"Don't TELL me what I need, ASK me what I need."
How Can I Help?
As the frigid winds of a northern Nevada winter blows in, the days are cold and the nights even colder on the River Walk in the thriving town of Reno, Nevada. We stand inside our cozy offices, sipping a hot drink, gazing out at the Truckee River as it rushes by gathering the rainfall and preparing for it's banks to swell with what is sure to be another five months of rain and snow. Across the way, we see the twinkle of lights and watch as community members move about their day.
Sounds beautiful, peaceful, even serene doesn't it? Yet, for some of our city's youth, this scene brings on dread as they prepare for another night sleeping outdoors hoping they survive the onslaught of yet another, or even their first, winter on the streets. The fear they experience on a daily basis turns into toughness as they learn the ways of the streets. In the light of day, they seek shelter, a hidden spot, to sleep as they know it's not safe to sleep at night. Many of them climb as high as they can into the trees and tie themselves off so they can safely grab a few winks of sleep.
Staying warm on a cold winter night is just one of the many struggles these young people face. Each day, they ask themselves, "How am I going to eat today?" and "How am I going to stay safe?" Staying safe means teaming up with other young people who are also homeless. In these desperate situations, they create their own family of sorts, their own tribe. Too often, they watch one another's back only if it serves them. Without positive intervention, or awareness of consequences, behavior often spirals out of control and a life of drug abuse or criminal activity are typically the outcome for our communities homeless youth.
Although there are food pantries and shelters serving meals these young people are often fearful. If they give their true name, or are asked for identification, they may well be caught and sent back to the disruptive home environment they are fleeing, many of them are aged out foster youth, or were asked to leave the family home when they turned 18.
There are a myriad of reasons for youth homelessness, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent researching the causes. Yet here at Project Help Nevada our concern is what we can do to make a difference in these kids lives today. From this concerns was born the brainchild of Susan, one of our young volunteers - Street Speak.
Join Us! The need is great and there is a place for you!
Street Santa - This project gathers cold weather gear and survival items and leaves them in areas that youth frequent. It kicks off in early December and goes through Christmas Eve. Donations for Street Santa are accepted all year long.
I'm Not Lost, You Found Me - The "I'm Not Lost" campaign gathers items a homeless youth may need throughout the year. This could be as simple as a portable cell phone charger or as significant as a gift card to a local restaurant. Items in I'm Not Lost bags vary with the season, but always include a list of resources where a youth can get help when they are ready.
Listeners Forum - This forum is offered on a bi monthly basis by youth volunteers in an area homeless youth frequent. Typically brown bag lunches are provided and a resource list is always included. Sometimes music is a part of the event, other times it may simply be a round table discussion where every persons story is encouraged and heard.
Concerns, questions and needs are brought back to the Project Help Nevada team and a strategy is devised to address the most pressing issues.
What's Next? - The Project Help Nevada team also includes youth who have experienced homelessness, Prevention and Customized Employment Specialists as well as Life Skills Coaches. Once trust is built with a homeless youth, they often come to our offices, knowing there is no judgement, that our goal is to help them make choices that work for their lives, they will not be reported or returned to a place that is unsafe. These young adult know that when they are ready, help is available.
Project Help Nevada team will help find housing, employment, medical care and food. Basic Needs are of utmost importance and most often these young men and women just need someone to believe in them and to believe them. This is what they find in our offices and among our team.