Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Since 1984

There is a great deal of talk among social workers about meeting the folks we make it our business to serve “where they are at.” This phrase rolls off the tongue nicely and refers to the practice of adjusting our level of engagement according to an individual’s current ability, disposition, and cooperation. Downtown at the outreach components of Janus Youth Programs, Yellow Brick Road & PDX: O&E, we take this principle to heart and take pride in meeting the folks we serve, quite literally, where they’re at.

Our trained community volunteers and streetwork teams have explained blood-borne pathogens in the unzipped doorways of tents, discussed abscess infections around smoldering campfires in vacant industrial lots, made lists of goals under bridges and overpasses, and kept curious rats at bay while demonstrating appropriate wound dressings at the waterfront. We’ve arrived on Union Pacific Railroad property with our van and packed young people, their pets, and few possessions out from under bridges and into Porchlight and Streetlight Youth Shelter. In just the past few weeks, at least 5 young men and women from a single encampment have begun the arduous journey from living behind walls of pallets and tattered wool blankets to shelter bunk beds and beyond.

It takes weeks, often months, of relationship building to prepare an individual to make the leap of faith required to attempt even a single night indoors. And we know they don’t always remain. These are young men and women who all too often measure the trajectory of life not in diplomas, degrees, and promotions but in scars, miles, and medications. Some will cycle in and out of treatment programs, shelters, case management, and other supportive services for years. But we’re persistent. And we’ll be there when they’re ready.

Our volunteers and streetwork teams are on the streets of Portland every night, rain or shine. Often rain. It is difficult to estimate the impact on human lives, human dignity, this kind of consistent compassion and eye-to-eye advocacy has leant to the streets of Portland since Yellow Brick Road’s inception in 1984. It is far easier to calculate the basic needs we’ve met by simply being present and attentive night after night. In January 2006, Yellow Brick Road recorded 2,688 contacts in a single month. That’s 386 pairs of brand new socks distributed to those in need. 278 warm hats. 354 pairs of winter gloves. And January is traditionally the quietest and slowest month of the year.

In the past few months Yellow Brick Road has provided intensive training and street knowledge for a recently launched outreach program in Grants Pass, Oregon and will soon expand our services to include outreach in areas of Washington. Our recently revised and comprehensive Resource Guide has expanded to 81 pages and is utilized by all the Janus Youth Programs as well as Portland Community College. We welcome anyone who wishes to visit our offices or learn more about outreach, to contact us. Perhaps you will meet us where we’re at. On the streets.

Yellow Brick Road Street Outreach Program

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