My first stress of DukeEngage came the morning of my flight (4 AM, eek) when my bag was overweight, and the checked baggage fee skyrocketed. After a 6 hour long flight, my second frustration exposed itself as an overpriced Uber ride. After arriving at the housing site, I was further frustrated by the lack of kitchen or bathroom supplies, except for half a roll of toilet paper. I would have to go spend a ridiculous amount of money on materials I’d only be using for 8 weeks? Ugh. Finally, after a long day of unpacking, I headed over to Trader Joes… only to have both my bags break on my walk back. Exhausted, I finally made it to 10 PM and crashed into my bed.
Before my first day at Larkin Street, these types of minuscule stressors would really bother me. It wasn’t until I took my first bus to the Tenderloin that I realized how absolutely ridiculous I was being. Three steps off the bus and I was knocked over by a wave of shock. The streets had yet to be sprayed off (which was done every morning) and I was appalled by the number of mysterious splatters on the sidewalk. Furthermore, on the 4 block walk from the bus stop to Larkin Street Youth Services, I passed large groups of individuals experiencing homelessness. Many of these people were hunched over, oblivious to their surroundings. A fair amount were covered in their own urine or excrements. Even more seemed to be under the influence of drugs, or even doing drugs in the middle of the day. This walk opened my eyes to my relative privilege. How ridiculous was I for complaining about my grocery bags breaking, when my stipend allottedted me food for the week? Why was I upset about an Uber ride, when it was taking me to a home with a roof? And how could I be upset about the money spent on apartment materials, when I had a kitchen and a bathroom?
The environment at Larkin Street was completely different from that on the streets outside. The people at LSYS are hopeful, helpful, and incredible. These people do the most amazing work, and I am beyond excited to spend the rest of my DukeEngage experience with them. Thus far, what has resonated with me most is LSYS stance on harm reduction. In our first few days at LSYS, we were taught about how many individuals experiencing homelessness use drugs as a safety mechanism, rather than for the high. They would do meth or heroin to stay awake at night and guard themselves and their belongings. For this reason, rather than promoting abstinence, LSYS gives out safe drug kits and promotes safe drug usage. I am a huge fan of this outlook, and it has proven very effective among the youth at Larkin Street. Due to this interest, I have started a project looking at how different harm reduction curricula used around the US can be implemented at Larkin Street. Additionally, I am attending group sessions for Harm Reduction which any youth can attend.
Another aspect of LSYS I have loved is interacting with the youth. I am working with the Behavioral Health team to lead a Wellness Group with the youth and teaching a wellness course for Bridge, LSYS’s college readiness class. Being able to interact with the clients and just listen to their stories has been incredible. They’re so full of personality and I’m always amazed by their resilience. Whether I’m playing a card game, talking about stress coping strategies, or listening to a youth’s personal story, I have loved every second I’ve spent talking with the different clients.
My DukeEngage experience, although early, has made me extremely grateful. At Duke and at home, I am often stuck in a bubble of privilege, and I am extremely gracious to be reminded of things I frequently take for granted. I have absolutely loved working with the staff and youth at LSYS, and I am beyond excited to see what the rest of the Summer has in store.