Topic: Teen Services

All Paws on Deck!

Dozens of volunteers join us every day at Preble Street, offering their time, energy, and unique skills to serve people in need. Some are great chefs who prepare meals in the kitchen. Others serve up food or scrub dishes. And some like to pad around on all fours, wagging their tails, giving adoration, and receiving love during their weekly visit to the Preble Street Teen Center.

Meet Monson, Woody, and Sam!

A bouncy Dalmatian with a lot of love to give, Monson is a certified therapy dog who accompanies his human counterpart, Melissa, on Tuesday evenings at the Teen Center. He started visiting in 2017 and has brought much joy to the youth, staff, and volunteers alike. The teens often run right up to Monson, hugging him and telling him they love him — and even ask if he can come sleep in the shelter. As Melissa says, “He seems to know when people need him.”

Monson isn’t the only doggy volunteer at Preble Street. Woody and Sam are a dynamic duo who visit the Teen Center on Friday mornings with their person, Susan.

“There was a young man to whom Woody took a special liking,” recalls Susan. “Whenever this youth would walk through the door, Woody would go to him. He was a tough guy on the street but a marshmallow around Woody, and proudly told his friends of the tricks he had taught him. One day after he’d aged out of the program, we arrived to find he had stopped by with a can of dog food for Woody. Imagine — here’s a kid with nothing, who went out of his way to get and spend his money on a can of dog food for his little buddy. We took pictures of the dogs devouring his treat and put thank you signs around their necks to let him know what that meant to us.”

Thank you, Monson, Woody, Sam, Melissa, and Susan for all the time, energy, and love you bring to Preble Street every week. We are honored to recognize your service!

Left: Monson / Top right: Woody / Bottom right: Sam

Learn more about volunteering at Preble Street!

Volunteer of the Month: Ahmad

It’s Tuesday afternoon at the Teen Center. Staff members are in the great room, meeting with clients and connecting them to services. Outside, a few youth kneel beside a raised flower bed planting herbs in the small courtyard. And at the far end of the room, June’s Volunteer of the Month—Ahmad—is standing behind an electric keyboard with a client, walking them through the chords of Adele’s “To Make You Feel My Love.”

Preble Street cherishes all its volunteers—more than 50 individuals join us every day, giving their time and energy and asking for nothing in return. Some people prepare delicious food; others are wizards at data entry and filing. Ahmad gives the Teen Center the gift of music.

Every Tuesday, Ahmad brings his keyboard to the Teen Center to teach youth how to play the piano. He first started volunteering at the Preble Street Teen Center through a partnership with the Maine Academy of Modern Music, where Ahmad was a student. But to say Ahmad’s gift is simply that of music instruction would fall vastly short of his widely sweeping positive impact on the lives of staff and clients alike who know him, learn from him, and play music with him.

“One of his greatest gifts that he brings to the Teen Center is his ability to connect with everyone,” says Jordan, a caseworker at the Teen Center. “He is an incredible listener, provides enormous amounts of positive encouragement, and helps show our clients they are capable of so much.”

Ahmad and Teen Center staff dress the part at the annual client Halloween party.

Kiersten, Teen Services Supervisor and one of Ahmad’s many nominators for Volunteer of the Month, had this to say: “Above all things, Ahmad, when interacting with staff, clients, volunteers, or community members, is quietly and beatifically present in every interaction, every moment. He is effortlessly empathetic. He encourages youth to bring him music they like, and he takes their lead in instruction and choosing songs.”

Staff members remember fondly the holiday concerts Ahmad helps organize, where youth are able to showcase their budding musical abilities to an enthusiastic audience. These concerts “have not only empowered youth and given them a venue to share their very proudly earned new talents, but have brought different programs together as staff come to enjoy the show,” says a Teen Center team member. The joy expressed in these musical gatherings lifts up clients and staff alike, thanks to the tireless effort of one volunteer.

While Ahmad’s volunteering centers around music, he also brings unending patience, incredible positivity, and quiet compassion. Thank you, Ahmad, for bringing your light, your enthusiasm, and your beautiful gift of music to the Preble Street Teen Center.

Volunteer of the Month: Graham

Graham W. started volunteering at the Resource Center Soup Kitchen several years ago. A Portland resident for nearly ten years, Graham’s compassion for people struggling in his own neighborhood compelled him to begin giving back.

