Streetwork's Harlem Center: Art Center

The Art Center

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In an open and airy corner of the main loft space you can find the Art Center. Next to the small library stocked with books for inspiration, the area has bright blue walls covered in beadwork, drawings, paintings and collages.

Jose Gonzalez, Assistant Director of Client Services, washes paintbrushes in preparation for the day ahead. "Young people come in from the chaos of their lives on the streets. A lot of them use art as an outlet for the issues that they’re having now or they’ve had in the past."

Containers of paint, clay, ink and markers are lined neatly along one countertop and the area looks remarkably clean -- a reminder that the 25-year-old program has been operating at this new center for just a few months. Many of Streetwork’s young clients are still adjusting to the change.

"They’re not used to having a space that’s so beautiful. It was like they sensed that they weren’t worthy of a place like this," says Jose, who offers extra counseling for young clients struggling with depression and anger management issues, often as a result of painful, abusive early childhood experiences.

"That was touching to me," Jose says, shaking his head slowly. "These young people deserve to have what every human being deserves to have - a clean beautiful space where they can come and feel safe and maybe get away from some of the pressures of their everyday life."

Looking at the highchair placed at the edge of the worktable, Jose reminds us that the space is also a favorite of Streetwork’s youngest visitors -- the infants and toddlers who come to the center with their young homeless and street-involved parents.

"We’ll get out the crayons and paper, even paint," says Jose, "The activity engages the child… and maybe provides a little bit of respite for the parent."

Streetwork is the only drop-in program in New York City that welcomes young parents and their children. The program’s parenting component helps ensure the wellbeing of young children, teaching parenting skills to those so alienated from the child welfare system that they may otherwise never receive services.

Each Streetwork counselor is a mandated reporter, required to contact child protective services if a parent is truly homeless or a child shows any signs of abuse and neglect. Yet most young parents go to extraordinary lengths to maintain a safe home for themselves and their children despite their circumstances. For them, Streetwork serves as a resource -- offering parenting support groups, housing and legal assistance and intensive counseling.

Next stop: The Counseling Rooms.

Need help? Call Streetwork at 1.800.708.6600.

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