ISSUE 7 AUGUST 1999 BACK

CARE WORKERS

Homeless: Neither a profession nor an employer offers shelter or a place to go

Mike Baizerman

Mike Baizerman reflects on those who work with young people on the streets “or where they are

To be a "detached youth worker" means to be an agent of an organisation who works where youth are (geographic place) and begin "where they are at" (existential place). It is to be "on the side of kids" (political place), but also "to be at the place" (psychological place) where one can understand how much of oneself is implicated in one's stance (perspectival place). The detached youth worker is for kids and his/her home is with them (place of belonging).

Neither new nor seasoned detached youth workers chose this work to be homeless. They expected to belong, that is, to find themselves wanted by the kids, invited and accepted by them. This is a long term, even rare, accomplishment. More typical is that the youth worker tries for a long time before this belonging (in fact and in feeling) is achieved. Detached youth workers are typically not at home in their employing agency. They work outside it's walls and very often psychologically far away from its rules, procedures and style. They are thus outside-insiders, who use their agency base from which to work with and for youth.

Most youth workers employed or operating as detached youth workers are not members of established semi (social work) or full (psychology) professions. Rather, they are youth workers and see themselves as such. But youth work is not often a home, however useful it is as a house. There is shelter, but no family. Most youth workers are not organised into associations (e.g., unions, institutes, etc.) and they often don't know their colleagues. They are more like "wage earners" in that sense: they "do their job." Yet the job they do, their calling to it, and the broader and deeper meaning their work has for them, show that theirs is a personal and moral commitment, not "simply a job."

There is shelter but no home. Detached youth workers are homeless. 

THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net)
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