Friday, March 18, 2011

What IS Street Outreach?

People often ask what an evening of Yellow Brick Road Street Outreach actually looks like. The truth is, the streets can vary greatly from night to night but we do our best to be prepared for just about anything we might find out there. In an effort to share with people what we mean by "anything"- and to further demysitify the practice of street outreach- we occasionally post random Yellow Brick Road log entries on this blog. The names and identifiers have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the folks we serve but otherwise the following account is excerpted directly from last night's Yellow Brick Road Outreach Log Book:

Super solid night! Started out wet and rainy heading to Street Church which was packed. There are two teens who have been frequenting Street Church recently who appear fairly vulnerable. They are engageable yet very resistant to the idea of services...We checked in with [Street Church Supervisor] Jeff Welch and discussed a plan to try to motivate them to go to Harry's Mother [Janus Youth Programs' 24 hour runaway youth safety center].

We then went to Safeway through the South Park Blocks, where we had some good conversations and "card & raps" [i.e. new contacts]. From there we did the Rite Aid/Pioneer Square loop and engaged with a fair amount of young people...After that we headed down toward Waterfront and crossed over to the East Side. Once there we encountered several groups of people. They like us over there and would like to see more of us under the Hawthorne Bridge area. There was a request for wide-eye sewing needles.

At the public meal under the Burnside Bridge we met "Kathy" and "Robin", who were new to Portland from Des Moines and after a "card & rap" about Yellow Brick Road they were interested in having an emergency night at Porchlight Shelter. From the meal we escorted them directly to shelter where we provided a warm handoff to the shelter staff waiting when we arrived. Solid night, solid contact.

~S, S, H & A (Thursday Night Yellow Brick Road Team)

Yellow Brick Road volunteer Axcelle Bell in the YBR office preparing a nightly outreach report with his team. Photos courtesy of YBR volunteer Stella Butler.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

YBR Training Opportunity: De-Escalation & Non-Violent Communication

April 10, 2011
Janus Youth Programs and Yellow Brick Road invite YOU to our upcoming community training on Sunday, April 10th. This training is free and open to the public but seating is limited so please R.S.V.P. for location. YBR trainings are a great way to meet our team of outreach workers and volunteers to learn more about issues of youth homelessness and the many ways you can get involved and make a difference with Janus Youth Programs. There is absolutely no obligation to volunteer to attend. Our April 10th training will focus on practical De-Escalation skills, from non-verbal preventative interventions to the basic principles of Non-Violent Communication. What is conflict? What is resolution? What is de-escalation? How can we apply these concepts to street outreach to reduce violence and safety issues? Vegetarian lunch and coffee will be provided. Hope to see you there!

Please R.S.V.P. for location at

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our Hearts and Best Wishes Go Out To Our Neighbors In Japan

As we work to empower the lives of vulnerable young people here in the North West of the United States, Yellow Brick Road and Janus Youth Programs send our best wishes to our neighbors in Japan. We wish you all the strength, fortitude and resiliency to heal from the recent tragedies that fell upon Japanese shores. We are with you during these difficult times.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Janus Youth Programs and the Sexual Aassault Resource Center partner to end Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Chanel 12
Portland, Oregon

Portland has been in the spotlight as a hub for child sex trafficking, but now efforts are stepping up this week to fight the problem and help the victims. A fund of $285,000 approved by the city in November has been put to use. This week, three new case managers from the Sexual Assault Resource Center will begin work helping victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
“We receive calls on our cell phones all night long,” says Ester Nelson, of SARC, who supervises the advocates. She says they currently manage more than 170 cases and the number of victims doesn’t appear to be getting smaller. “It’s just overwhelming -- the system’s ability to respond,” Nelson says. Nelson says treatment starts by building a respectful relationship with the victims and assuring them that they deserve the services available to them. “It doesn’t take much. You just need a person to believe in you and say, ‘We believe in you,'” she says.
The other portion of the funding will help Janus Youth Programs with shelter staffing. Twelve beds are currently available for at-risk youth. “Over the past two to three months, we have hit capacity,” says program director Kevin Donegan. He says he would rather children sleep in the shelter’s office than go back to the streets. “Most people are not aware of the extent of the problem,” Donegan says. “It’s big.”
Increased awareness is a key component in combating sex trafficking, he says. Advocates agree progress has been made in treating the immediate crisis, but more must be done to find long-term solutions. It’s estimated at least 100,000 children are forced into prostitution in the United States each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Homeless Youth Featured on 60 Minutes

