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What is it like to keep our Drop-In Center open during a pandemic?



What is it like to keep our Drop-In Center open during a pandemic?

What is it like to keep our Drop-In Center open during a pandemic? While the world shelters in place, director Pam Lieber and the Drop In Center team–comprised of case manager, Amanda McCleary; Youth Engagement Specialists, McKinly Williams and Chantelle Simmons; and Community Engagement Specialist, Mark Hariston–keep the center open every weekday to provide essential services to youth during this crisis. They are frontline workers who are meeting both the physical and emotional needs of our youth whose situations are even more challenging during COVID19. Many of them are trying to “stay at home” when their home simply is a tent or an abandoned building. Or, they are challenged to maintain physical distancing when living in a crowded shelter. And, for many, when their service sector job suddenly ended, getting food and other basic items to survive the pandemic has become impossible. 

Cooking class

Despite the extreme challenges, our youth are doing their best to stay safe, and are able to because of Sasha Bruce.  The Drop In Center is the go-to place for essential items that people with permanent shelter might take for granted—showers, sinks, drinking water, food, bedding—as well as masks and cleaning supplies.  The logistics of this work, though, has been impacted by  the challenges of physical distancing measures, limiting the number of youth who can be inside the center. Meeting their physical needs is combined with daily mental health and wellness programs. 

Most importantly, Pam and her staff are a constant, reliable presence that offers guidance and  grounding in a world with little stability now, helping them get through one more day.  Pam has been working with homeless and at risk youth for more than 20 years. Originally from Philadelphia, she moved to DC for her undergraduate degree at Catholic University and continued there to receive her Masters in Social Work. For her, her work is not a job, but a calling. She is driven to help youth find physically safe places while navigating their lives. Despite the challenges homeless youth face, Pam

“believes in the intrinsic goodness of others and in their resiliency and strength.”

In addition to her work at Sasha Bruce, Pam is a part-time staff member at the Wendt Center where she facilitates the TEEN grief group and serves as the mental health consultant for the Voices of Now teen ensemble in partnership with Arena Stage. She keeps herself balanced and grounded through her faith, family, meditation, yoga, musicals and gardening.

Read, below, some of Pam’s reflections and conversations from the past few weeks.

Every single time one of my youth asks to borrow cleaning supplies so they can clean “the trap” (aka- abandoned apartment in which they are sheltering), it breaks my heart! The fact that they would rather choose that setting than a shelter because of safety and health concerns is even more gut-wrenching!

Favorite exchange of our goals group today:

T: “My goal for the next 30 days is to survive”

(When mere “survival” is voiced as a legit actual goal of one of my kids, it guts me!)

Ms Pam: And, T, what steps will you take to survive?

T: “Be humble. Be quiet. And pick my battles!”

Kinda sounds like sage advice for all of us these days

“It feels like I’m about to be locked up again. In my mind I know I’m not but not being able to make moves and handle things feels like I’m inside again….and I don’t even have an inside to be inside of. “

So, yesterday one of my guys was approved for his very first apartment….marking the end of a 3 year journey of homelessness! Because of all that’s happening, he won’t be able to move in until May 1st. When I reached out to him last night to share my excitement, I was prepared to have to talk him through the disappointment of having to wait to move in. Instead his words were these:

“you know I got this, Ms Pam! It’ll be here soon enough!

Right now I’m just so excited for my son because now when he visits with me, I can take him home and tell him he has a place of his own to play and be free in! This is amazing! Thank you for everything!” And so he sits in a shelter ….filling an online shopping cart with items to make his new place feel like home one day soon!

You guys….if he can do this, we all can

From afar, you can help our Drop In Center staff and youth during COVID19. Offer support by sending a letter of encouragement. Each letter will be displayed on the walls of the center for staff and youth to read.

Here are two easy ways to participate:

  • By Email: send your note to
  • By Mail: Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Attn: Notes of Encouragement, 741 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003

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