You'll find The Night Ministry's Youth Outreach Van at the corner of Belmont and Halsted in Chicago every Thursday night, but the work of the Youth Outreach Team happens throughout the week.
Many young people experiencing homelessness are drawn to the Lakeview neighborhood for services like safe space drop-in centers. But, said Youth Outreach Professional Brooke Thomas, "Most of them don't actually stay here. That's why it is so important to branch out and go other places."
Thomas and the other members of the Youth Outreach Team visit places across the city such as libraries, court houses, and open-mic performance spaces where they can establish connections with homeless youth. Once they do, they stay in touch with clients via cell phone and social media and meet in person.
LaShaunda Battie, Manager of Youth Engagement Services, said outreach has evolved to stay current. "Young people want to call you and sit down with you. They want to chat with you on Facebook or Instagram."
One development is the hiring of a Peer Outreach Professional, Sharday Hamilton, who is also a former client of The Night Ministry. "Because I am still in the youth age range, it's easier for me to hang out with them and let them know about the services we provide," Hamilton said.
Adventure Club, another engagement effort, is a twice monthly event that Michelle Thomas, also a Youth Outreach Professional, said exposes young people to activities that build confidence and trust such as rock climbing and kayaking.
"A lot of people automatically think they can't do something because they haven't done it before. And then, once they have, it's not so scary," she said. "Or they get through it because their peer helped them out."
No matter how outreach is done, for Brooke Thomas it still comes down to the relationship. "The last four letters spell ship. It brings you from one place to another, and that is my goal," she said.