Podcast Transcript: Jennifer "Yeah Yeah" Cowles

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Time: 4:26 | Size: 4.2 MB

NCFY: Welcome to Youth Speak Out, a podcast series from the Family and Youth Services Bureau. Jennifer Cowles, who goes by Yeah Yeah, first encountered the Homeless Youth Alliance in San Francisco when she ran away from home as a teenager. She’s now been off the street for four years and is employed at the alliance as an outreach counselor.

Jennifer "Yeah Yeah" Cowles: When I was a kid and I was coming here and I would look at the counselors and like that, people that I knew had been where I was. I just try to be like that. Like, everything I do in my job, I just try to be as close to the examples that I had coming up. With this specific population, like kind of traveling homeless kids who are living in the Upper Haight, I was that for so long that I feel like I, you know, would naturally also have a little bit of a better understanding about the different kinds of subcultures within that population and, kind of, how kids communicate and whatever.

A lot of them do not have positive experiences seeking services with agencies. It’s either people don’t understand where they’re coming from, or they’re trying to force them in a direction that they either don’t want to go in or aren’t ready to go in. And a lot of times, that can just be a setup for failure, resulting in that person being even more reluctant to seek services down the road.

NCFY: The Homeless Youth Alliance has a policy for new hires that Cowles says helped her create appropriate boundaries.

Cowles: You’re supposed to have been, kind of, like, out of the population for around two years, and that definitely helped. So it’s like, it had been a while since I had been, you know, hanging out with people on a daily basis. But it would have been way too awkward if it had been, like, say, six months ago I was, like, shooting up with these kids that I’m now trying to hold boundaries with.

It’s a good amount of time for people to get solid in the changes they’re making. You know, we’re in pretty close contact on a daily basis with varying degrees of active addiction and alcoholism and drug use and whatever. For somebody who doesn’t have a lot of clean time, that could be really difficult.

NCFY: Cowles recognizes that very often her closeness to the clients can be an asset. She relishes the chance to inspire old acquaintances and wring something positive out of her old life.

YEAH YEAH: You know, I was afraid that there would be people who maybe were resentful or whatever or, like, wouldn’t want to listen to me if I asked them to do something, but it hasn’t been bad. For sure, I’ll see that light kind of click on in kids’ heads when they find out that, like, either myself or any of my coworkers were at where they are now, and that we’ve, you know, made some changes in our lives and are now working here. I’ll see that kind of, like, click on in their face when they find that out, and that’s always fun.

When I first started working here, this kid that I hadn’t seen in years came in, and I didn’t even recognize him at first and he didn’t recognize me. He was like, the last time I saw you, we were hanging out on some playground in Chinatown. He’s like, I figured you’d be dead by now. I was like, no. I’ve been around. I cleaned up and now I’m working here. And he was like, that’s amazing. That’s totally what I want to do.

The work I do now kind of almost gives purpose to everything that I’ve been through. Like, I’m able to turn all of my life experiences into assets and, like, make use of them. Even what I felt were horrible experiences or whatever, I can now look back on and make use of when I’m talking with a kid who is either going through the same thing or through a very similar thing that they don’t know how to deal with. I can share my experience with it and, hopefully, kind of help them.

NCFY: For more information on employing former clients and serving runaway and homeless youth, visit the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth online at ncfy.acf.hhs.gov.

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