Graham used to bike around Portland with granola bars and energy-packed snacks in his backpack to give to folks he saw along his daily commute asking for food, money, or a helping hand. Thinking this effort wasn’t enough, Graham searched for more ways to give back and decided to start volunteering.

“Volunteering with an organization like Preble Street gave me an opportunity to serve more of my neighbors during their times of greatest need,” says Graham.

Making a weekly commitment to volunteer at the Teen Center he helps prepare lunch every Friday.

Graham experienced homelessness as a teenager with his family, and knows first-hand how difficult and traumatic these experiences can be. “It’s the kids that keep me coming back. I experienced a period of homelessness myself as a teenager, and I feel overwhelming compassion for anyone having to endure the alienation and distress that comes with that, especially during a stage of life that already tends to be difficult even under normal circumstances.”

He considers himself lucky to have faced that difficult time in his life with his family close by. “My mom, my brother, and I were able to keep a roof over our heads, either in a shelter or at a friend’s house, but I know not every kid is fortunate enough to have that degree of support. This is why I feel compelled to do something to help. It holds a deeper meaning for me that goes beyond just being active in my community. It’s something that I have to do.”

When asked what he loves most about volunteering at the Teen Center, he points to his fellow volunteers and the Teen Center Staff. “They are all delightful people who have welcomed me and helped me feel a sense of belonging,” he says.

A huge thank you to Graham, and to all our volunteers, who make the work of Preble Street possible! If you’re interested in taking on a regular shift at the Teen Center, email Volunteer Manager Ali Brauner to get started!

Curbside: News from Preble Street Spring 2017

The spring 2017 edition of Curbside: News from Preble Street hit homes this week. Did you receive a copy? If not, you can read it below, and sign up here for future issues.

Mainers Helping Mainers: A Preble Street Year in Review

Watch our Year in Review video, featuring some of the friends and neighbors who stepped up to make a difference in 2016!

Every day at Preble Street, the community comes together to help Mainers move forward to better lives, giving their time, their energy, their money, their voices, and their hearts.

Your donation to Preble Street does more than ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community make it through another day. Your support empowers brave, determined people to break the cycle of homelessness by finding work, studying hard, never giving up, learning new skills, finding their voices, reuniting with family, and reaching their goals.

Most of all it helps them hold on to hope during their darkest hours.

Please join us this year in growing our community of giving hands and grateful hearts.

Join us for the Longest Night of Homelessness!

Each year on the longest night of homelessness, Preble Street, Homeless Voices for Justice, community leaders and concerned neighbors gather for the annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Vigil to remember our homeless friends who have died and recommit ourselves to the task of ending homelessness.

Join us on Wednesday, December 21, at 4 pm for a candlelight procession starting at the Preble Street Resource Center, and proceeding to Monument Square for a ceremony dedicated to those persons who have died in our community.

Welcome, 2016-17 Interns!

Front Row: Ben Richards; USM, Kelly Gayle; USM, Alyssa Wade; UNE, Katy Finch; UNE, Naomi Abrams USM, Melissa Towle; UNE, Rachel Andreasen; USM, Kendra Page; UNE. Back Row: Brad Hammond; USM, Mark, Jen Dorval; USM, Sarah Carr, Jesuit Volunteer, Tim Bates; USM, Nicole Sutherland; USM, Amber Clark; USM, Justin Brown; USM.

Front Row: Ben Richards; USM, Kelly Gayle; USM, Alyssa Wade; UNE, Katy Finch; UNE, Naomi Abrams USM, Melissa Towle; UNE, Rachel Andreasen; USM, Kendra Page; UNE. Back Row: Brad Hammond; USM, Mark, Jen Dorval; USM, Sarah Carr, Jesuit Volunteer, Tim Bates; USM, Nicole Sutherland; USM, Amber Clark; USM, Justin Brown; USM.

Preble Street is incredibly excited to welcome its 2016-17 class of social work interns.

This prestigious and competitive social work placement opportunity has been key to meeting the Preble Street mission since it was founded by Joe Kreisler, chair of the University of Southern Maine social work department. The Preble Street internship program has trained more than 400 social workers in its more-than-40-year history. Expanding from a placement opportunity for USM social work students, the applicant pool has grown over the years to include students from University of Maine Augusta, University of New England, St. Joseph’s College, Lesley University, Boston College, and Southern Maine Community College.

