Published On: September 20th, 20215336 words26.7 min read

For many there is a perception that homelessness does not impact young people. If we think that way we would be wrong. Young people- some much younger than you- might find themselves in circumstances that leave them vulnerable and without a safe place to call home. Join Daniel, and guest Jake Lowell from The Cyrus Center, as they discuss the truth about vulnerable young people in our communities.


 

Who’s Our Guest?

After being a young adult pastor, Jake Lowell has committed himself to serving vulnerable youth as an Outreach Worker for The Cyrus Centre in Chilliwack, BC. The Cyrus Centre provides practical services for youth and young adults ages 13 – 24, but also extends the hand of Christ and a voice for the Good News of Jesus.


Episode Links

 

The Cyrus Centre


Read It

*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the indoubt podcast, where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life, and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s word. For more info on indoubt visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com.

Daniel Markin:

Hey, welcome to indoubt, my name is Daniel Markin, and today I have the opportunity of chatting with Jake Lowell. Jake has been on the show before, and he works with an organization, it’s a ministry called Cyrus Center, and they work with vulnerable youth here in BC. So working with students, high school students, or young adults who are as young as 13 and are almost living on the streets. And he helps run a shelter where he brings them in and is able to, with the gospel, help get them back on their feet. So it’s an amazing discussion, hope you’re encouraged by it, hope you learned something through it, hope you enjoy it. Hey, welcome to indoubt. And today I’m joined by a friend of mine, Jake Lowell, and Jake is a friend of the show, but Jake, welcome back to the program.

Jake Lowell:

Thanks, Daniel. It is always a treat to see your face on chat with you, but I’m very happy to be here.

Daniel Markin:

Thank you. And we’re meeting virtually right now, I’m talking to you over Zoom, but I see three faces on my screen because you have your face, but also you have two faces on your shirt. One of them is Kobe Bryant and Shaq, Shaquille O’Neil. There you go.

Jake Lowell:

I’m not a Lakers fan now at all. I don’t want that pinned on me because I’m not a big Lakers fan now, but early 2000s, Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Amazing. Maybe the best duo of all time, probably are.

Daniel Markin:

That’s awesome. But we’re not here to talk about sports, Jake. We’re here to talk about you and your ministry and what you’ve been doing working with youth in British Columbia. In particular, youth who are on the margins of society, who have been marginalized, and in particular, your work with Cyrus Center as an outreach worker, working with homeless and vulnerable youth slash young adults. So first Jake, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Tell us who you are, or I like to say, what’s your deal?

Jake Lowell:

Sure. About me. So I work right now, it’s a place called the Cyrus Center, it’s a Christian ministry. It’s in Chilliwack, BC, so that’s what I do now. I’m an outreach worker there, so my main work that I do is with 19 to 24 year olds, usually the ones who are more entrenched in homelessness on the streets, so I do that. But where I’m coming from is I did some young adults pastoring as well, I worked in the Salvation Army doing that. One of those typical Christian guys, grew up in a Christian family, my parents were pastors, that sort of thing. But also, like we were saying before, just in general, personally, I love sports. I love watching sports. I used to love playing sports more than I do now because I’m not in the shape that I used to be.

Daniel Markin:

None of us are.

Jake Lowell:

After that year of being inside, eating snacks all the time, not exactly in the shape I want to be, but that’s okay.

Daniel Markin:

Well, there’s always bobsledding, that’s an Olympic sport.

Jake Lowell:

Yeah.

Daniel Markin:

So tell us a little bit about working with homeless youth, because I would say that’s something that growing up I was not aware of. So is that common? Is it more common than we think? And how does that happen?

Jake Lowell:

Yeah, so I think it’s definitely more common than people think, for sure, because I think there are a lot of people, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just think we just don’t know that there’s a lot of people out there who just aren’t aware of it at all. I think an important thing though, too, is also to define terms of what that means, because I think we get this idea in our head sometimes like, “Oh, there is no homeless youth”, because we have a very specific idea in our head of what homelessness looks like. For us who live maybe in BC, you look at East Hastings and just the rampant homelessness there. And like a lot of adults in there sleeping on the street or we look at like movies and we see people with the littlest hobo, like a stick or people sleeping like cardboard boxes and stuff.

