Street youth have a lot of critics. Most are homeless. Many dress and act rebelliously. Many have no job at all. Few have steady jobs. Many didn’t graduate high school or get a GED. Many turn to alcohol and some turn to drugs. It’s easy to make a list of things not to like.
Many business owners in my town wish the street youth would hang out somewhere else. They are too near their shop doors. They are too near their businesses. They say they don’t fit in with the image they want. Many business owners are critical of street youth.
Many university students in my city are uncomfortable with street youth. Many of the street youth are panhandlers. Some are aggressive panhandlers, and the students are uncomfortable with aggressive panhandlers. Some of the street youth leave behind trash. Many students are critical of street youth.
The police in my town want fewer mis-dealings with street youth. Some police officers are critical that of the street youth contribute more than their fair share to the workload of the peace officer. They have publicly announced a project to “drive” the youth somewhere else, calling it “Project Pied Piper.”
Many vocal critics… But who do you think the worst critics are of street youth? In my experience, it is the street youth themselves. “I have no skills,” one said to me recently. “Oh really?,” I asked. Then I started to ask them how they live and how they get buy. Pretty soon we had a list of skills. But the youth are very critical in how they look at themselves.
“I screw up everything I ever try to do,” another told me. “I’m just a drunk and good for nothing,” another said. After living with their freedoms and rebellion, it is amazing that this is what they are left with: “I’m hopeless. There is no way out.” “I have never accomplished anything” was a recent statement I heard. I spent the next 5 minutes helping show this young man that they had exaggerated significantly.
If a sports team hears that they are a loser over and over, we all know how the season will turn out. They will become the losers the coach has told them they are. I believe we owe it to street youth to be coaches for them… coaches who will tell them that they can rise above their own self criticism, or the criticism lobbed at them from the community, and they can be winners. They have valuable insights, skills, and passions to contribute to society. Some aren’t ready yet to change, but many do want to change and need encouragement. Each of them is an individual with strengths and weaknesses.
I applaud all those who have the courage to street youth as individual persons of worth. As one store owner in my town had the courage to recently said, “I am wary of pigeonholing all homeless as helpless bums. People can change.” Way to say it! Amen.