Anti-Trafficking Coalition Honored as a “Visionary Voice”

The Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Coalition (PSATC) was recognized at the 2016 Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA) Celebration & Awards Ceremony on April 14 with this year’s Visionary Voice Award. MECASA presents the award in collaboration with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) to recognize the creativity and hard work of individuals around the country who have demonstrated outstanding work to end sexual violence.

Each April, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, state, territory, and tribal coalitions select an outstanding individual to nominate for the awards. Nominees may be partners from a local community or other outstanding individuals that have worked to end sexual violence.

Here’s what MECASA had to say about PSATC in their nomination:
While MECASA staff engages with PSATC Manager Daniella Cameron the most, the whole team has been a true partner in anti-trafficking efforts. As the first human trafficking-specific low-barrier program in the state, the team is on the ground, figuring out how to deliver services, serve on a multidisciplinary team, and work alongside the criminal justice system. It is hard work and it’s messy, but they are utterly committed to making it happen.
All the while, they are sharing what they learn with all the local anti-trafficking teams and MECASA to help build capacity to respond to trafficking in a victim-centered way. Additionally, their expertise in both sex and labor trafficking informed MECASA’s Training-of-Trainers curriculum, a project that is used statewide to train other anti-trafficking teams.
Established in 2014 as a program of Preble Street under a federal Office of Victims of Crime grant, PSATC is a multi-agency collaboration that provides intensive case management, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and legal services to victims/survivors of labor and sex trafficking in York and Cumberland Counties, Maine. Their work includes developing protocols and housing resources for a multidisciplinary team.

Thank you, MECASA and NSVRC, for this incredible honor! It’s a privilege to work with so many proactive organizations across Maine and the nation to create life-changing solutions for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Preble Street welcomes new interns

Preble Street internship program has accepted 15 masters, bachelors and associate students to its social work programs for the 2015-16 school year.

This prestigious and competitive social work placement opportunity has been key to the meeting the Preble Street mission since it was founded by Joe Kreisler, chair of the University of Southern Maine social work department. The Preble Street internship program has trained more than 400 social workers in its 40-year history. Expanding from a placement opportunity for USM social work students, the applicant pool has grown over the years to include students from University of Maine Augusta, University of New England, St. Joseph’s College, Lesley College, Boston College, and Southern Maine Community College.

Funding Compassion

For over a decade, Diane, a beautiful, elderly woman in her 70’s, sat in a folding chair outside our soup kitchen waiting for her son to pick her up and take her home. Every effort to talk with her, offer her housing, help her in anyway, was met with a gentle and soft response, "I’m fine, dear, don’t worry about me. My son is coming to pick me up on Monday." This was her response for more than 10 years. She suffered from schizophrenia with entrenched delusions, and would occasionally slip into catatonic states. Tragically, during the years this lovely woman languished in the shelters, she received no medical treatment and died of breast cancer. Diane’s son never picked her up. And she never made it home.

I’ve been the Executive Director of Preble Street for 24 years. While I’m blessed to have such a great job, the hardest part, by far, is not knowing whether we’ll be able to serve everyone who comes to our doors, hungry and homeless, cold and alone, scared to death. And can you even imagine how terrifying these past several weeks have been, with the record snow and cold, for those out on the streets? Think of those nights when you’ve dreaded just walking from the office where you work to your car. How brutally cold those 8 minutes were until your car warmed up. And how happy you were to finally get to your warm and comfortable home for the night. Sadly, we have brothers and sisters who have no home to get to, nowhere to be warm and safe.

Emergency shelters have to be there for these people. We simply have to. It is a matter of life and death. Preble Street has to be there for them. The city’s Oxford Street Shelter and the 41 other shelters around Maine have to be there. For those of us trying to keep these shelters up and running, these questions about shelter funding and General Assistance are not political issues, or newspaper headlines. They are about real people who are suffering, and the limited and humble ways in which we can help them. Again, it is a matter of life and death – that’s what we think about, that’s what those of us who run shelters worry about.

We know that no one wakes up one day and decides they want to be homeless. No one wakes up one day and decides they want to be mentally ill. Being homeless in Portland at the Oxford Street Shelter means sleeping on a thin mat on the floor, clutching all your belongings, inches away on both sides from strangers. That’s if you’re lucky enough to get one of the mats here.

One night earlier this month, 282 people showed up for one of the 142 mats available here. 282 people, and only 142 mats. So 75 of those 282 people had to walk over to Preble Street’s soup kitchen and sleep on the floor there. Another 68 people had to sit up in chairs all night at city offices. A few people waited here for a mat to open up, with one person waiting 11 hours to lay down his head for the two hours before the shelter woke everyone up and they had to leave for the day.