Jake Lowell:

And not that that doesn’t happen, but there’s like a huge spectrum to what that means. And yeah, there are definitely youth that I work with that are like legitimately homeless that live on the street that live in tents or camp out in the woods or whatever that may mean. But we use two terms, one more than the other. Now the original term was at risk youth. Kind of gotten away from that term because it does not have some… It doesn’t have great connotations to it because I think people immediately sort of assume that that means, “Oh, these youth are a risk to the community.” That sort of what they took from it, is that they’re a danger to us when that’s not what that meant at all. What at risk meant was that they themselves are at risk of being exploited, of being abused, of being trafficked, all those sorts of things, which is why now, sort of more at the heart of it, we’ve switched to the term vulnerable youth because they are very vulnerable in terms of those things, again, in terms of exploitation.

Jake Lowell:

But probably what it looks like for the average youth that we work with or a homeless youth, that could be couch surfing, which is the thing, which is like, they’re not living on the street, but they don’t have a home base that they go to. Maybe they stayed at this friend’s house or maybe they stay at this friend’s house. We’d also qualify youth or young adults who are staying at different shelters as technically homeless, because they don’t have that place of their own that they’re living in, so those are those things. Yeah, it could be a whole host of different things that they’re working with. Some, youth do live at home, but we’d still classify them as vulnerable because of the things that happen when they’re at home. Just because someone has a home doesn’t mean it’s healthy or safe.

Daniel Markin:

Right. It could be violent, it could be abusive, it could be sexually abusive. There’s all sorts of stuff and so they’re getting out of there.

Jake Lowell:

Yeah, absolutely.

Daniel Markin:

How, how often is that the case versus youth who have then, maybe become drug addicts through… And again, I’m pretty ignorant to this, right? But first it was just fun recreational drugs and the home was actually pretty solid, but through their actions, they’ve now ended up on the streets. Because it occurs to me that if it was more of a, perhaps like a wealthier family, maybe they would actually be able to afford rehab, because I’ve had friends who’ve gone through that and their families were able to afford that. But in specifically low income areas, for example, that would not be a reality.

Daniel Markin:

So I guess what I want to frame this is is often times if you fall on more of a liberal spectrum of thought or theology, maybe progressive theology is a better way of putting it. You tend to view these issues and say, “It’s the system’s fault. It’s the circumstances that influence all these things that happen to the student or to this youth slash young adult. It’s the system, it’s their families, whatever, that’s, who’s at fault for this.” And if you’re on the more conservative side, you tend to think, “Well, this is actually more their choice. They had a choice not to engage in some of these activities.” What’s your perspective on that? Because which one does it start with? I tend to think it actually does start with circumstance, even as a more conservative person theologically, I do actually see in the scriptures that there is circumstances that lead to this vulnerability that then lead to choices. How would you approach that question? Or how do you think about it?

Jake Lowell:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think first too, something that’s so important to this topic or speaking about this is asking questions, because the majority of people who are talking about homelessness or people that are experiencing this or have the past are not speaking from experience. Most of us are coming in very unprepared or unknowing into this conversation, so asking questions is a really good thing about it. And were you saying, is it more on that one side or is it on the other side? I think it tends to be like most things, it’s probably some pretty close to the middle. Is it their fault? Is it their circumstances? Is there decisions that need to be made for their own sake and that they need to have power over some things? Yes. Yes to both of those things.

Jake Lowell:

I think one of the biggest issues though, is just that ignorance that we have. And I don’t mean that in an attacking or negative way, it’s just that most people are literally ignorant of these situations. The biggest thing that you hear and probably the least helpful thing… So if anybody hears something from this, hear this. the least helpful thing you can say to a homeless person or a person experiencing homelessness, or to someone that you’re driving along in the car with, as you go down East Hastings is, “Why don’t they just get a job?” Those sort of things, that’s just so unhelpful. And that shows… And I’ve been in cars with young adults and other people, as we’re driving to go do whatever, and they’re just like, “All these people, if they just got a job they would be fine. So why don’t, they just do that, because it’s so easy to do that?”

Jake Lowell:

And then we just make these huge assumptions of what that is like or what their scenarios like right now and what it would take for them to go from living on the street, homeless, to getting a job. But maybe where I can start with that is, where does it come from? And you’re right, it is circumstances. If people are familiar… Sometimes we kind of stray away from this because we don’t really get it in the Bible, the idea of generational sin. You want to see the impact of generational sin and things in people’s lives, come take a tour of the Cyrus center with me and I will show you that these youth through generation, after generation, after generation of people, are struggling with the same things within their families, and then it’s just cyclical.

