Words matter here.
By: Amy Hinman
Sometimes, at HQ, we say things differently. The words we say might sound unusual or unfamiliar, but they’re important, and we want to share a few of our most common “HQ phrases” and why we choose to use them.
“Youth” vs. “Kids” or “Teens”
The reality is that the people who come to HQ are in a wide age range—14-24—and calling a 24-year-old a “kid” or “teen” just isn’t appropriate. This age range is the federal definition of a “youth,” and the term encompasses nicely the sometimes vast-feeling difference between someone who’s 14 and someone who’s 24. So no, we aren’t a center for teens.
“Members” vs. “Clients”
One of the most important aspects of HQ is the level of buy-in that members have here. When youth come through the doors, it’s because they want to be here. And when they’re here, they have agency over their experience. They can choose what aspects of HQ they’d like to engage in, and which they don’t need right now. They can work in the space, offer feedback to make the space better for themselves and others, and they can do whatever they need to as long as it’s not harmful to others. And that’s it.
We think of it like a gym membership—where membership allows you full access to all of the machines, but doesn’t force you to use all of them. And this idea of “membership” emphasizes that youth are in charge of what they want to do when they’re at HQ. That they are the experts in their lives, and that they’re here because they want to imagine and create a better future, together.
“Experiencing homelessness” “In housing crisis” or “Unsafe/unstably housed” vs. “Homeless”
This one is so important to us!
There is so much stigma around the word “homeless.” The word and the stereotypes that come along with it are made impermeable with images of tattered clothes, weathered skin, and other scars from a life lived at the mercy of the streets. These words make youths’ situation an identity, rather than indicating a situation, and in calling youth “homeless youth” versus “youth experiencing homelessness,” you lose the fact that they’re already a whole person.
The reality is that homelessness, housing crisis and unsafe or unstable housing are unique, nuanced experiences that don’t fit into one box—staying on someone’s couch, living in a shelter, living in a tent community, even feeling scared for your safety at home. By avoiding the word homeless, we avoid unfairly assigning youth those negative images, and instead, ascribe them a future free from the burdens and tribulations of their current situation: I may be experiencing hunger now, but I will not perpetually starve. I may be experiencing cold, but that does not guarantee an eternity of freezing. And I may be experiencing homelessness, but that does not make my experience the entirety of who I am.
“Experiencing” acknowledges the better future that’s being built in the present. And that’s important, because each night, each meal, each step forward is a step into that future. A future full of stability, of warm meals, of agency. It’s a future we promise to be there for, even in its infancy, every step of the way.