Jul 17, 2019

Clients Need More than Housing

   "We don't just need housing,” a client named Curtis told me recently. “We need help learning how to live in housing." He was frustrated, but he's part of a voice of change in Austin.

Street Youth Ministry is trusted, and we inspire our clients. We empower them to make change -- we don't make it for them. We are an evolving ministry, always looking to keep things fresh. Being fresh helps attract people to us, but there's more to needing to be fresh than that. The landscape and the needs are always changing. One must listen intently and inquire directly to learn what clients are coping with and what they need now. And you must pay attention to the environment in which they are homeless and seeking help: other agencies, local and federal agencies, relevant social problems and pressures.

   Curtis was referring to a new HUD initiative (administered by ECHO with federal funding) that has provided many clients with free housing for a period of time. I know its origins well, because helped write the program definition that got HUD approval and brought the $5.5 million initiative to life. HUD pays only for housing, so we receive none of the funding and we are not able to be part of the oversight. However, we refer lots of interested clients into the program and continue to work with them afterwards.

Curtis was voicing concern that people who are taken from the streets and placed in apartments, even free ones, lose their community. They can become depressed and isolated. In addition, we see clients with stress and anxiety from housing responsibilities that can seem almost unsurmountable. Many invite their friends over to re-establish that community, but this can lead to eviction. Depressed and isolated people have a hard time with motivation to find and keep jobs—a new experience for many--so they are often unemployed.  Overall they don’t feel competent at life.

SYM has adapted to this changing environment by listening to our clients. We asked how can we help. Some want one-on-one budgeting help. Some want employment guidance. We spend considerable time in guidance counseling these days with people who have housing but aren't sure what is next. In addition, we help with groceries once a week (see story next page). And we provide cleaning supplies once a month. All this allows us to maintain our relationship, even though the clients perhaps don't come to our Drop-in Center as often, because they have an apartment.

   We have added several events and activities with a goal of creating a feeling of competency within our clients: art group, game night and talent night. They can volunteering at SYM to earn credits so they can purchase nice donated items from our “store.” (We've found this to be a great way to also re-engage clients in a personal economy and teach deferred gratification.) They can earn participate in our online learning programs and earn credit for merchandise on Amazon. (This teaches them the process of saving for larger items and planning purchases.) We have several events that are great for lonely clients who might need a community: peer support group, movie night, or game night.

Curtis is a good example of our guidance counseling at work. He first received services almost daily about 18 months ago. Then he stopped coming and began pursuing jobs in security. He got an apartment under the HUD program, pays his bills and buys his groceries. Recently, he started coming back to us on occasion for community and guidance. He shared that he doesn't want to work in security. It's just what he found. He wants to start a camp for disadvantaged children, but he doesn't really know where to start.

   Curtis has become our next client intern for entrepreneurship. He will work in our Drop-in like any intern, but we will also spend time with him teaching him about donors, volunteers, in-kind giving, program management and so on. We hope that by the end of the internship he will know if education or more practical experience is the next step in pursuing his dream!

   Thank you for being a part of all the guidance counseling and practical help we supply to our street youth clients! It matters! It works!

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