SYM at work:
We met a new client. It was cold and he was wearing shorts and looking a little bit ashen from the cold. He had pants and a coat in his backpack. He looked healthy and strong. He asked to borrow my phone and I let him, admonishing him (as I do all clients) that it’s not for drug calls.
He wanted privacy. The phone didn’t work right at first and frustrated him. And then his call didn’t get answered. But eventually he was on the phone, pacing and the discussion seemed agitated.
I served others while he talked on the phone. Eventually I went over when he was done. I simply said, “Tough call?” He said, “Yes. My parents don’t get me.” I asked, “New to the street?” He said, “Yes. I’m supposed to be in a rehab, but I’m not going back to that place. They are mean. I’ll go to another one, but not back to that place. My parents just won’t hear me, though.” I replied, “The rehab won’t work if you don’t want to be there, anyway. But keep the lines of communication open with your parents.”
I considered my next move. He was so agitated that I decided to ask, “Would you like a hug?” It was a risky move with a new 6’4″ client. Without hesitation, he said, “Yes” and hugged me. He began to fight back tears from the stress and hurt. I just hugged him back until he was ready.
He wiped away the tears and then he began to tell me his story. From college student to drug user to caught addict. Forced rehab. He said, “I want to stay out here. Surely if my parents seem me choose to be homeless rather than rehab, they’ll understand.” I stopped him, “Do nothing to make them do anything. Do things for yourself. Do things that are right for you and forget trying to manipulate or control them.” He asked surprised, “Are you a drug counsellor?” I said, “No, but I’ve been taught by a lot of street youth like you. And I study a bit.”
I asked, “Is faith a resource for you?” He said, “Yes. I’ve been working 12 steps. I’m 60 days sober. I’m a Christian.” So I asked if we could pray together. He did the natural thing and said, “Sure. You can pray for me.” I held out hands and said, “No. I mean pray together. What are you thankful for?” He began to answer. “Do you have sins you’d like to confess?” He did. “What do you want God to do for you?” He wanted provision. He wanted a job. He wanted his parents and brother to understand him. He wanted reunion.
After praying, we made a safety plan. We discussed how there are people right here on this block who would be happy to help him spoil his sobriety record this very night. He said he was strong and could resist. We discussed how he needs to find a computer he can use to communicate with family and brother and friends so he can survive the next few days. He knew a way.
Then I asked him to soften a bit. “You know how you’re going to get by in the next few days. I want you to be willing to wake up tomorrow and do whatever is right for you. If it’s going back to rehab, then swallow your pride and simply go. If it’s continuing the fight for a new rehab, then do your research and make your case. If it’s getting a job, then contact the people who have a copy of your ID so you can get the audit number and order your ID so you can work. But whatever you do tomorrow, do it for you. Stay focused and get help. And keep your faith strong. It may not look like it, but there are a lot of Christians and even more faithful people out here on the street. Don’t be afraid to find someone who can pray with you often.”
He headed away from the Drag to the place he believed he could be safe for the night. It was typical of many first encounters with youth new to the street. I pray for his safety and ultimate decision. I pray lines of communication remain open. I know he’s kidding himself in some ways but I also believe he is strong and resourceful.
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