It seems as though my 8 weeks in San Francisco have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Coming into the program, I was hoping to escape the bubble of my home and Duke’s campus and see the world as it is. One of my goals for this trip was to learn and grow as a person, especially considering the privilege I have had growing up and at Duke. I can confidently say that I have learned a significant deal about communities that I did not previously engage with on a regular basis and the issues specific to these communities. I have seen firsthand the interplay of factors that can lead to youth homelessness from such things as mental health disorders and drug problems to gender identity or sexual orientation. After hearing many of the varied stories of the clients accessing services at Larkin St. Youth Services, I am shocked that some clients even have the strength to get through each day. Without organizations like Larkin St., I fear what would happen to the thousands of youth who are homeless in San Francisco and the thousands more that are homeless throughout the country and the world. Never before have the words “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” had more impact or more of a tangible connection to real world events for me than now.
I think I have begun to understand how this summer will shape my life and my future, but as the end of the program nears, I can’t help but think how much of an impact I have really had on the lives of homeless youth at Larkin St.
Despite the summer of growth and learning that I have experienced in regards to my place in this world and my privilege, I still recall when we were told at DukeEngage Academy that this summer is both about us and not about us at the same time. I think I have begun to understand how this summer will shape my life and my future, but as the end of the program nears, I can’t help but think how much of an impact I have really had on the lives of homeless youth at Larkin St. I cherish the relationships I have made with the clients and part of me truly believes that the work and lessons I contributed in the classroom at the Healthcare Learning Center benefited at least some clients. However, the nature of our stay in San Francisco — a mere 8 weeks — created some issues. We were really just visitors in the space that the youth occupy throughout the year, but after 8 weeks we definitely immersed ourselves in the organization. Building relationships with the clients (which often involve difficult conversations considering the circumstances of the clients’ lives) only to end them abruptly after 8 weeks seems wrong. It seems unfair to the clients to build relationships with me and the other DukeEngage students and then for us to leave so abruptly. These circumstances make me question whether this summer was really meant for the clients we were serving or for my own personal growth.
Of course, the DukeEngage-San Francisco students and I did not come in with grand illusions of solving youth homelessness. We understood from the beginning that we would only be contributing in a small way to a problem that is larger and more complex than we know. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to find closure and I am left wondering what positive impact, if any, I really left on the clients I interacted with given that we so quickly enter and then leave their lives.