We asked the President of S.P.Y, Barbara St. Thomas, about an instance in which she saw S.P.Y.’s impact on one of its members. She recounted 3 beautiful stories that we feel so lucky to share.
Barbara: “I have many fond stories of the transformative relationship between SPY and our members. Being part of their journeys has transformed me as well.”
Jessie taught me how to hold space for a person. How giving someone a small moment of safety can look like a breakdown but is actually a break through. An amazing artist, Jessie would sit at the end of the table, head down and sketch for the duration of drop-in hours. A month went by before she sat in on a writing group. She seemed drawn to, yet easily triggered by the writing prompts. Her empty folder started to fill up with the poems she wanted us to safe keep for her. She no longer balled-up her poems and threw them into the trash. Soon, she'd read a few out loud to the group, then she gave permission to post them on our writing website. She started sitting in the middle of the table and joining in conversations, making eye contact when we'd meet. Wariness was being replaced with trust. Bit-by-bit a counseling plan was agreed upon and greetings included a welcoming hug. Writing a resume for a job interview through one of our community partners she was surprised to hear that baby-sitting the neighbor’s kids translated to job skills. Hearing the words “I was responsible for” reminded her of the time she helped out after school at a pet store and was trusted to close out the register at the end of the day. When Jessie saw her resume printed out with her name across the top in the font of her choosing she asked through tears, “Is that really me?”
Jessie got that job and an apartment followed. Her story reads like a success but I know she continues to cope with her past and the PTSD from her time on the streets. I also know that she knows we will always be here for her.
Our outreach team met Oscar on Venice Beach and encouraged him to come to our Access Center for food and a change of clothing. Oscar told me he had left his family because "things weren't so good". He said he wanted to be homeless and wasn’t going to sell out and live the way he saw most people living. He became a regular in our weekly computer music class where he was a quick learner of the Abelton software program. One day the instructor had to cancel and I hesitantly offered to open the computer lab with the caution that it could be frustrating to work on projects without guidance. Frustration was not an issue because Oscar sacrificed his own work time to answer any questions asked during the 3-hour lab. He assumed that unofficial role on an on-going basis; generously offering his time to support other’s learning curves. That year he accepted housing and has since become a sought after PA in the film business from a job that started as a training internship through a SPY partner. I recently reminded Oscar of our initial conversations when he said he was fine being homeless. He had to reflect back before responding that “that person” didn't believe there was a way out. He wanted to feel good about his life so he just accepted that he was going to be homeless. He credits SPY and our Healing Arts program for turning his life around. I still can’t repeat his words without getting choked up, “it just made such a huge difference to have you believe in me, even when I didn’t know how to believe in myself.” Carlos taught me how to answer that question, “Don’t they want to be homeless?”
Erika and Trevion…
Erika and her boyfriend, Trevion were dropped off at SPY by his West LA City College professor. The professor learned they were living under the freeway overpass and found SPY in a Google search of resources for homeless young people.
It has been SPY’s absolute pleasure to help this hard working couple navigate their way to finding their first apartment and their initial jobs. With SPY’s recent program growth we have since been able to hire Erika as a Peer Navigator in our Access Center and Trevion in our off-site Community Garden Program.
Even though I now know Erika through the lens of a dear employee I remember when I first heard her tell her story to local high school students. They wondered why there wasn’t a system to help her when she was being abused and neglected by her mother. Erika told them how she tried to trust support services but every time she ran away from home someone from social services would find her, “they would listen to me, act like they cared and understood but then they would take me right back, so I stopped trusting them.”
Erika couch surfed until she graduated as an honor student from high school.
She told them, “I faced many challenges such as getting to school on time or not being clean enough to go to school because I didn’t have any other way of showering or getting clean clothing.” At the age of 17 Erika filed for emancipation, preferring to be homeless over being forced to live in a home that didn’t feel safe.
It was while living on the streets that she met Trevion and found the welcoming security of their trusting, kind relationship. I often seek Erika and Trevion’s advice. Their journey reminds me how important it is to see one another through the lens of our potential, not our current circumstances.