Working with street kids: Walking the talk

We know, basically, what's right.

"In as much as you do it to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me." That's the Christ of the Gospels.

"Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible."

And thanks for that, Buddha.

Sometimes, while walking down the Ave, these can be difficult injunctions to embrace. Many feel intimidated by the "street kids." Others, feeling genuine compassion, undergo another kind of discomfort. Either way, many of us avoid eye contact. Others simply avoid the Ave, period.

John Faust is not an avoider.

Faust is job developer for the Working Zone, a YWCA program headquartered in a small house on Roosevelt. He works to place "street kids" in the employment world. He prefers to call his charges "out-of-home youth."

Some folks, those inclined to slap backs at the Washington Athletic Club or revere Nordstrom's great return policy, prefer to think of social workers as pale, jargon spouting, bleeding heart, tax leeching...enablers.

Faust, from Minneapolis, is funny, smart, young (32), with a controlled fire in his belly. He's seen society's indifference to the down and out and it ticks him off.

"It's tough to go home and listen to my family talk about stocks," he said. "I'm just not there."

Faust also knows how it is at parties. At some point the inevitable question will roll around: "What do you do?" (This is the official litmus test for a jerk.)

Faust recalled how, after he answered, the interrogator replied: "Oh, you must be so broke." That kind of thing only stokes Faust's fires. His sense of mission has been with him since childhood.

"I knew from 10 years old. I knew I just didn't want to be a normal cog in the system," he said. And what fruit does the system yield?

Consider this: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 2.5 million cases of child abuse and neglect in this country are reported every year. Their report cites studies indicating that one in four girls and one in eight boys will be sexually abused before they are 18.

And think about this: Most "street kids" are out on the street because they find that life more tolerable than life at home. Most "runaways" are actually "throw-aways."

The Working Zone, besides Faust, has two case managers and four University of Washington interns. "We're way committed," he said. Each year they work with about 150 kids ages 15-21. Most are white and some hail from only the "best" Eastside neighborhoods.

"We have a lot of smart kids," Faust said. "They're pretty exceptional. They just don't have a place to live."

And so some sleep in recycling containers. Most band together for protection and comfort.

About 5 percent, Faust said, are experiencing sexual identity issues.

"Why aren't you at home?" Faust asked one youth.

"Because my dad called me a fag and kicked me out," came the reply.

"How are you making your money?" Faust pressed.


Faust, who is married and has seen more than most 32-year-olds, observed: "By the time a kid is 18 he's like 35."

Sister a role model

Faust, the youngest of eight children raised in a Catholic family, grew up in Little Falls, Minn. He's been in Seattle nearly two years. Most of his family votes Republican. Not all of them are sure what he's doing with his life.

For the youthful Faust, a sister in social work provided his North Star.

"I knew at a young age what privilege was," he said. "I learned about vocation from my sister at an early age. I need more than just a financial reward."

With a degree in social work from St. Cloud University in hand, Faust embarked on his chosen path. His first stop was as case manager in the mental health field.

"When you're dealing with people who have hallucinations you're dealing with interesting people," he noted, and not ironically.

He's seen some interesting windows opened on the universe by such people, far more interesting than the ones opened, say, at a typical Seattle get-together.

Which leads back to Faust's frustration with complacency and indifference.

"Open your eyes," he says. "It's everyone's community. Quit bitching or do something about it. I would challenge people with homes, jobs, dollars, to walk around one weekend with nothing and figure out how to eat."

The Working Zone aims to reduce the barriers between homeless youth and housing and employment. They provide training and resources and educational opportunities.They work with prospective employers to land real jobs.

Faust figures 50-60 percent of the kids they see end up doing better.

"I don't want the kid who comes to my office to be homeless at 25," Faust stated.

The Working Zone is funded by grant money through HUD, but they can always use help. Companies can provide employment opportunities. Canned goods, computers and volunteer help are also welcome.

Idealism is one thing. Following through on it is another. John Faust is there to remind us of the better angels of our nature.

"Some days I'm pessimistic," he said. "But the continual challenges get me and the caseworkers going. One kid gets a job and we celebrate."

For more information: (206) 633-7901. The Working Zone is at 5516 Roosevelt Way N.E.[[In-content Ad]]