SAN ANTONIO – The work with homeless and trafficked youth is already demanding for the staff at Roy Maas Youth Alternatives, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated their efforts.
Despite safety measures, a group of staff and one resident have tested positive for COVID-19.
Still, through all the adversity, the organization is staying positive, determined to save youth who are desperate for help now more than ever at the drop-in center and multiple shelters.
RMYA staff started planning for the crisis back in February before COVID-19 hit locally.
But the latest spike hit them. Out of 166 staff members, six have tested positive along with one of the youth.
“We immediately implemented our isolation quarantine procedures,” said Chief Program Officer, Dr. Julie Strentzsch. “We work really hard. We are constantly cleaning, we are wearing masks. We’re really fortunate that most of our cases have been mild. Most of them are back to work already and still giving 100% to taking care of kids. We are essential front line workers.”
The team has had to make some tough decisions, which may soon include living at the shelter full time if cases don’t calm down,.
“I spoke with my husband and we made decisions that we had to come out here and work, that’s what we were going to do to keep our kids safe,” Strentzsch said.
The youth they serve have nothing and nowhere to go. They have no family support, no safe place to live, no access to healthcare and are often preyed upon by traffickers.
To make matters worse, stay at home orders closed locations like Starbucks and libraries, where RMYA Outreach Director Chuck Paul usually keeps up with them.
“A lot of our young people have cellphones, but they don’t have cellular service, but they have social media accounts. So we’re able to reach out to their social media accounts so they can get those messages when they’re close to a WiFi signal,” Paul said.
Paul said more young people are desperate right now and don’t need as much of a push to visit the drop-in center, Centro Seguro, or seek help at designated Safe Place locations like Quick Trip stores and YMCA’s across the city.
The RMYA team is working 13-plus hour days to make sure the youth know someone will always be there to help them.
As for what the community can do, Strentzsch has a simple message.
“Please, please wear a mask. Practice social distancing. We are essential workers. Plus, many kids in the foster care system have underlying health conditions. Please think of that,” she said.
RMYA counselors are still working around the clock through telehealth. People needing help with their kids or even self care can always call 210-340-8077.
If you are interested in becoming a Roy Mass Youth Alternatives staff member, reach out to them at 210-340-8077 or visit their website.