Jake Lowell:

And what that comes from is trauma because I think you asked the question of, you know where does… Even with drug use, which some of these people, probably a big proportion of them, not all of them, but a big proportion of them, do struggle with is drug use. And does it start recreationally or is that the issue? And a really important point is that the drugs themselves or the substances, alcohol, drugs, whatever it may be, is not the issue. The drugs are the self-medication for the issue that has occurred at some point beforehand. So sometimes it will go “Oh, they’re an addict and they do drugs just for the sake of doing drugs.” That rarely is the case. It may never be the case because you’re always taking them or using for some reason. And most of our youth you start using because it helps them to escape from the incredible trauma that they’ve probably experienced in their life.

Jake Lowell:

Imagine being… We have young females and males who are coming to Cyrus Center since there were 11, being verbally abused, sexually abused, or continually that way, sexually abused or physically abused or emotionally abused. And then that sits in them and obviously that affects mental health. And when you don’t have the money too, to afford counseling or your parents don’t care or your parents are the ones perpetrating that, or the people around you that should care for you are the perpetrators of that, it’s not as easy as just going, “I’m going to go to a counselor, I’m going to get this figured out.” But you know what is available, a lot of the time is substances. And using those helps them escape from those things for a moment. Is it good? No. Is it understandable for their circumstances? Yeah, it is.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah. And I think what you’ve described there, that is that middle view. It’s kind of like, there you go, there’s the mix of both. Right? And so as you work with these youth, and you work with young adults, what’s the most heartbreaking piece of this, what breaks your heart?

Jake Lowell:

So much. So, so much of it is heartbreaking. I think just seeing… Imagine for those who are listening, imagine if you have nieces and nephews or kids… Because again, we serve 13 through 24, but we do get kids who wander in who are 10, 11, 12 as well. So picture a kid that you know that is that age and then picture them smoking meth or fentanyl or heroin and on the street, and then through that, maybe they’ve developed a drug induced psychosis, so there’s mental health issues there too. And then maybe from that, addictions, then they need to serve that addiction, they don’t have any way to serve that addiction. So then they need to find a way to serve that, and a lot of the ways that they do that is from other people who do have the means, but then they expect something else from them besides money.

Jake Lowell:

And a lot of the times we have 13 year old girls who are being raped because they need in some way to serve their addictions. That is unfathomable, that that’s happening. It’s almost hard to gauge unless you’re there, what that would feel like because it just doesn’t feel real that there are 12 year old girls out there selling their bodies, selling sex to be able to get substances. Or maybe not even that maybe they’re just sexually abused or males as well.

Jake Lowell:

And that just breaks me because you want to help them so bad, but it’s just such a tight grip on them because you see the value in them. And I think the most heartbreaking part is when we get youth who come in and they’re doing all right and you see them healthy and you see them thriving. And then somehow along the line, maybe they make a bad connection or with someone, and then you can just see the soul, the life, pulled out of them. It’s just devastating. Again, I think it comes back to that point, what we experience as homelessness is seeing people in the trenches of homelessness. The general experience of that is not seeing someone go from here’s this kid that was born in this beautiful baby to a child and then this and this progression from here to over here, and that’s the heartbreaking piece.

Daniel Markin:

It sounds like it takes a long time. And it sounds like the solution also takes a long time. It’s similar with weight. People gain weight slowly and then they’re promised, “Oh, you could lose all your weight… You could lose 30 pounds in a week.” It’s like, no, that’s not how it works. It took you that amount of time, it took you two months to gain that weight, it might take you two months to lose it. It just nothing in… We live in a microwave society where everything’s supposed to be instant and there’s some things in life that aren’t instant and, and what you’re describing is a gradual slip into there. It makes sense that it’s actually going to be a gradual pull out of it.

Jake Lowell:

Yeah. And like you’re saying there too, that’s so important because we come back to that idea of, oh, just go get a job. So I that’s the work that I do. I work with these youth who are different levels of homelessness or addictions or whatever. And I go, “How can I help you?” And I just let them say, “Help me do this.” I go, “Okay, let’s do that.” Let’s say we’re going to get a job for someone who is entrenched homeless on the street. And we go, “Why don’t they just walk and get a job”, because that’s what I could do. I can put my resume down and go into McDonald’s or anywhere and go, “Give me a job.” And I probably would get a job. I hope I would get a job if I walked into McDonald’s and did that. So we have this idea that it’s that easy, but thought experiment here for a second.

