[Hpn] seattletimes.com: Struggle goes on "out there"

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Sun, 7 Nov 2004 05:19:46 -0800

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Struggle goes on "out there"
Full story: http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=brodeur07m1&date=20041107

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Rule one: Don't touch anyone out there. 

And if you do, Robert Ring tells me, use hand sanitizer right away.Don't touch. Hand sanitizer. Got it.

Out there.

The phrase stops me, for it refers to the streets I walk and drive every day. I forget that those same streets are also home to some 800 homeless youth.

So one recent Thursday night, I drove those streets with the Youth Care Street Outreach van.

Our first stop was the parking lot behind Dick's Drive-In on Capitol Hill. I've seen the van before, the side door thrown open, a small cluster of kids around it.

"How you fellas doin'?" Ring asked, stepping out to greet them.

"Groovy," one kid said, peering past Ring into the van.

That's where I sat, within arm's length of a case of Cup O'Noodles, hot water and juice. I could reach a cabinet stuffed with socks, sweaters, and hygiene items ranging from toothbrushes to condoms to "bleach kits" used to clean syringes. Bags of dog food filled an upper cabinet.

The blankets and sleeping bags stay tucked out of sight. They are intended for the youngest of the street kids  and it's so hard to say no to the need in front of you.

But Youth Care is saying no more and more. The program recently lost a $100,000 federal grant    just in time for this, National Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month.

It is a serious setback, "but we are not going to stop doing what we do," said Kristin Bolken, Youth Care's director of development. "We have to be out there."

That was reflected in the drawn faces I saw that night. 

One told of a "squat" being busted: "Someone with a baseball bat." Another complained of being punched: "She may have fractured my jaw."

 As Ring directed them to clinics for help, I wondered where  and who  they came from. While some folks were home watching "Survivor," these kids had already been voted out, and were surviving the best they could.

Ring, 33, has been working with homeless kids for years. He has what he calls "street presence." It helps that he's as big as a Frigidaire.

"The majority of people are extremely polite, but some ...  are not," he said. "My job is to be an even presence."

Driving near the U District, I looked up at the dormitories where students lived lives of hope and purpose. I saw none of that on the Ave.

A young woman approached, boombox blaring, demanding food. Then two young men who had each suffered a "psychotic break," marking the onset of schizophrenia.

Together, they made a tense chorus of chatter and cigarettes, backed by an anxious soundtrack of rap.

Ring stood in the middle of it for a moment, calmly serving soup and sandwiches. Then he stepped back and shook his head.

"I get confused," he said.

So do we all when it comes to knowing how to ease the aches on these streets.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. 

She'll hang a prayer flag.


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