Apr 20, 2019

Our clients mature in amazing ways!

   Bridgette sat, alone, on a sofa in our Drop-in Center, arms crossed, brow furrowed, staring at other clients. Clearly, she was annoyed.I wondered what I had done. As I watched the evening play out, however, I discovered something that made me smile. I’ll divulge that in a sec …
   We have lots of clients in our Drop-in. There are days they can come and go at will, and there are other days when they need to be on time to participate in scheduled activities like art group, prayer time, and peer support group. We met a record number of new clients last year -- almost 220 -- and they mixed with our existing clients so we served over 650 in all. Not everyone knows everyone else, although we help them form a community. Some are maturing and some are not.
   Lately, we've had a lot of new clients come to our center who are 15 to 19 years old. Most are fresh from foster care and usually boisterous. They can be very messy, because they haven't lived where they are asked to help keep things clean and straight. It's a challenge for sure to get them acclimated to us!
   We also have quite a few clients in the 22-to-26 age range who have been around for a while. They often have jobs and are living in supported housing that has come their way from grant money that SYM helped bring to Austin (It's called Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, if you want to research it). It's an experimental 3-year grant of $11 million for housing homeless young adults under 26.
   And it’s working: After just 6 months, statistics show 40% fewer unsheltered youth and 25% fewer homeless youth in Austin. Meanwhile, SYM client numbers grew by 40%. Somehow the YHDP grant is actually increasing the number of youth who want our counseling! And that's a great thing, because YHDP pays only for housing — no services.
   Back to Bridgette: On this particular night, we had a good mix of established clients who have benefitted from YHDP and new ones waiting to participate. The new clients were clique-ish. They arrived as a group, sat as a group, and went outside as a group. And everywhere they went, they left a mess.
   Bridgette was watching all of this. It turns out I hadn't annoyed her at all — it was the group! She rose from her seat, scooped up the scraps they had tossed onto the floor, then walked outside, only to see another mess on the ground. "This is ridiculous!” she exclaimed as she picked it up. “They shouldn't act like this!"
   I chuckled as I figured out what was going on. Twelve months ago, she was the one leaving the litter and we were picking up after her! It’s a pattern I’ve learned to recognize: Clients who shed their bad habits become annoyed when others don’t. Bridgette’s reaction was a sign of good things to come, so I welcomed it! She was growing up!
   We know our clients change their lives, get jobs, become more responsible, conquer past problems, and mature in amazing ways.It's truly a privilege to be their guidance counselors during this time. We believe every homeless young adult deserves one. We're now expanding our reach southward to San Marcos, but our real plan is to figure out how to train people who already have street youth in or near their lives and want to help!
   And we can't wait to see how each of these wonderful individuals turns out! .
Terry Cole

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