Jake Lowell:

Imagine you’re living on the street. Most of them don’t have ID, first of all. Their stuff just gets stolen, maybe daily, So they don’t have ID. So they come to me and they say, “Hey Jake, to do anything, I need ID.” And I’ll be like, “Do you have anything like birth certificates? Or like BC ID and they’ll go, “No.” So we’ll go, “Okay. We first have to go get you a birth certificate.” So we go to get them a birth certificate. When we go to get them the birth certificate, they say, “Prove it, prove who you are.” And they go, “I have no ID.” And then they go, “Okay, if you have no ID, what you have to do is we’ll give you this paper. And then six months from now, you have to get a service worker to sign this, who can attest to knowing you for that long, so you can get this birth certificate. So it’s at least six months. So then they go and do that.

Jake Lowell:

So they get that and then six months later they’re like, “Okay, I want a birth certificate.” They order that and then we have to go to service BC and get them ID as well. They don’t love only having one piece of ID, so that can be a challenge too. You get the ID because you need the ID too, because if you go into a place to work, they’re like, “We’re going to need a bank account. If you don’t have an ID, you can’t get a bank account.” So they have no bank account. They have no way to put money in their account or direct deposit or anything. So you eventually do that, maybe this a year later of consistent work, just to get to the place where I could apply for a job.

Jake Lowell:

And then go in and they go, “What’s your job history? You gone to school? Do you have a criminal record?” Because everybody asks that question now. And most of them do, that doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it just means that stuff has happened and they’ve gotten in trouble in that way. So then they’ll ask that and then go, “I don’t know.” So then you have all these other issues besides just getting those necessarily things, it’s like, where are you going to live? How are you going to clean your uniform if you need to do that? How are you going to shower? How are you going to get to work? How are you going to get back from work? What are you going to do with your money?

Jake Lowell:

So there’s all of these things…amidst, maybe they’re in the throes of addiction. And so it is such a long, careful path to work alongside them, to get them to that point. And you know what, maybe they’re never at the point where they do get there. For some of them, because mental health is rampant, that they might not be at that place. Some of them are some of them… There’s incredible recovery stories, but there’s some people who live that life as they keep going. And that doesn’t mean that we stop working with them or loving them just because they don’t fulfill what we want them to fulfill or what we would think is good for them.

Daniel Markin:

Wow. There’s a lot there. And what I sense is the work that you do, you literally couldn’t do without the gospel. How does the gospel transform what you’re doing? How does it feel, what you do and then how does it transform the youth? And have you been able to see some fruit through the gospel?

Jake Lowell:

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s so important and that’s the key and one of the biggest reasons that I work at Cyrus Center because it’s a ministry. We’re Christians, we do that. We’re free to share the gospel and work that in a unique ways. And the hope that comes from the gospel just permeates every single area of the work that I do. It permeates my personal reaction to it and my dealing with seeing all of that stuff at work, knowing that there’s a God out there who’s just. And you know what, there’s justice for the young girl, who’s sexually abused. There’s justice for the young man who gets murdered on the street. Again, whether that’s on the perpetrator or whether that’s on the back of Christ as he is on the cross, I know there’s justice there, so I don’t have to sit and come home and think like this stuff goes on and nothing will happen with it.

Jake Lowell:

So I take a lot of hope in that, but working with the youth, knowing that there’s something for them, that’s so much greater than that. There’s a hope for them that I can speak to them about that goes beyond their circumstances. Because again, for some of them, you know what, they may never leave what we think of the idea of homelessness, but they may be a faithful Christian admits that, so that possibility there is just incredible. The big thing too is I think for a lot of people we would go in and go, “How does the Bible help me save them?” And there is really good things that help me to serve them well, I think we just have a call to it. We’re all called to it biblically, it’s not just about, “How do I use scripture to understand how to serve them well”, it’s, “How do I read scripture and understand I am so blessed by these people. First of all, I’m not saving them. Jesus is saving them.”

Daniel Markin:

Which takes a lot of weight off. Oh my goodness.

Jake Lowell:

Absolutely. And that’s on that one side, right? Eventually I cannot force them to do anything. I can love them as best as I can, whether that’s through treatment or going to court with them or finding them housing, but eventually it does come down to them. But in that, it’s also the Lord’s work in their lives. So I don’t have to be responsible for the fruit, I have to be responsible for the faithfulness. So I faithfully serve and then them in coordination with the Lord, the fruit is produced there. I don’t need that weight, but, man, they are saving me as much as I’m saving them in any sense.

Jake Lowell:

And you see that in scripture, like Mark 12, that widow’s offering. And this woman who comes, admits all these people who are just bringing riches, and she comes in and drops probably what’s equivalent to a couple quarters for us in this pot. And Jesus is like, “That’s the one, she has given everything.” And to see these youth that I work with, who have for some of them, just nothing.