Who wants this? Who chooses this? And is someone really getting away with something by getting this mat to sleep on? How on God’s green earth could offering this meager service be considered "too generous?"

Two years ago, Preble Street and the city started a long-stayer initiative to try to focus more attention and resources on the 30 people who stayed at Oxford Street Shelter the longest. I don’t know if they were the same 30 that DHHS looked at in their audit, but it’s certainly a very very comparable group. All long-stayers. Of those 30, all 30-100% -had serious and persistent mental illnesses. Untreated mental illnesses, like Diane had. It may well be that some of them had money in the bank. But if so, I’m certain that they didn’t even know they had money, or because of the severity of their psychosis, they were unwilling or unable to use any of it.

They were and are staying at these scary, overcrowded shelters or languishing on the streets, because of their tragic mental illnesses. Not to save a few bucks. That is ridiculous to even suggest.

Anyone who lives or works or visits Portland knows exactly what I mean. These are the same people who wander our city streets, talking to themselves, psychotic, delusional and paranoid. Portlanders see them every day in Monument Square, at the ferry terminal, in Deering Oaks Park.

The mental health system is seriously broken. And that is not a new development that can or should be blamed on the current administration. This system has been unraveling for decades. The simple fact is that the shelters are overflowing with people who absolutely should not be there. But not because they have money. They shouldn’t be there because it is inhumane that our mental health system is unavailable and inaccessible to them.

Like we’ve seen with our jails, the shelters have become de facto psychiatric institutions. But without the funding, the expertise, and the clinical skills needed to treat people. We just do our best to keep people safe and alive.

And emergency shelters do that with whatever tools are available to us, with whatever funding we can scrape together. Shelter directors’ first worry, as I’ve described, is their clients’ safety. Shelter directors’ second worry, without question, is having the funds needed to stay open. Five agencies here in Portlandhave stopped running shelters over the last decade or so, because of lack of funding: Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, YWCA, Youth Alternatives and Ingraham. Good organizations, but no money to run their shelters. Where did all their clients go? Right here, to the Oxford Street Shelter, that’s where.

Having said that, I agree with the premise that General Assistance is the wrong funding mechanism for emergency shelters. It’s meant for individuals in the form of vouchers for food and rent. That’s what it’s for, not to run shelters. But it’s one of the only funding streams there is. So let’s throw it out, but only if we’ve made damned sure we have a sufficient replacement for it.

Funding for emergency shelters in this state hasn’t been thoughtfully discussed or debated by the state of Maine for over 25 years.

A grand total of $380,000 in state general funds goes to support the 42 shelters spread throughout Maine. $380,000 to support 42 shelters, and that’s even down from $500,000 when the state first made a commitment to fund shelters in 1987. In addition to that, for the past 20 or so years, MaineHousing has–at its discretion–committed approximately $2.4 million in HOME Funds to support the shelters. Thank God MaineHousing has done that. But that’s not the right funding mechanism either. It’s not why the HOME Fund was established in the first place. It’s discretionary, so it can go away quickly. And the HOME Fund, itself, often becomes a political football, so it is vulnerable.

And it’s not enough, which is why we have Portland and Bangor using General Assistance to keep the doors of their shelters open, because it is one of the very very few funding sources available to them.

So, GA is not the right source of funds. The HOME Fund is not the right source of funds. And $380,000 from the general fund is nowhere near enough to support 42 shelters around the state.

What can we do?

I propose that, in a thoughtful way, we transition shelter funding away from these funds and establish a meaningful and sufficient state fund to support Maine’s emergency shelters. Let’s call it the State of Maine Compassion Fund. How about that?

The state needs to acknowledge the importance of emergency shelters as a crucial, absolutely crucial, component of the safety net and fund them accordingly. The State of Maine Compassion Fund can do that. Now is the time to start over. We owe it to those counting on us to do this right.

And let’s also do a better job-all of us-at connecting the dots between untreated mental illness and the growing number of people at our shelters. Let’s have a real conversation about that. Is this how we as a state, as a community, want to treat people with debilitating mental illness?

We have to stop pointing fingers at one another. Stop saying what doesn’t work, or what’s wrong with the current system. These issues are complicated. Poverty, mental illness and homelessness are complex, but let’s figure out good public policy to help keep people safe and warm, off the streets and alive. Please let’s do that.