“At the end of the day, all I can do is close my eyes and pray that tomorrow will be a better day; Sometimes I just hope that God will guide me through this,” one of my clients deflected a laugh as he averted his eyes back to the ground. I wanted to laugh too, I wanted to share the hope that glimmered in his eyes, I wanted to sit next to him and assure him that everything was gonna be okay, but I couldn’t even muster out a smile. I couldn’t help but wonder about all of the things that he had lived through. The small secrets and the not-so great expectations that defined his youth, kept my mind fixated on the adversities some of the clients at Larkin Street have had to overcome. For me, the biggest realization came from our experience walking through the Tenderloin that we were not at Duke anymore; no longer sheltered by the safe haven that Duke provided, the false illusion of stability and prosperity became a distant memory.
As I kept my eyes down, scanning the streets for needles and deflecting eye contact with homeless people, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve seen this all before. Although the two years I spent at Duke have blessed me with a roof over my head and the stability of having three meals a day, this hasn’t always been the case. Although I have never been homeless, when my father left, my family fluctuated back and forth between the poverty line for most of my youth. The living conditions of the Tenderloin were a norm for me. All I can remember from the pieces of my youth are slight puffs of cigarette smoke and empty bottles of alcohol– that was until I found an area where everyone started off on an equal ground. Through school and education, poverty became both my umbrella and my rain. Although it served as the source of my deprivation, it also functioned as my source of motivation.
In the same way, working with Larkin street provides us the opportunity to build a better future for homeless youth. Through education, health, art, and music services we are able to influence the lives of adolescents our age and guide them towards the path of a better future. Everyday I walk into Larkin Youth Services, I continue to be moved by every individual’s eagerness to learn from us, but what resonates with me is what we can learn from them. These youth know best the changes that are crucial to the attainment of a stable job and affordable housing, and therefore, in the next few weeks, I hope that we can continue on this adventure together to learn from each other. Only through symbiosis, can I look back at my clients and unhesitantly laugh and smile back in unison with them.