I was asked recently a great question while speaking at All Saints’ Episcopal Church while presenting the ministry there to a group of 45 interested people. These were largely not novices at serving homeless people because they have several ministries there that directly serve homeless. The question was “If money weren’t an issue, what are the top three things you would do to help your clients.”
First, I’m going to give a different answer that I often give to parents of street youth asking what they should do. Here are my top three things that I think a parent should do if they have a street-dependent youth living on the streets of the USA:
A) Get your son or daughter a low end phones with internet. They are regularly on sale for $50 to $80. They may have it stolen from them, so don’t buy anything more. Purchase by the month a pre-paid plans ($35 or $40 per month gets unlimited texting, internet and calling). Don’t do a contract. Just stick with month by month. Your child can now keep in touch with friends of their choosing. They may even choose to stay in touch with you. They can research places where they can get help and call them. They can stay active on social medias. It’s a true lifeline. It’s not really a luxury in the USA.
B) Offer to purchase a hotel room about two nights a month to give your child a break. Living in constant crisis with no breaks leads to all sorts of physical, mental and emotional problems. Pay by phone and tell them not to give any type of cash refund for early check-out.
C) When your child decides to get a job and move from the street, help with deposit and living expenses for the first two weeks until they get paid. I would setup a bank account that you can both access and another that only you can access. Put money into the latter and setup a daily automatic transfer for a small amount into the first. Don’t’ micro-manage but don’t provide additional moneys beyond what you agree. They have to learn to make it but deposits and those first two weeks can be giant obstacles.
Now back to the question asked by the audience member. What would SYM do with unlimited funding? We are a faith-based organization. So first, we would make sure Christian volunteers and churches are used throughout the programs described below. We’d be an excellent employer of a volunteer coordinator and a communications coordinator. Together, volunteer and coordinators would:
1) Run a hostel with a kitchen. Active clients who attend indoor events at least three times this month, would get one room night (or something like that) and the option to exchange working at reception, kitchen, garden, or cleaning for additional room nights. All management and supervision jobs would be given to recovering street youth. Day labor jobs would be available in exchange for a room-night. This would be a legitimate hostile and we would welcome paying guests as well.
2) Operate a training center that works with some recognizable names in training to provide computer skills for real life (running a computer base cash register, waitress station, receptionist stations, etc.) and training in customer service. We’d operate a doggie day care offering grooming, walking and boarding services to the local neighborhood using clients who have been trained. They would compete for a set of “management” positions but all graduates of training classes could get overnight security, reception, advertising, crate cleaning, dog walking, and dog washing jobs.
3) Augment government grants for school. FAFSA and governments grants do a great job for most homeless youth willing to attend community college. We’d only pick up certain outliers: felons, people who refused to register for draft, people who can’t satisfy residency, etc. We’d continue to buy college books for all clients who go to school and continue to qualify for government aid.
4) (a bonus) Form a hiring agency “co-op.” Clients join by paying a small amount each week (possibly even as low as $0.50). In return they can be selected by the membership as the “candidate.” All members work hard to get the “candidate” a job, pooling knowledge, networks, and talking straight to the “candidate” about clothing, hygiene, interview skills, attitude, presentation, habits, etc. The candidate signs a contract with the co-op to direct deposit 10% of paycheck for 3 months back to the co-op. Weekly paid members receive published job resources as well as snacks and access to meetings. The co-op pays other members of the group to watch pets or belongs of candidates.
5) (a double bonus) Form a detox facility for substance abuse. We would be a place willing to take in street youth client (attending at least 3 SYM indoor events in the month) for the purpose of detoxing from drugs or alcohol. They would stay there until a bed can be found in a longer term program. The goal of the detox facility is to always be able to get a spot open within 3 days. This would form a bridge buffer to rehab facilities that typically can only free a bed in 2-3 weeks. Two to three weeks is an eternity for a street-dependent youth.
our efforts to support Austin street youth.
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