Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Janus Youth Access Center

The Access Center is the entry point to Janus Youth's homeless services and Portland’s nationally recognized inter-agency partnership known as the Homeless Youth Continuum. The program name is a bit of a misnomer as it implies a centralized location or “center”. In fact, the Access Center is a mobile team that serves as the primary gateway to downtown resources. We are also a crisis hotline, a data hub and a county-wide referral resource that aims to meet vulnerable young people “where they are at” just as readily as our Yellow Brick Road Street Outreach teams. The program motto is “no wrong door” to care and our staff makes it their daily business to respond as quickly and compassionately to the needs of young people experiencing crisis. They specialize in listening to young people’s stories- reading between the lines, asking the difficult questions, and verifying accuracy- in an effort to determine the most appropriate interventions. Every day they hear painful stories of frayed families and young lives that have unraveled and every day they provide hope to young people struggling to survive outdoors. When I recently asked our team what the most difficult part of the job is, they unanimously agreed that it was the daunting emotional burden of bearing witness day after day to unthinkable human tragedy. It’s tough work. And they are a remarkably resilient, intimate and devoted bunch. They also unanimously agreed that one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is working together as a tight-knit team that values each other’s individual skills and styles. In many ways, the Access Center beautifully illustrates that unspoken bond that characterizes what some of us have come to refer to as the “Janus Family” values. One of the most inspiring aspects of the Access Center is that, despite being comprised of only three staff and one program supervisor, this modest program boasts more than 30 years of combined experience at Janus Youth Programs! That’s a whole lot of dedication and wisdom for a program that consists of two small downtown offices and one cellular phone. Let’s meet the folks that make it happen every day:

Pete Lewis
This month marks Pete’s 10th year with Janus Youth Programs! Pete began working with homeless youth as an overnight Porchlight Shelter staff in 2001, shortly after immigrating to the US from his homeland of Wales where he taught basic literacy skills to at-risk youth. He is a gifted writer and a passionate advocate for social justice who can also hold his own on both a skateboard and a surfboard. I recently asked Pete what he loves most about his job and he had this to say, “Knowing that we are helping to provide solutions to desperate social problems. Helping a wide variety of young people begin the process of picking their lives up after they think they've reached the end of the road…Sometimes, being the first adult who has treated a young person with the respect and attention they deserve.” What keeps Pete on the frontline day after day? “I like working for an organization that is respected in the community and I like working in a program that has a clear mission statement. My co-workers have decades of experience and it is invaluable knowing you can count on your co-workers when working with such challenging situations. I think that as an agency we have found the balance between offering genuine compassion and concern while maintaining professional boundaries.” Well said! I also asked Pete what song best describes his personality and he replied, “'Disorder' by Joy Division. Check out my approach to paperwork…” All jokes aside, thank you for 10 years of outstanding youth advocacy work, Pete!

Sylvia Spears-Spencer
Sylvia will celebrate her 10th year with Janus in just a few months! Anyone who has the pleasure of meeting Sylvia even once will never forget her direct no-nonsense approach, her unshakable faith, her impeccable appearance and her disarming sense of humor even in the face of despair. Did I mention her nails? “The best part of my job,” she explains, “is meeting people from all walks of life and hearing their stories… Most people look away from the homeless. I do not. I want to make a difference.” Those stories Sylvia mentions are at the crux of the screening function at the Access Center. Our staff is responsible for determining eligibility for services and this frequently puts us in the challenging role of determining levels of vulnerability and making decisions with dwindling community resources that are often outweighed by need. “The most difficult part of my job is hearing why people are on the streets and the people who have caused the situation.” So what keeps her coming back year after year? “I enjoy working with the youth and my co-workers. My supervisor also!” Aw, shucks. No, I did not approve additional PTO for that last remark. What song best describes her personality? ‘Superfly’ by Curtis Mayfield. Don’t forget it. Thank you for nearly 10 years of selfless service to Portland’s most vulnerable youth, Sylvia!

Align CenterAndy Hallgren
Andy is the most recent addition to the Access Center team but his story is no less inspiring. Andy initially entered the field as an RTA with Project Metamorphosis after completing an internship with Outside In. As an RTA he served as a peer advocate and mentor, gaining practical frontline skills with Yellow Brick Road and quickly demonstrating a natural gift for working with the most street-affected youth. “I've chosen to help homeless youth because I've seen my own struggles in life,” Andy openly reasons, “I see hope in this population and want to do what I can to be a positive part of their lives…The best part of my job is spending time with the youth I've seen grow into competent, happy adults.” That’s no coincidence. The relationships that Andy forges with young people are precisely the kind of caring connections to adults that federal grants increasingly reference and require of grantees. It is certainly no coincidence that many of our “success story” youth who have transitioned off the streets continue to visit Andy at the Access Center for ongoing encouragement, camaraderie and after-care support. “The most difficult part of my job is balancing the bad with the good.” Not every youth will make it and we experience our share of heartache downtown. So what keeps Andy coming back every week with a smile on his face? “I continue to work with Janus because I really enjoy my co-workers and my supervisor. I also feel like I can be myself and that fosters a very comfortable environment for the difficult work we do.” If you think it’s odd that Andy enjoys the company of his supervisor, consider the song that he selected to describe his personality: ‘Born With a Tail’ by the Supersuckers. Thanks for all you do, Andy!

To learn more about the Access Center or if you are a youth under 25 in need of assistance in Portland, Oregon please call us between 8am-6pm every day of the year: (503) 432-3986