Life as Youth
When you think of the word homeless, you probably think of an old man, wearing clothes he dug out of a dumpster and asking for change. And you think about how it’s his fault because he could just get a job and work for a living, instead of depending on others. But this is only because the most visible type of homelessness.
What you don’t see is the family of mother and children or the teenagers alone, looking for places to stay at night. And for the very few people who do see these types of homeless situations, most turn away, thinking it’s their fault, and they can’t be helped anyways. But this is the type of thinking that pushes people to hide, and not seek help when they face these types of problems.
People don’t often see homeless youth, or homeless families, because they don’t want to be seen. If a mother seeks help, she risks loosing her kids. If a youth seeks help, he risks being taken away to foster care. I know this because I was a homeless youth.
My biggest fear of telling people I needed help was what their idea of help would be. Often enough, people are afraid to give out a helping hand, because they think they will get in trouble. But when does compassion finally override fear? As a former homeless youth, I experienced all this. I tried to go to school, and pass as a normal kid, and was so afraid a teacher would find out my situation. I was so afraid, because I knew the rules. I knew a teacher would be required to report my situation, if they found out. I was afraid to ask friends for help, because their parents said the same way. They felt it was their job in a sense, to report these types of situations. I was even afraid to go to a church for help, because the one time that I did, they called CPS as an alternative to “help”.
What puts a kid in this situation in the first place?
There are so many different situations that end up with a kid in this situation. Most of the times, it’s issues with parents. My personal situation was with my father. My whole life I was put through hard times, but it was always my mother who did what she could to take care of me.
When I was young, we moved a lot, and I was bounced around. Often times we stayed in cars, but usually we were lucky enough to end up in a hotel, or a friend’s house. Her problem was that she couldn’t stay away from drugs. My mom had never been married to my father, and my mom had lots of boyfriends, so I had a lot of men come and go throughout my life. My mom was the only thing that stayed constant in my life, when I was young. When CPS finally took me away from my mom, I was devastated. My fear of CPS, and foster care began.
I was sent from family to family, while sometimes getting lucky, and ending up with someone actually from my family. But I never stayed with any family for too long. I lived with my Aunt Robyn in Washington for the longest, and that was only about a year. After awhile, I was sent to my dad’s house, and the real problems started.
My father and I could never connect. We had nothing in common, and he resented that I had grown up with my mom. So we found ourselves in a violent war, each trying to break the other. My whole life, I grew up around Hip-Hop, and rap. At ten years old, I sagged my pants, just like the rest of my friends. I talked like any kid would growing up in a city full of mostly minorities. So I was “black-washed” as my father liked to call me.
His first idea was to take away everything I had, and replace it with what he thought was acceptably “white”. This meant wranglers, tighty-whities, and no music, MTV for me. But that didn’t work either. I lived with my father in Alabama for three years, before we moved to Las Vegas. His whole plan to replace my belongings and turn me "white" was now over. I was back in a school with a hip-hop culture, which is where I felt I belonged.
I was now old enough to earn money, and buy my own clothes. I could buy my own CD’s and listen to what I wanted when my father wasn’t around. And he knew it. So he made a new plan to turn me away from being a “wigger”. His new plan was to beat it out of me.
If I talked in a away that he though was ghetto, he would scream and yell for two hours. If he saw my underwear, he would give me the belt. If he came home, and I was listening to anything that a “ghetto” person would listen to, he would destroy it. He took the doors off its hinges to my room, so he could keep an eye on everything I did. I felt my life was depressing. To retaliate, I got back at my dad the only way I could. I became everything he hated when he wasn’t around.
I started smoking, and drinking, I started getting into fights, and failing in school, and I kept living my life the way I wanted. My friends became more ghetto, and less perfect as I grew older, and my father and I hated each other for it. He knew I did it to piss him off, and that itself made my life worse. But at 15 years old, I didn’t care.
