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Youth Life!

Homeless Teens:
Nowhere To Turn
Author: Vanessa Carter

"As long as you are living under my roof, you obey my 
"What if I don't like your rules?"
"There's the door. Don't let it hit you on the ass on 
your way out! And don't you dare come crying back to 
me when you've got no place to stay!"
OK, I'm sure your parents have said something similar 
to you at one point, right? Most of the time, parents 
are just upset and they end up saying things they 
don't mean. They apologize, you apologize and 
everybody's happy. But what happens to those teens 
whose parents really meant what they said? 
The street is where most homeless teens go. The 
thought of living on their own is exciting: no rules, 
no punishments and no authority.  Many of these teens 
are too ashamed or too proud to admit that they are 
homeless, so they remain on the street and don't seek 
assistance from programs that can help. 
A fair number of homeless teens "couch hop," in other 
words, they stay at various friends’ and relatives’ 
homes. These teens are the lucky ones because they 
have people who are helping them get back on their 
The unlucky teens are those who quite literally have 
nothing and nobody. Unfortunately, many of these teens 
turn to drugs, alcohol, and gangs to forget their 
troubles and numb their pain.
Stories From the Street
Through different organizations, I found some homeless 
teens who were willing to share their experiences with 
me. The only way I was able to tell these teens were 
homeless was the fact that they stayed at shelters. In 
fact, if I saw them on the streets, I would never have 
"I started drinking when I first got kicked out," said 
Angelina*, 16. Angelina's parents forced her to leave 
after an argument about Angelina's slipping grades. "I 
never touched alcohol before that! I didn't know how 
to deal with all of the shit I was dealing with so I 
would just get faded and eventually it just got out of 
hand,” she said. “It's a quick fix, you know, but in 
the end it only makes things a hundred times worse." 
Angelina has been on the streets for about six months. 
She told me that at first she stayed with friends but 
after awhile, she felt like she was a burden. She then 
took to the streets, finding food in restaurant 
dumpsters, bathing in public restroom sinks, and 
sleeping under bridges or on park benches until a 
friend referred her to a shelter.
Harmoni, age 19, and her boyfriend, Darnell, 20 have 
similar experiences. They were kicked out at the age 
of 16 when Harmoni discovered she was pregnant. 
"Both of our parents are very religious. They were 
outraged that we had sex before marriage. They don't 
believe in abortion, so their solution was to disown 
us," she said. "We left home to stay with some friends 
and I had a miscarriage. I was so sad. Darnell had 
started doing drugs by then and I started doing them, 
too." Darnell and Harmoni have cleaned up, moved in 
with friends and are currently looking for work.
The Working Homeless
Not all homeless teens are runaways or banished from 
their families. Several teens' parents have lost their 
jobs in the rapidly declining economy. Take pre-teen 
Sebastian, 12, and his 10 year-old sister Sally.
Sebastian and Sally's father, like many other people 
across the U.S., was laid off from his job. Unable to 
make payments, their home was foreclosed. They have 
been staying with family off and on for a few months.
"It's hard to ask to stay at friends' and families' 
houses. We're struggling," Sebastian said. "Some 
friends know. They don't tease me or anything…they 
mostly avoid that issue. To anyone in this same 
position, I guess I would just tell them to stay 
Imagine how hard it would be to be a homeless teen. 
While all of your friends are worrying about what 
they're going to wear, who's going out with who, and 
where to kick it, you would be worrying about how 
you're going to get money, how you're going to get 
food and where you are going to sleep tonight.
We all take what we have for granted, and look at the 
homeless people in our community with a blind eye. We 
drop a buck into a homeless person's Styrofoam cup and 
think, "Why don't they just get a job?" We never 
consider the hardships these people have faced or the 
reality that it is extremely difficult to be employed 
without a permanent place of residence. Also, quite a 
few homeless people are either mentally ill or 
underage and are unable to work.
There are more people and more stories out in the 
community than those shared with you in this article. 
I hope I have given you, the reader, just a small 
glimpse of what it is like to have nowhere to turn.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the