Teens on the streets of Boston have very critical needs. Unlike many adult homeless persons, these youths are not necessarily there because of socioeconomic reasons. Instead, most end up on the streets as the result of emotional or family dysfunctions. A local agency that effectively meets the critical needs of homeless and runaway youth is Bridge Over Troubled Waters (commonly known as “The Bridge”), a nationally recognized agency, that also offers multiple opportunities for these young people to form consistent therapeutic relationships with trained professionals.
The mission statement of “The Bridge” reports that it was founded to “do whatever may be necessary or desirable in assisting youth who are on the streets with no one to comfort them to achieve a place in society as normal and useful citizens.” Although there are several ongoing Bridge projects, the youth are not required to be in an official program to receive assistance. Most of the services are offered at no cost to the youth.
The programs within the structure of “The Bridge” fall into one of seven areas:
∑ Street outreach. This is often the initial contact made with the teen.
Three full-time “street workers” are employed within several program areas to build relationships with homeless and runaway youth. The street outreach, in its unstructured and fluid nature, permeates the other six program areas. Many youth who use the agency first learned of its services from a street worker.
∑ Medical and dental services. A nursing station and full dental clinic are located in the main office. A medical van works the streets five days a week, staffed with doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and one street worker, which serves an estimated 2,306 youth. All medical personnel are all volunteers.
∑ Runaway services. The Bridge always encourages family reconciliation. If that is not possible, other options are explored. Two full-time runaway counselors are on staff; each is alternately “on-call” to provide 24-hour action to runaway cases. The runaway services are provided in a secluded area of the main office, separate from other programming areas.
∑ Counseling services. Counselors—all full-time—provide free substance abuse counseling, survival aid, and referrals. Youth are encouraged to make appointments, but drop-in visits are quickly given attention. All other assistance and services are obtained through a counselor (with the exception of the medical van). This helps to monitor youth and discourage unhealthy dependence on the program.
∑ Family Life Center. This facility provides pregnant and parenting teens with information and support, advocacy, and counseling. Childcare is provided for youths while they are in counseling or in a Bridge program.
∑ Education and Pre-Employment Program. Basic education, GED preparation, and job-readiness preparation are provided. In addition to preparing for the GED, classes are offered in word processing and basic job skills. A full-time financial aid resource person is available to assist youth in finding financing for college once they pass the GED.
∑ Residential component. A facility is housed away from the main complex in Brighton. Two programs are offered: Phase I provides safe housing to homeless youths and single mothers. This program adheres to a strict regimen with a great deal of supervision and responsibility. Phase II, only offered to those who have completed the previous phase, offers a less structured and supervised living situation. This is operated as a transitional living program; participants are only allowed a limited stay in Phase II.
Bridge Over Troubled Waters runs on a yearly budget funded primarily from private donations. Some of the programs are underwritten through the help of the United Way. All programs and offices are run out of the downtown Boston area, with the exception of the residential program.
The Bridge is aggressive in providing medical and dental care for homeless and runaway youth whose needs would otherwise go unmet. This agency is constantly working to find creative and nonthreatening methods with which to deliver needed services to an underserved population. Program participants are always treated with dignity and respect. Extreme care is taken to ensure confidentiality.
The overall goal of Bridge Over Troubled Waters is to empower youth to return to productive life, not to continue down their present dangerous paths. Although this agency was born from the work of the three nuns who founded the organization, it has no connection to a church or religious organization. Bridge Over Troubled Waters is located at 47 West Street, across from the Boston Commons (Park Street T). You can call them at (617) 423-9575 or check their website out at www.bridgeotw.org.