By Sebastien Vante
November 7, 2016
Streetwork Project provides respite for homeless youth up to age 24 by providing safe and welcoming Drop-In Centers stocked with all their basic needs. As the Sexual Health Coordinator, I provide guidance and resources to help them make healthy choices. In this youth homelessness FAQ, I will talk about how I got started with Safe Horizon and the issue of youth homelessness.
How did you first become involved with Safe Horizon?
I studied political science in college in preparation to become a lawyer, but decided to change careers after volunteering with youth. Since then, I sought to work with a youth development program. Safe Horizon’s Streetwork Project focuses on harm-reduction, which really attracted me.
What are some unique aspects of Streetwork?
Streetwork as well as Safe Horizon as a whole, do not discriminate based on identity of any kind either. Some programs may not serve LGBTQ homeless youth because of religious beliefs, but we will and I’m proud to say that.
We know a lot of our clients use drugs, and while we prefer them not too, our focus is to make sure that if they choose to do so, we are there to try and reduce the harm done as much as possible. We do things like clean needle exchanges, HIV testing, and more to ensure they are as safe as possible.
What is the biggest challenge serving homeless youth in New York City?
Resources. The current problem of homeless youth in New York City outweighs the resources available to Streetwork to address it as effectively as possible. That’s why support from volunteers, donors, and corporations is so critical to our work and the clients we serve.
What have you learned while working with youth at Streetwork?
That there isn’t a specific “look” to homelessness. People think that homeless youth are dirty, disheveled, aren’t conscious or intellectual. The young people I work with are some of the smartest, most put together people I’ve ever met. They are aware of how appearance can be used to judge them, so they go to extreme lengths to appear just like anyone else so no one views them as homeless. They’re extremely aware of their situations, of the challenges they face.
I wish more people who aren’t homeless realized this, that there is no one look to the issue, and that it can happen to anyone.