StandUp For Kids - Thurston County/Olympia
By Maija Sandberg
“I'm in here!! It's me! It's you! It's you!!,” a small clear voice called out from somewhere in the corner of a field of orderly green and blue tents. We'd been walking the city's temporary managed encampment looking for teens and young adults who might be ready to talk to someone about options for their future, or just their current needs. The snow had nearly all melted.
A tent quivered as we walked toward it, following the voice. Someone inside struggled in haste to open heavy black zipper that formed a C shaped front door. Stepping out, a young woman about 5 feet 2 inches tall threw her arms open wide, “I knew it was you!” she exclaimed warmly, as she gave my fellow volunteer a big hug. “I recognized your voice as you called out, anybody in here?”
I listened as their shared story unfolded. I was volunteering with a man who had been walking the streets regularly, three times a week, making himself available to support and encourage homeless people between 13 and 25 years old. Acting as an advocate with local agencies, occasionally providing transportation to social service appointments. He'd first met this young woman eighteen months ago as she crouched, huddled, on a street corner with her few possessions and a small sign that that read, “I Believe”. Today the sign in front of her tent is bigger, one I'd seen in many front yards in towns near my home. It began, “In our America all people are equal. Love wins...” Her tent sat on a pallet near the end of one of many rows of near-identical green tents, some covered with blue tarps, a northwest camper's icon.
“What you been doing? Need anything?” this intrepid volunteer asked. “I hoped I'd find you here.”
“It was hard to decide to be in here with all these people around, when the camp organizers asked me. But I did it. Can you believe it? I did it!” she said proudly. “And it's good. I didn't think I'd like it with all these people around, but it's good. The advocate is good. And I'm safe here. I can sleep at night.” I felt amazed at the wit and determination this woman showed.
“What are you going to do next? You can't stay out here for ever!” I heard the other volunteer say. I felt incredulous, but she answered quickly with confidence, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, I'm in line to get a tiny house!”
Then I heard the other volunteer say, “OK, that's good. And what about your education, what are you doing about that?”
She'd just survived a weeks-long snowstorm, outdoors, and he was asking about her progress toward education! To my amazement, and her tremendous credit, she answered clearly, “I'm working on that. I have an appointment at the community college, in two weeks. I think I can make it.”
I'd walked several camps this cold afternoon beside my volunteer companion. Occasionally he'd call out, “Are you in there? Whose in there?” She was. And he'd helped her find trust enough to reach out, accept help, and move forward in her own best interest.