A Day In The Life of A Youth Worker

by Kayla Blau

My days start with voicemails from grandmothers asking for resources to feed their grandbabies, school counselors lamenting another student’s family was evicted, pushed out, and could I find an apartment for them to rent for less than $1,000/month in this neighborhood? (They really want to stay in this neighborhood).

I receive texts from unaccompanied teens that slept in an abandoned warehouse last night asking how they can get their social security card when their mom is dead and their dad ghosted. They want to work but need an ID. They need their birth certificate, social security card, and a school transcript with a photo on it to get one.

I chug coffee while giving people referrals to programs I know won’t meet their needs nor see their full humanity. Sometimes, I tell them as much as to not waste their time. Sometimes, I collaborate with other dedicated agencies and families and temporarily, needs are met.

I work with over five hundred students that are unstably housed. I come to work to attempt to help solve heaps of injustice that took centuries to build. I ignore logic that they’ll take centuries to break because I need a dollop of hope in my critical head to get through the day.

I go to meetings with mothers whose sons and daughters are being tracked into special education for trauma-response behavior and we know where this is leading. Millions are currently being spent on youth jails awaiting their arrival. I work in an oppressive system that labels anyone who doesn’t fit in the standard of whiteness as defiant, ADHD, disruptive. It’s hard to sit still and focus on algebra when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep tonight. I assure mothers there is nothing wrong with their babies, to keep loving on them and be wary of any diagnosis and prescriptions. I see the school-to-prison pipeline laid out in front of us and try to pick away at it with a toothpick.

Meanwhile, the kids go back to shelter cots and flight or fight. I go home to my four walls and eat privilege for dinner. My check cut from the system allows me to stay in the neighborhood.

I grimace at my beeping phone reminding me to “self-care.” I can burn all the candles I want but there are still kids sleeping under bridges tonight. In homes not their own, always a guest, a perpetual burden.  On couches at their cousins’ grandma’s house, just for a few days though. In shared apartments with men with wandering hands. In hotel rooms and trailers and cars. Laying their heads down at night in fear – fear of their belongings getting stolen, of their mom getting hit again, fear of where they will go next, eat next, stay next.

Before bed, I write emails to fellow white ladies – but wealthier ones in the north end – and beg them for gift cards so that woman’s grandbabies can have a little more to eat.

Most days, this work feels like trying to fill a leaking ship with tissue paper. And I only have one box of tissue paper for over five hundred kids. I meditate on second-hand trauma and recognize it’s a lot harder to live it daily than have proximity to it. I check my white savior complex and band-aid solutions. I think of that metaphor of babies coming down a river, of how we flock to clothe and feed the babies. Yet, few venture upstream to see what’s causing the crisis. I pray we collectively can move upstream, to unearth systemic oppression and trauma and disrupt inter-generational poverty. It will take listening to people of color, of trusting in their wisdom and enacting solutions created by those most impacted. It will take redistributing the wealth of resources in this city. It will take all of us to wake up to this. Doing nothing will change nothing. Knowing that is enough to wake me up, again and again, put my badge on, and take on another day.