I’ll be honest: this time of year is not my favorite for being outside. I didn’t get to do outreach during the sunny months this year as a result of a bike accident. I’m certainly glad to be back. I missed the faces and the places and the people I’ve been building relationships with over the last two years. I started out as a Yellow Brick Road volunteer in December 2010, so my first experiences on outreach were largely in the dark, wet Portland winter. Maybe it’s a good thing that I missed the summer this year – I won’t remember as clearly the nights when it was still bright and warm at 8:30pm. Thankfully, with winter solstice behind us, the days will only get longer for the next six months.
There are certain faces that I won’t get to see until the days are longer again. The cycle of travelers coming through is at a low point for the season, but the hearty Portland-based youth are still fixtures throughout my week. The holiday season is always a challenge for many of them. A month ago, a few of them expressed hopes that folks downtown would be more generous since Christmas was coming. It seems that the economy held many back from giving as much as they might have in years past. The cold weather accentuates already difficult circumstances. Getting up at 6am at the request of the Police is that much harder after a restless night under wet blankets.
I appreciate that as an outreach worker I can offer respite to youth who don’t have services in the Homeless Youth Continuum at least twice a week. Once is on Sunday nights at a program called Road Warrior, hosted by our partners at Outside In. The second opportunity is at Janus’ Stationary Outreach on Thursdays. Some folks come in right at noon to make sure they can get their laundry washed and dried. Others warm up with a hot shower and some hot food and coffee. Still others pass out with weariness on one of our couches and rest for an hour or two. I am excited that we will be able to throw a post-holiday party on Jan. 10th. The donated gifts, youth-suggested movies, and specially-ordered food will surely brighten these darker days for a number of folks.
It’s always a learning experience walking the streets of Portland through the yearly cycle. Seasons transform much more than weather. Last year at this time, we were just recovering from several months serving the youth of Occupy Portland. This year presented its own hopes and challenges. As we continue to walk along side so many young people in our community, my goal is to keep my eye on the horizon and watch for the rising sun.
- Heather Penzel, Street Outreach Specialist