On Their Own Turf
Children’s Village’s Street Outreach Program started in 1998 as a way to reach the thousands of alienated youth who spend all or most of their nights on the streets of Westchester County’s urban centers. These kids, who are often victimized and sexually exploited, do not typically seek help and thus are missed by most programs designed to help youth.
The Street Outreach Program is premised on the belief that youth can make positive changes in their lives if presented with reasonable alternatives to street life. Services are offered on the youth’s home turf in a manner that encourages trust and acceptance, and delivered by staff who can relate to youth in a culturally and age-appropriate way. A significant goal of the program is helping youth to identify positive alternatives and make active, healthy choices for themselves.
The program uses a graffiti-painted van that goes out at night visiting the places where kids “hang out.” The van typically visits the most troubled urban areas of Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Spring Valley, New Rochelle, Peekskill, White Plains, Ossining, and Mt. Kisco.
To forge relationships with these troubled youth, the StreetWise team establishes a consistent, familiar presence in the urban areas it visits. Counselors invite youth on board the mobile StreetWise van for a break from the streets, an invitation which can be especially welcome in the dead of winter. Once engaged in conversation, they assess the youths’ conditions and living situations and initiate give-and-take about risky behaviors.
The initial work involves establishing trust, respecting youths’ privacy, and being non-judgmental in conversations. Staff provide counseling, information, community referrals, group discussions, condoms, and HIV testing/counseling. For youth who are hungry, staff provide pre-packaged self-heating meals and snacks. Youth can take the meals with them, or eat them on the van.
Protecting Youth from Sexual Exploitation
Sexual exploitation and sexual abuse are among the most common threats faced by young people who leave home to hang out or live on the street. Our program counsels both young women and men on avoiding or escaping prostitution, providing education and medical referral services as needed. When staff members encounter a young person who has suffered sexual exploitation or abuse, they refer the youth to Victims Assistance Services, a Westchester-based agency that provides free comprehensive clinical services and support to crime victims, support groups for sex abuse victims, and a 24-hour rape crisis hotline.
Certain staff are trained and certified in offering HIV testing. Test results are provided with complete confidentiality, and staff are trained to counsel and guide youth. When youth are determined to be HIV positive, we counsel them and link them to community health services.