Posts tagged ‘community solutions’

August 23, 2013

Generating Excitement

SYM recently was invited to “table” at a Christian ministry fair for incoming freshmen at the University of Texas. We did this last year and it was pretty successful. We did get one or two new volunteers from the effort. This year I set goals of (a) not doing this alone, (b) giving out at least 50 brochures, and obtaining at least 25 emails on our iPAD of people who’d like to be reminded with more information once school starts.
I asked the president of our new student organization at UT, Friends of Street Youth, to help me find a volunteer to do. And I asked a regular volunteer to go around at one of our fellowship events for clients and find two clients willing to help out with the event. So with a couple of people to go with me, a schedule and a plan for the tabling event, we set off.
We quickly setup the table. It looked great. By using an iPAD, we kept things simple. We had a few photos of UT students interacting with clients at events and a call to action: Please share your email address on your iPAD or text it to us to get more information.
There were 200 students at Ignite. They came into the fair in three groups. My volunteers went to work. It was awesome! They did such a great job of quickly explaining what we do and then asking if the student would like to get involved.
I listened to a client tell it this way: “We help 60 to 80 street kids on the edge of UT campus every week. We help them with food, clothing, prayer, Bible study and such.” He would stop to let the student ask for me or say something. “Sounds cool. What do I do?” He would continue, “We need your help with events every day. You just hang out with street youth. It really works. This is me in the picture. And now I’m going to start college on August 23!”
We gave out 139 brochures, far surpassing my goal. And we collected email addresses from 54 freshmen who want to know more about SYM! But the best part came later.
Since I didn’t really have any role at the fair outside of planning and getting the people there, I walked around. I found a group of students bunched together at the end of one of “groups.” One girl was very animated and excited. I could see she had a SYM flyer in her hand. She was telling all her small group how exciting SYM was and how cool it was to see a life transformed. She couldn’t wait to volunteer. I offered the whole group flyers and they all took them. Now that’s excitement!
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“To know, love and serve street dependent youth.”

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July 8, 2013

Top Three Things I’d Do

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.

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December 7, 2008

Dreaming Big

I was invited to join in an Austin community planning event called Ending Community Homelessness, ECHO. We heard from community government leaders, non-profit agency leaders and several citizens who were formerly homeless. We saw an exciting new video that addresses 10 common misconceptions about Austin community homelessness. From there we broke into smaller groups with special focus on homeless families, homeless youth, homeless veterans, and homeless with mental illness and chemical dependencies. 

I was assigned to a group that focused on homeless youth. We heard from a representative of Department of Education, a leader of Lifeworks, a leader from Ready By 21 Coalition, and a leader from Casey Family Programs, the instigator of the Raise Me Up campaign. 
Then we were asked to break into even small groups and provide input. We were asked to dream big, describing how Austin will have overcome the challenges of community homelessness in the year 2018. What was key? What was our strategy? What challenges did we face?
Here are the big and bold dreams of my small group concerning homeless youth in Austin in 2018:
We have overcome community homelessness of youth by empowering the youth themselves to be a voice in the solution. We provided mentoring to them and helped draw out the strengths in the youth. We helped organize them and give them a voice of their own. They are now recognised as a strong part of the solution in our community.

We have overcome community youth homelessness in Austin by raising public awareness within our community. We started by educating every single teacher in Austin and every single student about homelessness. We broadened the definitions of homelessness so include those at risk of homelessness and those without support networks. We made homelessness personal to our citizens and gave them personal ways to act and respond. We tied solving homelessness and being good stewards of the earth together. It has become of source of pride in Austin that we are 100% housed.

We have overcome community homelessness in Austin by distributing human scale on-step service delivery all over our community. No one wants shelters and service centers in their back yards to we put it all over town. This allows us to make them smaller so that each person can get a personal touch. We have combined homeless facilities and service delivery in neighborhoods by combining them with other necessary public buildings and services, following the model of Jake Pickle Elementary School. This has provided incentives to neighborhoods to have the facilities and services. We have recouped the cost savings from shrinking institutional programs aimed at criminal justice and invested these savings in community based homeless solutions.
I know it’s a bold and audacios dream, but if 10 people can agree on these visions, why not 100? Why not a whole  neighborhood? Why not a whole community? Dare to dream!