Clients Need More than Housing





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   “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.
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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