United Way of Southern Nevada’s funding of the Nevada Children’s Health Project (NCHP), nicknamed “Big Blue,” allows our program to serve homeless youth – one of the most vulnerable populations in southern Nevada.
The NCHP staff first met a 14-year-old patient we’ll call Robert (to protect his identity) in November 2018 at a homeless shelter. Born as a female, Robert had run away from his abusive mother the night before entering Big Blue for the first time. At some point during that night, he had fractured his hand hitting a table. Our medical provider listened to Robert as she splinted his hand and coordinated orthopedic care for him. By being nonjudgmental and actively listening, Robert disclosed that he had been sexually abused since the age of seven by a sibling.
Robert will attest that Big Blue is where he feels safest. Every week he seemed to find where Big Blue was parked and providing care. He would stop by our mobile unit while it was parked near his school, the homeless shelter or the LGBTQ Center. His medical issues were attended to, but Robert mostly stopped by Big Blue as a safe place to rest, display his artwork and secure shelter from his chaotic world—and know he was accepted.
Around Christmas, Robert was placed back in his mother’s home. His world came crashing down as he was once again abused and then ended up back on the streets. Staying with his dad was not an option, as his dad is homeless and considered an unfit parent. The decision was made that Robert would be taken to Child Haven for state custody. Before heading to Child Haven, Robert stopped by Big Blue, where employees learned of these recent developments and that there had not been a celebration or remembrance of his birthday, Christmas or New Year’s with those who should have loved him most. The Big Blue team quickly obtained a birthday cake and hosted a birthday bash for Robert on the mobile unit. The look on his face, knowing he was loved and cared about as a person, was priceless.
Although Robert is now in the care of Child Haven, he still manages to come by Big Blue for a hug from the staff and emotional support. The staff plans to be there for Robert and others who are abandoned, abused, neglected or unwanted by others to provide hope, safety and medical care.
The Nevada Children’s Health Project has formal protocol in place to address the needs of homeless and runaway youth. Staff members are required to report those children 14 and under who have run away from home. At the same time, staff members work closely with case workers from partner organizations to ensure these vulnerable patients are appropriately cared for and protected.