Jake Lowell:

And a quick story to just emphasize that is, so we have centers in Chilliwack and Abbotsford. So this was at the Abbotsford center and there was another guy who has been homeless for his whole life, living, sort of working with the Salvation Army. So he’s a homeless person and he’s okay living that way. And then one day he walked in and talked to our executive director, Les. And he went into Les and said, “Les, I want to do something for these homeless youth. And it’s like, “Okay, what does that look like? I don’t know where this is going.” And he’s like, “I been saving up for months and months, and months and months I have $200 and I want to throw these youth a pizza party.”

Jake Lowell:

For the average person, You’re just like, “Oh, pizza party. Like, that’s very nice.” There’s nothing there. And he takes all of this stuff that he could buy things that he needs food that he needs. He’s going, “I just want to bless these youth.” That’s Jesus, regardless of whether or not he believes in Christ and the resurrection, all those sort of things, that sort of behavior, that’s the behavior of Christ. And that’s what we see and that’s where I grow and I am blessed and I have, I’ve been so humbled as well.

Jake Lowell:

And I think with that, if there’s anything that we can do in our approach to this group of people is see them as people, speak to them, they’re not dangerous more than any other people are dangerous. Media portrays them as all sorts of different things and the majority of them are very sweet. So talk to them, you see some of them on the street, just say, “Good morning” and just love them.

Jake Lowell:

Love them well, because our tendency is to, I think, be a little bit willfully ignorant. The guy’s asking for change and we go, “Oh, he’s just going to use it for drugs. He’s going to use it for this. And they use it for that.” And it’s just like, if you have a dollar or two… The another thing I heard once I was, I think it was John Piper, listening to a podcast by him and he was going like, “You get to the pearly gates and God’s not going to stop you at the door and say, Hey, you gave some money that you had to a homeless person in the hopes that they used it for a good reason. I don’t like that. I would never say that.” So if you do, don’t feel guilt about sharing that with them, that’s just made up vitriol from our society. And that gives you an opportunity to go, “Hey man, I would just love to chat with you though”, and just love them in that way, because there are people they have the same desires that we have.

Daniel Markin:

And like we talked about, and just in closing here, is we are a few circumstances or decisions away from where they are and that’s humbling.

Jake Lowell:

Absolutely. I could tell you a slew of stories from working at the Salvation Army of adults who were booming in business, making it good, had a family were doing really well, and now they’re living on the streets in the throes of addiction. So I can’t be prideful enough to say, “Hey, that might not be me one day.” And I hope if I was in that position, that the people who engage with me would love me well.

Daniel Markin:

Amen. Well, Jake, thank you, man. We could keep going on about this. I have so many more questions and we’ll just definitely have to have you back on the program. If people want to get involved with Cyrus Center and maybe donate or figure out different ways to support, how do they go about doing that?

Jake Lowell:

Our website is just cyruscenter.com. You can go on there that has all the information for everything like donating, it has our contact information. Again, I work at the Chilliwack location. So literally if anybody’s listening to this right now and they’re like, “Hey, I want to learn more. I want to hear more about this. I would love to chat with Jake”, call Cyrus Center, Chilliwack, and I’ll probably pick up, I’ll say, “It’s Jake.” And just say “Hey Jake, I listened to indoubt, I would love to come see the place. I’d love to have a tour.” I’ll give you the tour. “I’d love to meet some of the youth”, I’ll absolutely introduce you to the youth and go on from that.

Jake Lowell:

There’s also the opportunity to donate financially, which is great. We have a meal train, which is on our website as well, so you can provide meals to serve because we serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner there too. You can just donate, so you could donate food to us as well, or nice clothing or blankets and stuff in the winter and other things in the summer. So there’s so many ways. I’ll even say our phone number, call right now, 604-795-5773. Call me at that number and I’ll pick up at Chilliwack Cyrus Center asked for me there and I’d be more than happy to do anything I can to get you involved.

Daniel Markin:

Sweet, Jake. Thank you.

Jake Lowell:

Thanks so much.

Daniel Markin:

Well, thanks again for listening to this program and thank you again to Jake for being on it. If you want to get involved with Cyrus center, you can actually look at their website as well at cyruscenter.com. I hope that you were encouraged by this. I hope that it actually gave you some food for thought. I know it’s definitely convicting to me, especially thinking about the circumstances and how we can tend to overlook those who are marginalized in our community. Thank you again for listening, all the best.

Speaker 1:

Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com, we’re also on social media. So make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Related posts