Where is the home for the hearts of our nearly 1.5 million homeless young people?
The old saying home is where the heart is rings through the minds and out of the mouths of individuals on a daily basis. If this saying is true, then where is the heart of the youth who’ve been abandoned and neglected by those who were supposed to care for, nurture, and support them? Where is the home for those precious hearts of our young people who are homeless?
The resiliency of our young people who are homeless tells us that although they have been without a stable residence, their hearts are stronger than many who are surrounded with what some would say are luxuries. As a street outreach crisis counselor serving young people who are homeless, I have the great honor of meeting homeless young people on a daily and nightly basis. Young people who have been abandoned and through every system of placement throughout their young lives. They’ve witnessed and experienced things that no human being should have to endure. They’ve been rejected by those who were supposed to accept them, left by those who were supposed to walk with them, and violated by those who were supposed to protect them. The verdict that many of our homeless youth came up with about themselves is that they are guilty.
Many have internalized the abuse, pain, loss, trauma, and abandonment they’ve experienced, and carry guilt by thinking that somehow it’s all their fault. They carry guilt that they were left, abandoned, and this brings them to a conclusion that they are deserving of the harsh realities of the streets, or isolation in the woods and under the bridges. In this guilt many deem themselves undeserving of help, comfort, or support. When street outreach workers meet the youth where they are, they not only deliver food, clothes, survival packs, and transportation. No, we deliver something more. We deliver a verdict of innocence to the young people we serve. A verdict that can take time to penetrate someone’s self-imposed guilty verdict.
It can take hours, days, weeks, or months, yet with listening and conversing with street outreach workers the young ones begin to look more deeply at the verdict they have placed upon themselves. They begin to reexamine their self-imposed guilty verdict as the street outreach worker points out their great strengths, intelligence, fortitude, and innocence. Eventually the youth request and are granted a retrial. After their own internal prosecution and defense teams make their closing statements, their internal jury goes into deliberation. As I said, this can take a moment, hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Yet, because of the street outreach worker there was a retrial within the young person. A street outreach worker who didn’t just hand some food and clothes out and go on their way, because it isn’t just a job, it’s their calling. They know that they are there to remind the young person that they are a blessing, miracle, gift, and sacred.
As the street outreach worker meets the basic needs of the young person they remind them, and for many youth it may be the first time they have heard someone tell them, “I believe in you and every dream you didn’t get the chance to live because you’ve been surviving a nightmare. Yet, you survived. You are stronger than everything and everyone that hurt you. Despite it all, here you stand. You are my hero and I believe in you. When you’re ready let’s start worker on using all the skills you’ve had to use to survive and see how those same skills can be used to move back and into the dreams you were born to live.”
When the young person is ready, and always with some hesitancy, through smiles and a tears, the young people who are reached out to with love, respect, and honor, eventually come back and read the verdict from the jury about their retrial: Not Guilty.
It may be the first time the young person has stated that all the things that happened to them were not their fault, and they breathe deeper, and smiled a true smile. After this moment, the supports begin to be accepted by the young person because they began to accept their own innocence.
Our young people who are homeless can and do survive in any and all circumstances. Unfortunately, all too often, the dangers of the streets are less dangerous than the homes and placements they were thrown out of or ran from. Many of the young people I have had the honor to serve survived and lived on the streets at night, yet went to school every day. No, they were not attending school just for breakfast and lunch, but for the thread of hope that if they do complete high school, then something will change for the better. Our homeless young people have endured more than most can imagine or want to know about. Our homeless young people are stronger than most adults.
Most adults who walk by our homeless young people and look at them with contrived malice and self-righteous indignation could not have survived through any of the experiences our homeless youth endured before they became homeless, and certainly could not walk in the shoes of our young people who are homeless. I don’t just write this article to honor our young people, or to tell you how important it is that street outreach programs exist. No, I also write this for those who have closed hearts for the almost 1.5 million homeless students in the United States, so that you can consider where your home is, and going back to it to help others – your heart. Home is where the heart is, right?
Often it isn’t until our youth are reminded that they are miracles, blessings, gifts, that they matter, and their dreams matter, that they decided to accept a verdict of innocence. How do I know? Because I witness it and see it on a daily basis. I am a street outreach crisis counselor. Our young people and all of us will always find our innocence, purpose, callings, and gifts by going back to our hearts. The heart is where our purest and highest callings spring from, and is truly a home that we can always open for others as a refuge during the storms of life.
Yes, reach out to our homeless youth and give them what they need to survive, but also give them what they need to live. Remind them of their great significance and their innocence from your heart to theirs. If it’s true that home is where the heart is, then when we close our hearts to our young people, to each other, no matter how extravagant the walls that surround us, we’re homeless. Let’s unite and take the seventeen inch journey from our heads back to our hearts, and open them once again to end homelessness.