It is a common misconception that all homeless youth are from “broken” families, and that youth from “good families” do not end up on the street. When Hanson first came to Covenant House, it was immediately clear at intake, that he came from a better than average background. While going through his belongings at intake, he handed in expensive perfume, an expensive watch, and, a bar of expensive soap that actually had gold flakes in them. He was clearly not street entrenched and had zero “street smarts”.
When he first came to us, Hanson had a serious heroin addiction, and his family had “disowned him”. Nevertheless, Hanson clearly thought that he did not “belong” in the Crisis Program and that he was “better” than the others. He was in denial about his addiction. He judged other youth as “junkies” but did not admit that he himself had a problem.
At first, he did not last more than a few days with us before he relapsed into his addiction and ended up on the streets again. The following few months Hanson was in and out of our Crisis Program, and each time we saw him, alarmingly, he had become more and more entrenched in his drug addiction and in street life. He lost weight, and he has lost apparently not only his expensive soap and clothes, but also, his desire or motivation to care about his personal appearance or hygiene.
Each time he came back, we welcomed him without conditions, without judgment, and without reservation. He slowly built relationships with the youth workers, and connected with addiction and mental health workers. He started to see himself as someone who needed support and he started to admit to himself that he needed to make changes. Hanson eventually entered and finished a residential treatment program. When he successfully finished the program, his family told him, he will be welcome to come home after a certain amount of clean time. Hanson was hopeful and confident that he wouldn’t relapse and would be home soon.
However, as it is often the case, Hanson did in fact relapse a few times. After one of his relapses, when he came back to the Crisis Program, he expressed how embarrassed he felt, and that he felt he has let not only his parents, but the staff at Covenant House down. Hanson pointed out, that he felt really disappointed, because after completing almost half a year of clean time, and half of the requirements of clean time his family had for before he would be able to return to home, he “screwed up” and because he relapsed, now he was back to zero and all his efforts to stay clean were for naught.
I reminded Hanson that relapse is a part of the process, and that we at Covenant House were confident he will eventually succeed. I reminded him of when he first came to Covenant House, and pointed out the difference between his attitude then and now. I pointed out, that back then, he did not realize or understand he had a problem, therefore he could not make the changes he needed to make. Now, however, he had that understanding, and in spite of his relapses, and setbacks, he was actually he was moving toward success. I pointed out, that when he first came to Covenant House, he was not at “zero” he was below zero, and he was not at “Step One”, because back then, he was not even on the road yet to recovery. I encouraged him to look at the period he was able to remain clean as an accomplishment. If he was able to make it for 180 days, he could make it for 185, 200, 365…
Hanson contemplated what I said, but I would be lying if I said that because of my words, he never relapsed again. His journey was slow, and he relapsed a few more times, but eventually, he was able to get his own housing, and move out of Covenant House. When he left, he was a very different young man from the one whom we had first seen at Covenant House, not just physically (he has gained weight and looked healthier than in years), but also emotionally. He was humbler perhaps, and he did not have his golden flecked soap any more. He was also more confident and more hopeful for a bright and clean future.