By Jasmine Lu
On a regular day, many pass the homeless on their way to the local coffee shop or night class and do little more than cast a sympathetic glance their way or, at times, even offer a few dollars as solace. This is the extent to which many interact with the homeless—very few are in a position to help these people get on their feet and off the streets for good.
“Every success story is different,” says Chantel Rothenburger, a youth supervisor at Casa Youth Shelter, which has been a temporary home for many youth trying to get back on the right path and homeless youth with nowhere to go. Furthermore, the shelter has served as a resource for therapeutic counseling sessions and programs aimed at teaching necessary life skills not taught in school, such as tax filing or resume construction. As she elaborates on the programs that Casa Youth Shelter provides for its inhabitants, Rothenburger emphasizes her determination not only to provide a safe space for the youth but also to teach the children life skills. Rothenburger explains, “No one person ever says, ‘I’m going to choose to be homeless today.’ That’s forced upon them. They’re forced into that scenario; they’re forced into that situation. And our job is to break that cycle so it doesn’t keep repeating. We want to provide programs. We want to provide services to lay a better foundation and help them get back on their feet.”
Although Rothenburger’s goal has always been to better prepare the youth for life after residing at the shelter, she, as well as the rest of the staff at Casa Youth Shelter, emphasize the importance of downtime and hobbies to the children they work with.
In between group counseling sessions and life skill lessons, the shelter provides a variety of events and resources to help the children let loose. Downstairs or outside, the children can participate in scavenger hunts, pizza and movie nights, or yoga classes. Upstairs, the youth can play a variety of video games on a Wii console, read a good story from the shelter’s library of donated books, or pick up a guitar to strum for a jam session. “It’s neat to see them just be kids,” Rothenburger says. “It’s neat to have them relax and just enjoy the moment sometimes.”
Rothenburger explains that the job can be demanding and difficult at times. Being flexible and having a compassionate attitude is a must for all of the staff at Casa Youth Shelter. Despite the demanding nature of her job, it is clear that she loves her job all the same: “I have two jobs and this is my second job. I choose to be here. I choose to be present in their lives. I choose to do whatever I can to make the difference in their lives.” She recalls several times when past youth residents had returned to visit the shelter and offered sincere thanks for all that the shelter has done for them, reflecting that she feels fulfillment just in seeing the children flourish after leaving the shelter.
For those who cannot necessarily provide the network or support that Casa Youth Shelter does but who would still want to help the homeless, Rothenburger describes that not much is needed: “Basic human kindness and the courtesy to treat others with respect and kindness, I think, is just the essential thing that could go ten times towards helping someone who is homeless.”
Without a doubt, Chantel’s work at Casa Youth Shelter has helped to break the cycle of homelessness by providing a stable temporary home and the skills necessary for the bright futures of the homeless youth. Truly, in homage to its name, Casa Youth Shelter is a loving home for the homeless youth in their times of need because of extraordinary individuals like Chantel.
Jasmine Lu is a third-year human biology major at the University of California, Irvine. She aspires to work as a physician in a hospital and as a part of the World Health Organization in rural countries. Eventually, she hopes to found a hospital that can provide adequate healthcare at little to no out-of-pocket cost for the underprivileged population. In her free time, she enjoys watching Ted Talks and reading crime mystery novels.