It was late when we pulled our Covenant House Outreach van into an alley. A dark, dangerous alley Justin called home.
“I’m nothing. I’m a beggar,” says Justin. “There’s nothing you can do to help me.”
“People tell me to go home, to get a job. I can’t go home. I was abandoned by my mother and disowned by my father. I have no one but myself. "
“But I’m so tired. I’ve been doing this for two years. I bet most people would lose their minds out here after three weeks.”
Justin quickly wolfed down the sandwich and juice we offered. “I can’t get a job because I don’t have a home. You need an address to send your paycheck. I wish I could tell a boss to send my paycheck to the alley but it doesn’t work like that.
“I just wish that people would understand that when they walk by a street kid, it could have been them, or their own kid. Just because we’re on the street doesn’t mean we’re not human.”
Too many young people like 20-year-old Justin are living on the streets of our cities -- living in a constant state of fear, anonymous, alone. Barely living, and too often dying in alleys and streets too dark and out of sight for anyone to notice.
Every night our Outreach teams go out to these kids, in vans, on bikes, on foot, walking the same streets the kids do. Last year our Outreach staff worked with over 27,000 kids on the streets of our cities and towns. From late night to early in the morning, our Outreach vans search for kids living on the streets.
Justin has not come in to our shelter yet. Building trust can be a slow process with kids like Justin who have been so wounded. But it starts with something as simple as a sandwich and a caring hug and blooms when a kid finds the courage to leave the streets and step through the doors of our crisis shelter.
We’ll go back to that alley again tomorrow night, and the night after. We’ll put food in his empty stomach. We will listen to him, and try to put hope into his heart. And we’ll pray that Justin decides to trust us before it’s too late.
The names and faces of some of our kids have been changed to protect their identities.