Written by: Briona Allen, Seattle Volunteer and Outreach Lead
On any given Thursday night in downtown Seattle, our outreach team could encounter homeless youth anywhere from toddler age to mid-20s who are in need of food and basic supplies. We often see the same kids and many of them have come to affectionately refer to us as “The Purple People” because of our purple-hued hats, shirts, and sweatshirts. We usually carry around four bags on our backs full of supplies such as socks, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and pet food, along with a cart full of food packs. Typically, we’re greeted warmly by the kids, and we in turn greet them in the same manner, calling them by name whenever we can.
As our team has been able to over time build trusting relationships, and establish bonds with the youth we see regularly, we’ve become a familiar and welcome sight for many of them. We really enjoy interacting with the kids, especially when they feel comfortable enough to open up and share some of their life’s stories with us. Even if the kids are from out of town and just passing through the Seattle area, we love to strike up a conversation. Sometimes the stories aren’t good, and we’re saddened when we hear about many of the hardships these kids have endured and oftentimes are still enduring, like struggling to find housing, or to keep housing, wearing wet socks for weeks, or going without food all day.
Our outreach team tries to listen to every story and give advice and suggestions on the resources in the area that may be helpful, if wanted. Sometimes the stories are good and very encouraging, like when we hear someone tell us that they’ve gotten housing, or that they have a new job or a job interview, or perhaps they’ve stopped using drugs. Whatever they feel willing to share with us, we actively listen and show interest in their lives by asking questions and following up on conversations from previous weeks. What we’ve found is that sometimes just lending an ear can be really helpful, our team has been told many times by the kids that they appreciate that we’re willing to listen, because most people don’t.
It’s a great feeling to see so much gratitude in their eyes, and the smiles on their faces; it reminds us that we really are helping. They often tell us how much they appreciate something as simple and basic as a clean pair of socks, a granola bar, or a bottle of water on a hot day. Our outreach team has been deemed magic and angelic by some kids when we’re able to pull a particular item out of our bags that is really wanted or needed, or when they see how many hygiene supplies we have that are available to choose from. We can tell that we’re making a big difference in their day, and every Thursday night, we try to spread that magic around to as many homeless youth as we can.