "Do we require them to listen to a sermon to get fed?" At SYM, the answer is an emphatic NO! We share food first. Then we invite them to stick around for our activities. Not everyone does. But over time, many do.


We love to see our clients, but anytime they say they have something else to do we congratulate them. And we say we'll love to see them when they have time. And often, success means not seeing your client at all! We'd love to put ourselves out of business!


"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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