The Shaw House Street Outreach Program conducts outreach to locate and provide support to homeless youth living on the streets in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock, Washington and Aroostook counties, while also educating community members including agencies/schools on youth homelessness and availability of Shaw House services.
The Street Outreach Program initially became engaged with Jennifer, aged 15, after the Outreach Team found her alone and crying on a city bench. The Outreach Team brought Jennifer to safety within the Shaw House Emergency Shelter, and she shared what led her to homelessness. Jennifer’s grandparent’s gained custody of Jennifer after she was removed from her mother’s custody due to parental neglect. Jennifer described her mother as “more of a friend than a mother” when she was growing up. She expressed the longing to, “have her be a mother” but due to on-going substance abuse, Jennifer’s mother was not a positive influence in her life. Jennifer struggled with the feelings of her mother’s inability to remain sober and began to act out in early adolescence. She began to engage in substance use and struggle with addiction, much like her mother. Jennifer’s school attendance declined and she eventually dropped out of school completely. Her relationship with her grandparent’s deteriorated and she was asked to leave due to her decline in mental health and increased substance use. Jennifer stayed with multiple friends and often times, people she had recently met. Lost in her emotional turmoil and burdened by her past trauma, she continued to make unsafe choices and place herself at risk on the streets.
As Jennifer began to relax and feel safe throughout the conversation with the Outreach Worker, she proceeded to disclose a traumatic event that occurred the night before. She had been walking along the streets the night before, cold and scared as she had no place to sleep that evening and was uncertain as to what to do. She was offered a place to sleep by a peer she had just met. Jennifer woke up the next morning unable to recall what had happened the previous evening. She reported that she was informed by others the next morning that she had been sex trafficked, and had been sold for sex after she ingested a drug that had been slipped into her drink. Having learned this, Jennifer immediately ran for safety. Exhausted, she found herself on a bench in downtown Bangor – alone, scared, and crying – when she was approached by a woman, who brought her to the Shaw House for help.
After educating Jennifer on the availability of the Shaw House Emergency Shelter, she decided to accept the offer and come into the safe haven of the shelter. The Outreach Team and a Case Manager in the Shaw House Day Program responded rapidly, and with Jennifer’s permission reached out to her grandparents and facilitated Jennifer’s reunification to her grandparents after one night in the shelter. The Outreach Team brought Jennifer to her grandparent’s home the following morning.
Jennifer’s turbulent journey was not over. Although Jennifer expressed wanting stability and sobriety numerous times, her mental health and addiction continue to cause ongoing barriers which continued to disrupt her placement with her grandparents resulting in Jennifer returning to homelessness. Over the following year she would contact the Outreach
Team when she was in need of food, clothing, or hygiene items – or simply needed someone to talk to. During this period of time, she stayed sporadically at the Shaw House Emergency Shelter. Although the Outreach Team made several offers to refer Jennifer for support services including substance abuse treatment, it would be several months before Jennifer started to accept the referrals and to demonstrate motivation to work on her sobriety and mental health.
As Jennifer began to accept the offer for services, she began to progress. The Outreach Team connected her with a mental health counselor, providing services to Jennifer on-site at the shelter. As she processed through her trauma and feelings of anger towards her mother, she made steps towards gaining sobriety. Jennifer enrolled herself in adult education classes, and applied, and was accepted, for placement within Mason Place, the Transitional Living Program of the Shaw House. She proudly invited her grandparent’s over to show off her new room and expressed to her grandparents how proud she was of herself for how far she had come.
Jennifer is now 18 years old and continues to reside at Mason Place, working two jobs putting her well over a 40 hour work week, all while attending classes through The Learning Center to complete her High-School diploma. She continues to work with her therapist and has made monumental strides in overcoming her addiction and strengthening her mental health.
This past November, the Shaw House hosted a banquet to educate community members on youth homelessness. Jennifer shared her story. She arrived at the event with the Outreach Team, dressed professionally and with her head held high. As Jennifer took her seat in the front of the audience of nearly 100 people, glimpses of nervousness could be
seen as she began to share her story. You could see her glance at the Shaw House staff which appeared to offer her the reassurance she needed to continue. Within seconds, she held the audience captive. With courage and confidence, she shared her hardships and her struggles in an attempt to help the audience understand what led to her to
homelessness. She beamed as she shared where she is today.
Jennifer will soon be moving out into her own apartment over the upcoming weeks. “I’m not alone anymore. I know Shaw House is there.” And she is right. The Outreach Team will make rounds to visit Jennifer as she settles into her apartment, assisting in meeting her basic needs as well as providing overall support and encouragement as she ventures out onto her own. The Outreach Team will have the benefit of seeing Jennifer come full circle, after having found Jennifer when she was at her lowest low, homeless and distraught on a park bench, to now a self-sufficient young woman moving into her own home.