Start, said Michael Jackson, development director for Nexus Youth and Families in Auburn, with the basic necessities — food, shelter and sleep.
When you’re a homeless kid, you eat what they give you, usually junk food. But you’ll eat all the same because it makes you feel full.
During the day, you’re on the streets, stomach tearing at you, Jackson told City leaders at City Hall during his recent update on the state of youth homelessness in Auburn.
You can’t be that productive when you’re hungry, you can’t be looking for a job when you’re hungry, Jackson said.
As for protection from the elements, Nexus has a 12-bed youth shelter, and as Jackson recalled, all the donors who took a recent tour of that facility left feeling good about what the agency was doing there and where their money was going.
Then, the sobering, backward glance.
“Then you stop, and you look and you think about the building we just left. What is that? It’s a shelter. It’s a 12-bed shelter. And the beds are mats. (The kids) are lying on the floor on a blue mat, and they have some coverings over them, and a pillow,” Jackson said.
Using the resources it has, Nexus covers the kids up, shelters them from the elements, keeps them safe. But it’s not doing them any favors, he said.
What needs to be done is to be productive with those kids, give them educational opportunities, give them job opportunities.
“We are not providing the thing that you most need, and that’s hope. Hope is something that cannot be bought. Hope is something that you have to feel from inside, and that comes from the care you are getting,” Jackson said.
People see homeless kids and homeless young adults “being lazy” in the park, “being lazy” in the Auburn Library, Jackson said, but what they can’t see is the harm that’s been done to them, the issues that are crushing them.
Being prostituted out by the stranger who offered her a warm meal, a hot shower, shelter from the storm.
The hellish home life, the drunken father, the abusive mother.
The bullying that may not involve physical injury but cuts a kid down all the same, that ostracizes her because she doesn’t have the right kind of shoes, because his clothes stink, because he hasn’t had a bath in months yet is still expected to attend school and learn.
“It’s tough to live on the streets. Every kid wants to be liked, every kid wants to be part of that team that gets picked. And the homeless kid will never feel that, he’ll never understand that joy, unless we decide we’re going to make a difference, unless we decide that enough is enough, that we have enough, that we can share now, and we can come out and start delivering hope for these children, for these human beings.
“… Thankfully, I’m in Auburn working for Nexus Youth and Families, and the City supports us, and we’re very appreciative of that. But other people are starting to cut funding because the numbers are down, and the numbers are down because the shelters aren’t full. Our job shouldn’t be to shelter kids, it should be to get kids on their own, to get them stable,” Jackson said.
Rather than see kids come to the shelter, Jackson said, he’d much rather see them return home and have a secure life.
“I’d much rather have them grow up like my children did, like your children did,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to be in the shelter business, I don’t want to fight for funding because our numbers are down. If our numbers are down, where in the hell are those kids then? Have they gone home? Are they safe? Or did they just go down the road and hide someplace?”