Archive for June, 2010

June 26, 2010

Questions from Youth about Street Youth

  • “Getting to see the youth in a positive setting. You usually only hear about homeless people negatively.” 
  • “Just getting to talk to them about stuff they like.”
The greatest gift I believe we can give to street youth it so make them visible and to see them as human beings. They are not runaways and they are not homeless adults. They are rebellious youth trying to figure out what to be, what to do, how the world works. They got lousy starts, usually, and are trying to make the best of it.

What bothered you? 
  • “Some of them really talk mean to some of the other street kids.”
  •  “I saw a fresh tattoo on one and a pack of cigarettes on another. Seems like they could spend their money differently.”
Street youth are family to one another. Usually the best family they have ever experienced. That means there are loving dynamics but also tough dynamics. There is a lot of drama, but in the end they usually look out for each other like brothers and sisters.
Street youth do get money as gifts or from begging or by working temp jobs. And they don’t often safe it all up and use it to leave the street. As Christians we need to take care not to judge them for this. We are called to love them just as they are. We can hold our fellow believers in our churches to higher standards, and the Bible asks us to do that in fact. But outside the church we are called to love unconditionally.

Do you have other questions?
  • “I heard a lot of stories. I started to wonder if they were telling me the truth or what they wanted me to hear to get what they wanted.” 

This is a great observation. Don’t we all make up certain things about our lives and tell little fibs? Haven’t we at some time or another made a more elaborate web of lies to protect something we’re ashamed of or afraid of? Street kids are no different. They do sometimes tell elaborate lies. I always accept those initially. I never challenge them. If I begin to question certain parts, it may cause great damage. Sort of like tugging at a loose thread on a dress jacket sleeve. Suddenly the jacket may completely fall apart. I am strongly interested in the truth, but I want to help the youth get to the truth with the appropriate love and support systems. The street offers little in the way of support so it’s not a good place to begin to deconstruct the elaborate shells of protection that some youth have build around them.

  •  “Why don’t the churches down here hire the youth to do odd jobs. I know my church has all kinds of jobs to do.” 
There are about 12 churches and even more para-church organizations in the 12 blocks I serve. Few of them hire homeless to do anything, although almost all offer some type of social service (food pantry, clothing closet, weekly case management, etc.). I believe it is the plight of urban churches in the trenches with poverty to tire. Perhaps they need more help from suburban churches, coming alongside and encouraging, inspiring, and helping. It is my prayer that the churches in the west campus area will find ways to do even more… allowing street youth access to water in the summer, allowing street youth a safe place to sit in the daytime, a safe place to sleep outdoors in the night, odd jobs to earn money or bus passes. It is complicated, but that simply means it takes the power and complexity of the church at work! For God, nothing is impossible!

“To know, love and serve street dependent youth.”
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June 18, 2010

Stages of Change

First, their work says that people progress through a series of stages go make change happen. The stages of change can be thought of as follows: resistant, considering, planning, acting, and maintaining. No big surprise here. However, what is surprising is that the stages seem to be universal across many cultures (including street kids) and across many types of change (including many that are of interest to me working with street youth: housing, employment, drinking, drug addiction, sexual behavior, anger management, and faith).  One can progress from one stage to any other stage, but the finding is that in self-changers and change assisted by therapy, there is a forward progression through the stages in the order listed but with backward steps and subsequent retracing of steps from time to time.

We might define success as seeing people navigate through a change process to the maintenance stage as quickly as possible, with as few backwards steps as possible, and with a long time spent in “maintenance.”

The second part of the work was in looking at what workers can do to participate in change. The most typical thing for a worker to do is to study and develop a message that is relatively effective for some particular change and repeat it. For example, think of DWI awareness raising campains. That’s a single message going out over and over. The researchers measured effectiveness of about a dozen social work tools in progressing people through the stages of change. The result was poor. Nothing really worked much better than anything else. Then something appeared in the research that was startling. The researchers observed that certain approaches were best at moving people from one particular state to another. The same method was not effective in other stages. So, if the worker matches the therapeutic approach to the state of change,  better things can happen. Again, it seems to straight forward, BUT THIS IS NOT NORMALLY PRACTICED! Workers have a few tools and often use them, no matter what the client is experiencing.

