It took eight weeks for the Voyage House Steering Committee to decide to hire me. I had to have one-on-one interviews with the director, the three counselors, the one lead teacher, and one of the group home mothers. Meanwhile I lived at my parents, met my future bride for the first time [read “Third Time’s The Charm”], made money working a part-time job at US Steel, and served as the McGovern for President coordinator for SE Bucks County. Finally I got the call “You’re hired!” I show up for my first day of work, kinda ask OK, what I am suppose to do now? The counselor on duty says “There are the streets,” points to the door, and hands me a fistful of Voyage House cards:
The back of the card had four rules to follow if the police detain you. I was hitting the streets to work with runaways. Pretty quickly I met all the drug dealers, pimps, and assorted other street people who hung out at Rittenhouse Square, a friendly place near the Greyhound Bus Station. Once they learned I wasn’t undercover working for The Man, they accepted me as legitimate competition for the attention of the kids. Occasionally I actually befriended a brand-new runaway just off the bus and helped him/her get to a safe place, but more often the kids had to learn about street life the hard way, going through the drug and sex scene before hitting rock bottom and turning to me. I counted it as a success just planting the seed that there was an alternative.
Voyage House was successful in its goal because its director, an Episcopal Priest, had built a Board of Directors that carried weight with the power structure. One Board Member was Judge Lisa Richette, Chief Judge of Family Court, and she let me know that it was okay to “harbor” a runaway for a few days without first contacting his/her parents or the authorities – otherwise we had no chance. “Harboring” meant staying at one of Voyage House’s crash pads – a dozen or so families who agreed to take a kid in for a night or two and provide some meals. Occasionally I took in a runaway but mostly I needed my apartment to myself to get a break from the intense street scene.
Tomorrow: Rittenhouse Square
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