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Drop-in Center: HYA’s drop-in center, a refuge from the pressures of street culture, is at the core of our services. For many youth, it is the only place they can relax, eat, gather, watch TV, get their mail, and use email and phone without being stigmatized, judged, or threatened by violence and instability on the streets. Many describe our space as their “second home.” Staffed by Outreach Counselors and volunteers 4 hours per day, 4 days a week, our drop-in provides basic necessities such as food, bathroom and shower facilities, hygiene and safer-sex supplies, phones and internet, and individual case management.
Street-Based Outreach: We believe that it is unrealistic to expect a person who is hungry, sleep-deprived, and frightened to readily follow through on decisions that result in lasting behavior changes. For a hard-to-reach and wary group of youth, who are unlikely to seek out treatment or care from a human services agency on their own, consistent street outreach is the key to initially engaging their trust. For a minimum of two hours each day, 2 members of our outreach team walk along Haight Street and into neighboring parks, distributing snacks, safer sex supplies, and hygiene kits. Counselors also distribute educational materials on healthier lifestyle choices and behaviors. In total, counselors are able to reach more than 7,000 youth per year via street outreach.
It is rare for street-based young people to accept guidance from a community outsider, but HYA’s Outreach Counselors are able to overcome this barrier because they are formerly homeless young people themselves. Approximately 85% of our participants use HYA’s services at least once a week, having established bonds of trust with Outreach Counselors that increase their receptivity to several options in our program.
One-on-One Counseling Sessions: Once they make contact during outreach, HYA outreach counselors are able to meet participants for one-on-one counseling sessions in the drop-in. Counseling allows both staff and youth time to identify high-risk behaviors, to assess readiness to change these behaviors, and to talk privately about options. During these sessions, staff provide non-judgmental emotional and practical support, demonstrating positive role modeling in settings that are removed from the pressures of the street. Once a counselor has developed this relationship with a participant, youth are much more open to referrals for a broad range of immediate and long term needs. Staff often aid youth in obtaining a legal ID, General Assistance and government benefits, shelter and transitional housing, placement in a substance abuse treatment program, and in re-establishing contact with family and friends.
Groups & Workshops: HYA’s series of educational and creative workshops create an ideal opportunity for youth to obtain practical skills, share information with their peers, and enhance their confidence. HYA weekly workshops cover a range of topics on both mental and physical health.
HYA’s Outreach Counselors facilitate Girls’ Group, either at the drop-in or offsite at a local coffee shop. This group provides a safe space for homeless girls and young women, giving them the opportunity to build a strong, empowered community and address women-specific health needs away from the pressures of the predominately male street population of the Haight. Issues discussed in Girls Group include emotional and physical abuse, pregnancy, sex work, self-esteem, nutrition, and other health concerns. Fun activities like hair-dyeing, sewing, button-making, or movie-going are often incorporated into the group.
The majority of young homeless people in the Haight are young men. Dude Group is an opportunity for boys to share a pizza together and talk about what is going on in their lives and how they fit into their community. The group averages about 10 participants, and the theme is sex, drugs, rock & roll, and other random stuff. For young men who must maintain a façade of toughness to survive on the streets, Dude Group is the only place they can feel safe being themselves and relaxing their defenses. Topics that come up often are familial abuse, struggles with mental illness, and inter-relationship violence. For many, Dude Group is the first setting in which they have ever talked openly about their pasts and sensitive issues, and this openness can gradually create a willingness to examine their choices and cultivate empathy for themselves and others.
At HYA’s weekly Health Group, 10-25 homeless young people get their questions answered about general health topics that have specific relevance to the homeless population. Frequent topics include: overdose prevention, vein and wound care, foot care, staph infections, drinking responsibly, dog bites, pneumonia, body lice & scabies, facts about mixing drugs and alcohol, violence, Hep C, HIV, STIs, mental health, and taking care of one other on the streets. Youth help lead and facilitate these discussions. For example, a recent HIV group was co-led by a youth who opened up about living with the virus.
“It’s amazing to me that my job is to do harm-reduction trainings for kids at risk. I wish I’d known information like this when I was on the street.” –Khristine Jones, HYA Outreach Counselor
Our art and writing group, known as Zine Group, is a weekly workshop where youth have the choice to participate in various visual art and creative writing projects, which are eventually compiled into a published zine. From 2008 through 2010, participants were given disposable cameras and asked to participant in an effort to document their lives through photography. In early 2011, HYA staff compiled the 2,500 photos that were returned and selected the best to be featured in a photo book called “Through Our Eyes.” It’s a sometimes sweet, sometimes shocking, always touching testament to the incredible lives our kids lead.
- “I want to mentor young people who are talented, and make it possible for them to sell their art instead of panhandling or selling drugs.” – Spenser, HYA participant and current Zine Group volunteer
Mental Health Services: Having been over-medicated, misdiagnosed, or institutionalized in the past, the youth we serve are often reluctant to trust mental health providers. For this reason, consistency, flexibility, and cultural appropriateness are essential to engaging youth. Psychotherapeutic services are client driven and may vary in terms of focus and setting. Encounters may be crisis oriented, insight oriented, solution focused, supportive, or based on symptom management or behavioral change. Youth may access a single therapy session on an on-demand basis, or may engage in ongoing psychotherapy over months or even years. A private office is available to ensure confidentiality; but based on individual preference, sessions may take place on the sidewalk, in the park, drop-in center, or at a café. Direct psychiatric services are also made easily available as needed. All of our mental health services are provided through collaboration with the Harm Reduction Therapy Center.
“A lot of other agencies have many, many filters to get to the point where you feel like they are able to be with you and to listen to you. The fact that HYA lets the kids take it at their own pace helps them heal.” –Jen Plummer, HYA therapist
Syringe Exchange: Four nights a week, HYA operates the city’s only culturally specific needle exchange program for youth and women. Three of these sites specifically target the young injectors in our neighborhood. This designated time allows participants to not only obtain clean, sterile supplies, but to engage with staff and volunteers in discussions about their use and options for detox or drug treatment. Medical care is also provided at all of these sites. Our fourth exchange site, located in the Mission District of San Francisco, is open to women only. For more information on syringe exchanges, see our Needle Exchange FAQ.
“The needle exchange was a place where I got a lot of education regarding safer injection and safer practices and Hep C and HIV and all that stuff, and the medical doctors were basically the only doctors I saw …it was a place that was totally nonjudgmental so it was OK to go there. They helped me get into rehab a couple years ago, they helped me get hooked up with a therapist, they did a lot.” –Yeah Yeah, former HYA participant and current HYA Outreach Counselor
Medical Services: Three evenings a week medical providers volunteer during our syringe exchange. These professionals are able to provide free on-site medical care as well as direct referrals to methadone and suboxone programs.
Community Clean-Ups: Every month the Beautification Crew, which is composed of 10-20 HYA staff and program participants, walk the streets of Haight Ashbury, the east end of Golden Gate and Panhandle Park and surrounding neighborhoods properly disposing of trash, recyclables and syringes. Before every session, the Beautification Crew is thoroughly trained on safety protocol, including how to properly dispose of syringes and respond to accidental needle sticks. Participants also distribute awareness materials to possible users of syringes and other community residents that describe the proper methods of disposal for syringes. Therefore, while beautifying the community by properly discarding trash, recyclables and syringes, HYA is also preventing future improper disposal of syringes.
PO Box 170427 San Francisco, CA 94117
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR LINE
OUTREACH COUNSELORS LINE
STREET ADDRESS FOR DROP IN
1696 Haight Street
STREET ADDRESS FOR NEEDLE EXCHANGE
584 Cole Street