Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Street Kids: Teenagers On Their Own In America

For the last couple days we have heard about children who are homeless because their parents are homeless. But today lets talk about the second type of homeless youth... kids who are on the streets alone, unaccompanied by their families.
For the 1,682,900 unaccompanied boys and girls... most of them between the ages of 15 and 17... living on the street, homelessness is an even bigger challenge than it is for homeless adults. Because for kids, just by being homeless and on their own, they are breaking the law in many states. So often kids try to stay underground by avoiding shelters and other services that could help them get their lives together. One study said that only about half of homeless teenagers make use of shelters, drop-in centers, etc. The other half, afraid of being sent home, put in foster care, or even put in jail, prefer to try to make it on their own.
How do kids become homeless, on their own, in the first place? Many of them run away from home. But generally, kids don't run away just for fun, or adventure... and those that do are likely to return home in a few days, instead of trying their luck at living out on the streets for the long term. Many, many kids who run away are escaping from homes where they were physically, sexually or emotionally abused. Others run from homes where their parents had serious substance abuse problems or mental illnesses. Some kids who run away are kids in foster care, who have grown tired of life in the foster care system and have decided they'd be better off on their own.
Other kids are actually "throw-aways", kids who were thrown out or locked out of their families' homes. There are many reasons why this must happen. Kids get kicked out of their homes for reasons ranging from their own behavior problems, to girls admitting that they're pregnant, to teens whose parents find out they are gay, lesbian or bisexual.
And then there are kids who start out homeless because their families become homeless, but then become separated from their families. For instance, in many shelters for female victims of domestic violence, the shelters will not accept boys over a certain age. So a boy whose mother goes into a domestic violence shelter, perhaps taking the boy's younger siblings, may have to try and find his own place to stay.
There are some homeless teens who manage to continue going to school, but this is often very hard. For one thing, if a kid is in the position of having to hide from authority figures in order to avoid being returned to an abusive home or put in foster care, going to school would be out of the question because they'd probably be caught. If they do manage to go to school, it can be nearly impossible for a kid to keep up with homework and studies, when he is worrying about when he will eat again or where he will sleep tonight! So, for homeless teens, school often falls by the wayside.
Plus, it can be nearly impossible for homeless teens to get legitimate employment. Many homeless teens are under the legal working age, and if they are on the run from someone they probably are trying to avoid showing up on paper anywhere. And most lack any sort of job skills.
So how do homeless kids manage to survive?
There are many ways that kids on the streets try to survive... and most of these ways are dangerous. Homeless teens may engage in prostitution in exchange for money, or informally have sex with strangers in exchange for food or a place to stay. Many panhandle or eat from Dumpsters. They may sleep on the streets on benches or on the sidewalk, they may stay in "squats"- abandoned buildings that groups of teenagers take over for themselves - or they may "couchsurf" through the homes of friends and acquaintances.
Tomorrow we will learn about some different types of programs that are out there to help homeless teens survive, and ways that you may be able to help!

1 comment:

Three-Legged Stool (formerly anonymous) said...

This makes me feel sad.

How can all people in society improve this situation?