Apr 04, 2017
Employee Spotlight—Terrell Berry
Every day, homeless youth struggle to survive on the streets. Terrell Berry, Outreach Specialist for our Washington State Program knows what it feels like—he was once one of them. Growing up in Long Beach, California, he and his family faced bouts of homelessness. This experience led him to study sociology in college and later, provided him with the insights needed to work with at-risk youth. According to Bettina Boles, Program Supervisor for The Perch and Yellow Brick Road, WA, “Terrell is a caring listener and attuned to the empathetic needs of the youth that he works with. His unique style creates an ease for youth to engage with him, which is just a small part of what makes him such an awesome Outreach Specialist.” We talked to Terrell to find out more about how he is serving our youth in SW Washington.
What does an Outreach Specialist do?
I spend half of my time leading street outreach with Yellow Brick Road—making connections with homeless and unstably-housed youth— and the rest of my time, I support youth who come to our daily drop-in center, The Perch. In both of these roles, I try to meet youth where they are without pushing an agenda. Going to homeless camps, I always respect their space and announce myself when I arrive. Initially, I offer hygiene supplies and first aid products. I start out with something small. Once they are comfortable and if they are interested, I offer information, referrals and crisis intervention. Sometimes it takes a while to build rapport—from one week to two years before a youth may want to come to The Perch or get services. Some youth who are traveling through and are not familiar with the work of Yellow Brick Road may be very skeptical and cautious.
Working at The Perch is different because youth come to us. They know The Perch is a safe place where they can get a shower and meals. Fridays are very popular—we cook a full breakfast and watch movies. On the second Monday of each month, we drink mochas (coffee with hot chocolate) and watch movies. These events help make youth feel comfortable in The Perch and with the staff. After time, they develop enough trust to ask for help. It could be as simple as getting a bus pass to help them seek employment.
What are the biggest challenges facing homeless youth today?
Lack of resources. There are state and local funding cuts that have an impact on homeless youth. Another challenge youth is the stigma of being homeless. Obtaining important documentation to get required ID for employment is also difficult.
What do you like most about your job?
Seeing their personal successes. It could be someone who has been sober for two weeks, or left an abusive relationship. I try to help them see their personal progress and acknowledge their strengths. One day, when I was doing street outreach, I ran into a 42-year-old woman who received service from Janus when she was a youth. She said, “Yellow Brick Road saved my life.” Hearing that reassured me that this line of work is my life calling.