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Sox and empathy: The art of reaching out to homeless youth

Friends of Youth outreach workers log 90 miles a day as they scour the Eastside in search of homeless kids.


Amanda and Cassie plotting their route. Credit: Allyce Andrew

At 2:15 every weekday afternoon, Cassie Frickelton and Amanda Bevington pack up a green Dodge minivan and head out into King County’s sprawling eastside, in search of homeless youth. The two partners have been doing street outreach work for the Friends of Youth Shelter in Redmond for the last two years.

In a typical week, they’ll hit 17 different eastside locales, from Bellevue, Kirkland and Duvall all the way up to Snoqualmie and North Bend. They clock 70-90 miles on an average day, and they stick to a strict schedule so kids in need know when and where to find them. Bellevue/Factoria on Mondays. Renton on Tuesdays. Wednesdays is North Bend, Fall City, Issaquah, Sammamish and Snoqualmie, etc. "Being consistent” is important, says Amanda. “Being where you’re supposed to be” is a way of “letting them know you’re there for them.”

Amanda and Cassie are thorough and strategic in their approach to outreach, cagey even. They never assume someone is homeless, since many homeless kids try hard to fit in — to pass, if you will. Exactly where they park the van at each scheduled stop “depends on the season,” explains Cassie. If it’s raining and it’s Renton, for example, they’ll be at the skate park, which has covered areas where kids congregate to stay dry.

Before each day's run, they stock the van with tents, tarps, sleeping bags and other camping gear. “Pretty much anything anybody would be need if they’re sleeping outside,” says Cassie. They bring along food bags with non-perishables like granola bars, mixed nuts, dried fruit and Cup ‘o Noodle soups; and hygiene bags with shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, hand warmers and sanitizers, feminine products, sox, underwear. The food and hygiene bags are usually donated by local churches and Rotary Clubs, the Girl Scouts or corporations such as Bank of America. Sox and noodles are the most popular items.

Cassi and Amanda also carry fliers – lots of fliers – with information about the services that Friends of Youth offers, like counseling and case management and help finding housing and jobs. Flier placement is a carefully considered enterprise. Hot spots include libraries, transit centers, park and rides, malls, public restrooms, the community bulletin boards inside grocery stores, any place where kids can recharge their cell phones, and also pay phones. Yes, there are still pay phones on the eastside and Cassie and Amanda can tell you the location of each and every one. To protect homeless youth from getting rousted by local police, they are careful not to "out" homeless hideouts by papering them with fliers. 

Street outreach isn’t cheap. Friends of Youth spends $150,000 to $200,000 for a staff of six that includes Cassie and Amanda and case managers. Staffing and gas are the biggest costs for the program. But outreach appears to be worth the money. Like other agencies that serve homeless youth, FOY is still perfecting ways to measure the effectiveness of its street outreach. But anecdotal evidence, based on the screening FOY conducts when people call in for help — “How did you hear about us?” — suggests that a signiificant number of the homeless kids it serves come to the shelter through the efforts of outreachers like Amanda and Cassie.


Cassi pastes a flier in an electrical box at an Eastside skate park. Credit: Allyce Andrew

Terry Pottmeyer, FOY executive director, remembers one young man telling of how he made his way to the shelter after finding a Friends of Youth flier taped to his tent, out in the woods. Amanda and Cassie are intrepid that way. 

“Being patient and not judging,” says Amanda, when asked what she’s learned from her time as a street outreach worker.

“Be genuine,” adds Cassie. That entails listening, and treating homeless kids as equals remembering details like their names and their stories. Mostly, says Cassie, being genuine means "you have to actually care."

For more Kids@Risk stories, go here.


Mary Bruno is the Editor-in-Chief of Crosscut.

Allyce is a photojournalist from Lafayette, Louisiana. She currently lives in Seattle.

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Comments:

Posted Tue, Mar 11, 4:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Kudos to Crosscut for publishing this story, especially to Crosscut editors for not deleting the oh-so-telling sentence that begins, "To protect homeless youth from getting rousted by local police..."

The significance of this particular disclosure is it is yet more damning evidence of how the cops -- now fully militarized by an ever-more-vicious Ruling Class – have become an army of occupation, a goon-squad that serves the capitalists by savaging all lower-income peoples regardless of color.

(For a more revealing report on this grim new USian reality, see "Coming Home to Roost: American Militarism, War Culture and Police Brutality," http://www.popularresistance.org/coming-home-to-roost-american-militarism-war-culture-and-police-brutality/ )

That said, big-time kudos also to Mary Bruno and Allyce Andrew for a damn fine job of reporting, and to Cassie Frickelton, Amanda Bevington and everyone else at Friends of Youth for the difficult and challenging work of reaching out to homeless kids.

Indeed, “difficult and challenging” is undoubtedly an understatement.

I know this because during the Occupy Movement I met several newly dispossessed teens – children forever robbed of their childhoods by capitalist greed, their parents flung into permanent joblessness by downsizing and outsourcing and their families then evicted from allegedly “permanent” homes.

Without exception these formerly middle-class kids were the most traumatized, emotionally devastated, bitterly alienated and justifiably angry youngsters I have ever met. What all had in common was a bottomlessly embittered distrust of anyone and anything even remotely associated with the governmental and economic status quo – so much so they should probably be regarded as a uniquely afflicted demographic within the ever-growing proletariat of the capitalists' victims.

Thus the work Frickelton and Bevington are doing is profoundly demanding, much more so than words or pictures – even the great reportage by Bruno and Andrew – could possibly convey.

Posted Sat, Mar 15, 5:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Numbers and demographics and head counts would be welcome additions to the story. Does Obama or Inslee or Constantine get the credit for creating the 6 staff jobs?

animalal

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