In 2009, on my very first road trip, the State of Utah contacted me and asked me to visit Salt Lake City. Invisible People is not your conventional homeless services, so I was a little shocked and greatly honored that a state government was validating my work. It was during a visit here in 2010 that I met Sergei on his first night homeless, it was also his 18th birthday. Meeting Sergei messed me up. I opened my wallet and gave him every penny I had, but the few $20s were not enough to get him the help he needed. For a few years after meeting Sergei, I wore a wristband with National Safe Places's TXT 4 Help information so I would have referral information when I meet the next homeless kid on the streets needing help
Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to join the Volunteers of America homeless youth outreach team in Salt Lake City, Utah. We met at their Homeless Youth Resource Center, which is kind of a home base for homeless youth to get physical and social support. I was really impressed with everything I saw, and was so happy to see them use the harm reduction model by distributing 'bleach kits' and 'crack kits'. I have seen harm reduction used in youth outreach in Canada, but this is the first time (for me) seeing it used in the states.
During the morning and afternoon we all walked nearly 10 miles meeting and engaging with homeless youth. I was exhausted and had to sit down (us LA folks are known for not walking much) and this wonderful woman sat across from me and we started to talk. Turns out Tanya Ray is the 'youth clinician' for the center. I had just witnessed her helping a very young teenage mother with baby, and with police intervention. I am not sure what was going on, I just know watching it messed me up, and I am sure the emotions of it all had to get to Tanya. She has an extremely important job that I am sure is very rewarding, but also very taxing at times.
Being someone who knows enough about psychology to be dangerous, I just started asking Tanya all kinds of questions. I think what really got my attention most is when Tanya said she is seeing an increase of schizophrenia in homeless youth. I find this interesting because schizophrenia is organic and first signs start showing at around age 15. Schizophrenia is not brought on by trauma or drug abuse, but it is often generational. Now I am not the smartest person, but this may give some insight as to why some families self-destruct. It also, at least to me, gives hope because if we had better and more mental health services maybe, just maybe we could fix families!
Please watch and share this important video. Tanya shares a lot of insight on the psychology of youth homelessness. I think my favorite is when she says "youth homelessness should not be punished". What are your thoughts about the information Tanya shares and youth homelessness?
Very special thanks to Volunteers of America for allowing me to join their street outreach.
This Invisible People road trip is made possible by Sevenly and Virgin Mobile USA, who are partnering to end youth homelessness through Virgin Mobile USA's initiative, RE*Generation. For more information please click here.