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Kelly's Story: A Home Away from Home
Kelly was 18 years old and already seemed out of choices. She’d been struggling desperately to survive on the streets after she’d been kicked out of her home at 16. Then she made the choice to come into Streetwork, in search of help.
At first, Kelly was a handful to deal with. Kelly stole from the other kids and she often picked fights with teens, staff, or anyone who happened to be around. Kelly was hostile and her attitude made her a challenge. Yet Kelly was a challenge that we knew we had to meet – because it would be the chance she really needed to get help in order to turn her life around.
When Kelly acted out, we worked with her in counseling and assigned consequences for her behavior. Yet we never told Kelly she wasn’t welcome at Streetwork. Instead, we told her how much we cared for her and then spent time helping her deal with her frustrations. Most important, we encouraged her to keep coming back. And Kelly did.
Every time Kelly returned to Streetwork, it was another chance for us to reach out to her, even though it was difficult each time. Finally, Kelly began to trust us enough to talk about her life. She revealed a story of pain, betrayal, and loneliness, with her father physically abusing her while her mother did nothing to stop it. In middle school, a teacher sexually abused her. Kelly said she told her mother, who blamed her for the abuse at school and at home. Kelly remembered that her mother called her a “bad kid” – and she began to believe it.
To deal with trauma from the abuse, Kelly began taking drugs, and then began to steal from her neighbors and from her mother to pay for them. Instead of her mother seeking treatment to help Kelly, however, she threw her out onto the streets and left Kelly to fend for herself.
Kelly was 16, vulnerable, and alone. She found a group of other homeless teens that she felt safe enough with to stay with outdoors. One of them told her about our Streetwork program, and she arrived soon afterward.
We could see how being on the streets only exacerbated Kelly’s problems. But we also knew Kelly wasn’t a “bad kid.” She needed support and she needed someone to believe that she deserved better.
With more than 25 years of experience, our Streetwork program is a place where kids like Kelly don’t find judgment. Instead, they find the critical support and services they need to have a chance to regain their lives. Kelly began to trust us because of our encouragement and our willingness to welcome her, in spite of her behavior. The more she trusted us, the more open she became to the help we could offer.
At our drop-in center, we gave Kelly hot meals, clean clothes, and options so she could deal with her drug use. We also placed Kelly into our shelter program. Even though she tried to get herself thrown out, we kept a spot open for her and gave her the counseling and attention she needed to stay.
We knew we’d reached a turning point with Kelly when, instead of stealing from the other young people, she began to make friends with them. When we offered Kelly the chance for mental health treatment, instead of an argument, Kelly agreed.
Kelly learned that she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She also learned that we could offer her treatment for her disorder and to help her find better options to deal with her trauma than using drugs. Kelly accepted our help, and with both treatment and our encouragement, Kelly truly began to change.
A year later, Kelly is 19 years old and her life is much different from what it used to be. Through our support Kelly was accepted into a housing program for young people with mental illnesses. Kelly also enrolled in a job training program and just a few weeks after graduating, she landed her very first job at a retail store.
When Kelly talks to us today, she says she can’t believe how much her life has changed. She can’t believe she has a job and her own place to live, or that she’s able to take care of herself like an adult. Yet we believe in Kelly, and thanks to the support of people who believe in what we can do for young people in crisis, Kelly has a brighter future worth believing in.
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*Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.