This was a very moving segment on 60 Minutes last night. It might generate some media interest today, locally --

go Minutes

Friday, March 04, 2011

Stand and Be Counted

Yellow Brick Road, Janus Youth’s downtown Portland street outreach program, recently completed the 2011 Street Count. The Street Count is Multnomah County's federally mandated biennial survey of people sleeping outdoors as well as those folks in temporary or emergency shelters (the Shelter Count is conducted at the same time as the Street Count to create an unduplicated number). This is a huge collective effort by many organizations and volunteers and the information we gather helps us create a "snapshot" of the folks sleeping outdoors in our community on one particular night of the year, typically a cold and wet night that intentionally eliminates those who can scrape together even temporary resources when the going gets real rough. This year that night was Wednesday, January 26th and our dedicated YBR teams put all regular outreach on hold to prioritize the count and make every effort to see that nobody was left uncounted. In 2009, nearly 1,600 people slept outside on the night of our January Street Count while another 820 were in temporary shelter. That number might seem low for a city often cited nationally for our highly visible homeless population but keep in mind that it is only an estimate of our total unsheltered population and we are well aware that a count of this nature fails to reach many highly vulnerable youth, single adults, couples and families that lack stable and safe housing but remain off our collective radar for a variety of reasons. THANKS TO ALL OF OUR AMAZING VOLUNTEERS and our STREET OUTREACH STAFF who put in extra hours to assure that as many people were counted as possible!

While working on the Street Count this past month I was reminded of our last count back in 2009. Our outreach teams met a spirited young couple while conducting surveys on the streets that year. Let’s call them “Sara” and “Craig”. They were immediately noticeable because they fit the notorious “road warrior” description perfectly: spiked leather jackets, dyed Mohawks, homemade tattoos and scowls that had been perfected over many years of abject failure and disappointment. They were asking passersby for spare change in front of Voodoo Doughnuts downtown with a paper cup suspended from a stick and string so, in effect, they were “fishing” for change. If I remember correctly, their sign even read “gone fishing”. Sara and Craig would soon establish a very close connection with Yellow Brick Road as our teams continued to engage them on the sidewalk outside of Voodoo Doughnuts night after night. Eventually- cautiously- they began joining us at our weekly stationary outreach site, volunteering to clean the space at the end of the day as a small gesture of appreciation for the meals and good company they were provided with by our outstanding staff. As they “came in from the cold” as it were, the full extent of their collective problems began to emerge. There was chronic alcoholism to contend with as well as occasionally alarming anger management and depression issues that were very clearly linked to deeply embedded feelings of low self-worth. Neither of them had much in the way of education or employment experience. And then they found out that Sara was pregnant.

Suffice to say, over the course of many months we worked diligently to connect them with a team of midwives and our colleagues at Janus Youth’s Insights Teen Pregnancy Program. They were soon attending parenting workshops and a sliding-scale martial arts dojo where Craig began to learn healthy risk-taking and healthier outlets for his aggression. We were able to secure a housing grant and a terrific downtown apartment, oddly located not far from where we first met them sitting in the rain with their crooked grins and stick, string and paper cup. Sara and Craig have been indoors for almost one year now and this past August they gave birth to a beautiful and perfectly healthy baby girl. Let’s call her “Hope”. Earlier this week I received a phone message from Craig, now a proud young dad, who sounded excited to realize that he is approaching his one year anniversary indoors. His message was simple and very telling: “Hey Dennis, just calling to let you know that I’ve been off the streets for almost one year and that means I’m almost ready to start volunteering with Yellow Brick Road! Call me back…”

2011 Street Count results coming soon!