When I work with a street youth, I first try to identify one or two areas of change that the youth is interested in or which seem obvious based on the situation.  For example, maybe the youth is self-destructively drinking himself into a hole. Or perhaps it is a problem that the youth has identified. “I want to get a job because I’m tired of not having anything.”
I then assess where they are in the stages of change. I most frequently encounter the resistant stage or the considering stage. I figure this out by shaping my conversation intentionally to discover where they are. The most common response for drinking is: “How are you with alcohol?” “I have no problem with alcohol. I love to drink.” OK… resistant to change. Or, “I know I drink to much, but what can I do. If only I could get into a program that would really help me, but I’ve tried that before.” This is considering change.
Now what do I do? I need to modify my approach to match their stage of change! Tools that work well with resistant stage street youth are: externalization, visualization, and and exploration of the continuum of harm. Externalization includes seeing who or what outside the person is effected negatively by the behavior. For example, “I know you are OK with your binge drinking. How is your girlfriend with it?” “Well… she hates it because I sometimes beat her up.” “Wow. That’s rough.” “Yeah… I guess I shouldn’t do that.” By externalizing, we’ve moved from resistant to considering. It really can be that simple!  Or “My drinking doesn’t hurt anybody.” “What do you think all those ER visits and nights in jail cost?” “Wow! I like to think of myself as not making much of an impact, but I don’t like $1000/ER visit and $1000/night in jail! I guess I really ought to try to avoid those.” Another tool is visualization. We can bring as many senses as possible into play and getting the kid to imagine alternative futures. “If we get into a time machine and go 5 years into the future, what might we see?” We can do group exercises with drama, acting out alternatives. We can do art exercises where make a collage of how you want to be in the future. All these exercises invite the street youth to visualize the future and this can break down resistance. Another great technique is to openly admit that there is a whole range of behavior… from the safest to the most dangerous. Talk about each in terms of pros and cons. Don’t try to argue that drinking heavily doesn’t have pros… party environment, numbing out, forgetting painful things, relaxing. And you can discuss the cons. And consider other outcomes of getting worse and getting better: increase to drug use, increase to liver damage, reduction, occasional drinking, sobriety. It’s a continuum and the street youth can consider where they want to be in it.

In the considering change stage, I think helping with motivation is key. In this stage, I often help look at what’s important to the person. Put things into perspective. “Is your girlfriend or your bottle more important to you?” “Does your drug habit leave any room in your life for the things you enjoy: music, drawing, art, comic books, movies?” “What did you want to do before you starting drinking every day?” These questions help the person to consider their values and commit to planning.

In the planning stage, I believe the two most important things to hear over and over are “These changes are important” and “I believe in you.” And it is crucial to help the person make a realistic plan. When they begin to act, the most important three things are to “Celebrate, celebrate, and celebrate” every step forward. And normalize setbacks. Recovery is almost never a smooth escalator ride up. It’s a bumpy roller coaster with ups and downs.
To follow this model, (1) you assess where the person is with respect to some particular change goal, (2) you adapt your talk and actions to the person being served, and (3) you follow-up as they move through different stages. When they move forward, you move forward. If they go backward, you go back with them. So what if you do all this? Astounding things happen! The researchers showed significantly faster progress through the stages of change when the worker matches the client, perhaps as much as twice as fast! And just as important, there was significantly less going backward and longer  periods of time spent in maintenance stage. That’s something to be happy about!

“To know, love and serve street dependent youth.”
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June 3, 2010

Ministry in the Rain

I love ministry in the rain. It feels different. Everything becomes clean. Ordinary people on the street hurry from destination to destination, bundled, covered, and head down. The roadway glistens. The trees and plants catch raindrops like jewels. The air puts on a fine perfume of sweet ozone.

Imagine being a street kid. …

You get a questioning glance. Eyes avert when you look to another's face. Some people avoid you. Another bumps into you. Some give you dirty looks. You have an epithet aimed at you. A sense of anxiety develops and goes with you all day.

But when it rains, all that washes away. Fewer people and fewer cars are around.  People focus on staying dry and pay less attention. The sound of raindrops hits everything. The sound of splashing water from cars and buses covers other sounds. You stand tall in the rain. You gather together undisturbed. You play in the puddles. You run in circles with arms upstretched to the clouds.  Your body is washed and your hair becomes sleek. Your face shines. You smile. You laugh.

Yes, I love ministry in the rain. I look forward to it. The downpour dominates all other forces on the street. The sweet fragrance of rain overshadows all other smells. The rain washes clean the sidewalk, the plants, and the roadways.  Rain washes clean the street youth. Rain washes clean the community. Rain washes clean the servant. What a wonderful metaphor for the healing grace of Jesus Christ… for nature, for the community, for the workers, and for the street youth.

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