Outreach For A Better Future
The YouthLink Peer Outreach Program is a unique part of what YouthLink does because the five of us who work in the program have experienced homelessness ourselves. We connect young people to resources that they may need on a daily basis. We target youth who are experiencing homelessness or who may know someone who is in need of YouthLink’s resources. The full team of outreach workers includes myself, Angel, Sai, and our supervisor, Jose.
Another peer and I, along with either Sai or Angel, usually do our outreach around the metro area. On a typical outreach day, we walk around mostly in downtown areas where we know youth like to hang out. These areas consist of 7th & Nicollet, and 5th & 7th and Hennepin, as well as the downtown library. (We just recently started doing outreach in a few Minneapolis schools.) We try to work as closely as we can with security personnel in the metro area, giving them our YouthLink business cards, and asking them to give us a call if they run into any youth that are in need of our services.
When doing outreach, we wear custom YouthLink sweaters/hoodies along with custom YouthLink bags. Inside the YouthLink bags we have little blue bags which consist of hygiene supplies and other things that may be needed while someone is homeless, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, razors, feminine products, underwear, t-shirts, and safer-sex kits.
While doing outreach in the metro area we have encountered youth who have experienced types of trauma other than homelessness. Because of this, we have to approach youth with caution so that we don’t come off wrong when approaching them; otherwise they might not want to let us know that they are experiencing homelessness. It’s not easy for us to go out there and do that: to talk to people about yourself, letting them know stuff about yourself, and be vulnerable by telling them that you’re using the same resources.
In my eyes, the YouthLink Peer Outreach Program is a great program, not just because it’s for a great cause, but because the youth who work in the program also utilize YouthLink’s resources as well. Young people see us youth and they connect with us because they see for themselves how we are using YouthLink’s resources to become more successful. Since starting the street outreach program, I can honestly say that I see a difference in the number of youth that not only come to YouthLink, and that they actually access more of YouthLink’s resources.
The street outreach program isn’t just for the homeless youth out there needing resources. It helps us more than it helps them, I believe. It’s basically letting those of us who work in it see how we were living when we were in survival mode, first hand and in our faces. I look at these other youth and I think, “Dang, was I really doing this? Was I really doing that?” It’s helping me see how far I’ve come.
I always tell people to be yourself, no matter who’s around. We just want to live—and the street outreach has changed me in that way. I know that I can’t go back to the lifestyle—it would reflect on the street outreach team and YouthLink, and I don’t want to do that to them. YouthLink is helping me understand that being myself has a better outcome, rather than being something I’m not.
People say to me all the time, “Johnnie, you sure are changing.” But I was always this Johnnie, it’s just that I couldn’t be myself. So I tell them, “Nope. Same person, but different path, stride, and mission.”