Mary is fairly new to us at the Crisis Shelter. She is very young, under 19 years old and although her years may suggest otherwise, has had a challenging life so far. Mary first arrived at the Shelter late one night. A concerned citizen brought her to our doorstep when he found her sleeping on the streets alone and with nowhere to go. I was asked to meet her and to be gentle as she was hesitant to accept our supports. When I first was introduced to her, she was sitting in a chair, kind of slumped over a bit and it looked like she'd been crying. I introduced myself, sat down and asked if I could get her anything...food...drink...tissue? She nodded yes and accepted a sandwich from me before we began talking. I explained what the Shelter was like, what to expect and how we at Covenant House were glad she made the choice to come in out of the cold if only for one night.
I completed her intake and checked Mary in to her own room that night. This was her first contact with us...but not the last. Mary stayed only 1 night that stay...eagerly gathering her belongings the next day and leaving to go back to the streets and to her street family. Mary didn't have a conventional family she identified with for the most part & ran away from home to escape. She was a very spiritual young girl, gentle and very creative and stubborn and opinionated all at the same time. Mary knew what she wanted and had chosen the street life despite the efforts of many community agencies to offer her more stability and support.
Her second stay with us was a little longer and gave me the opportunity to get to know Mary a little better. I'd become a familiar and dare I say a welcomed face to her, and she sought me out to chat a little and was accepting of my offerings to her. I think the day I got her a brand new pair of shoes that were just her style, was the day the Mary began to see Covenant House as a support to her. In between her 2nd & 3rd stays in Shelter I made the effort to seek Mary out a few times in the Drop-In space upstairs from the Shelter. Each time I did this, I'd always tell her how nice it was to see her, would ask if she was safe and would always end our little chats with the invitation to return to the Shelter if she needed a break from the streets. She became more and more responsive to this notion which was encouraging to see.
Mary took a long break from Shelter but eventually came back. This time she was different. She looked different...more healthy and happy...and she'd enrolled in and was completing some schooling. Mary had also stopped using drugs which was a huge feat in and of itself. And this time she came back to Shelter because she wanted to not because she felt like she needed to. This distinction was very important to Mary. During her stay Mary warmed up to staff slowly but surely, but still remained guarded in many ways, preferring to look to her street family for guidance. There were days of triumph for her, and very difficult days which challenged all involved as Mary fought against those trying to support her. Mary has stayed the course in Shelter so far and is trying to figure out her place in the world. No one knows what will happen next with Mary, but we're all just taking it day by day to see what will happen.