Around this time, my dad was going through a divorce, he was in a motorcycle gang, and was with a different woman every weekend. One night, he brought home a new one. This one moved in with us, and stayed. At first my life got a lot better. But soon enough the good life ended. Myself and my father’s girlfriend soon started hating each other. Why father was leaving me alone at first, because all his time was on his girlfriend. But when she and I started disliking each other, she turned my father away from me even more. Often times, I would be grounded for simple things like being in a bad mood. They said I had a bad attitude, but it’s hard to be in a good mood in a house where you felt hated.
Soon we started yelling and screaming at each other every night. Sometimes it got physical, unfortunately for me. It got to the point where my father constantly talked about sending me away, or kicking me out. He talked about it everyday, until I finally told him, I don’t care anymore, and that I wanted to leave. He didn’t take that too well, and so I did what I had wanted to do the entire time I lived with my father. I packed my bags, and walked out the door.
I called a friend, and had a place to stay for a few days. But it wasn’t long term, and I had to find something fast. My friend lived next to an empty house, and we worked hard to figure out a way in. When we finally did, I began my life as a homeless youth in Las Vegas. I began breaking into different houses to sleep, and staying in a friends car when I couldn’t find a house. I stole from stores to eat, and walked around during the day, never drawing attention to myself, or my situation. I stayed in school, but didn’t do too much. I went tried to go home a few times, but that never turned out good. I had friends who helped me when they could, but I was never at “at home”.
This is just one example of an unfortunate situation. I’m not the only kid that has been homeless and alone in my life. There are many more kids in Vegas living behind dumpsters, in abandoned houses, or empty buildings. I know, because I’ve seen them, and lived with them. They were the only people I felt I had anything in common with, and the only people I felt I could trust for some time. And they each had their own unique situation as to why they were homeless. One of my friends grandmother had died, whom he had lived with. When she passed away, he lost everything too, because he had just turned 18 and all of her belongings went to another family member. Being that he was 18, he was too old to get help, but since he had never worked a day in his life, he was lost.
There are so many things that lead people to struggles. Some are their own fault, but still no less a struggle. Some are financial problems, some are family problems, and often enough, some are drugs problems. But there’s no way around the fact that some people in life need help. Kids who are helped sooner, can hopefully be taken away from living a life of poverty. The longer you live a lifestyle, the more accustomed and used to the lifestyle you become. Programs like Center for Independent Living, Boys and Girls Town, and Nevada partnership for Homeless Youth are designed to help youth kids in need. But making these programs is the easy part. The hard part is getting the kids to come and get the help.
I don’t know that there is any real solution to preventing homeless youth. I think the only solution, or way of help, is to get the youth back on their feet when the situation occurs. Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth helps with this, by setting some of the youth up in an independent living situation, where they are provided with the necessities, and guided on the path to using them right. They are helped with things like birth certificates, and ID’s, while encouraged to keep a steady job, or to finish school. They are allowed to basically live on their own, while still supervised to make sure the youth’s stay on track. A program like this works, because it gives kids the freedom they need, while still keeping them on track, and successful in life. The big problem, is getting youth’s to trust a program like this.
As a former homeless youth, I know the fears a youth would have before entering the program. I am in the program now, and before I joined, my biggest fear was how my life would change. Would I be treated just the same as I was at home? Would I give up everything I fought for to begin with? And one of my biggest fears, would I still be able to see and hang out with my friends, and have a social life? The last reason seems petty, but it’s one of the biggest, because as a homeless youth, all I had was my friends. And to leave those people as soon as I find something better feels like I’m turning on the people who stayed by me. And to leave the people who are closest to me was something I couldn’t do. To trust that I would still have this small freedom was hard. Getting the youth to trust that the program has nothing but good intentions, and that it can actually help is hard. Another problem is that homeless youth like to stay hidden. And coming to a program like one of these would be far from staying hidden. Its more like throwing ourselves onto the radar, which can cause big problems.
These are some of the problems that could be addressed to help with the homeless youth. Listen to this post