Category Archives: Alcohol

“I Am a Homeless Youth. I Am the Future.”

Runaway and homeless youth are not bad kids; they’re just kids in bad situations.  It’s important to remember this, because one of the great obstacles to stability these young people have to overcome is the stereotype that they are willfully homeless, or that their homelessness is simply a consequence of poor decision making.  But we all know nothing is ever that simple.  Consider the following:

  • Approximately 1.7 million young people call the streets home every year.
  • Children under 18 account for 34% of the homeless population in the United States.
  • Every year, approximately 5,000 homeless young people will die because of assault, illness, or suicide while trying to survive.
  • About 80% of homeless youth (aged 12-21) use drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate to deal with the traumatic experiences and abuse they face.
  • Over 50% of young people in shelters and on the streets report that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving and didn’t care.
  • Of youth who run away, 41% have been abandoned by their parents for at least 24 hours and 43% have been beaten by a caretaker

Young people become homeless for a variety of reasons, but the most common is family dysfunction.  This can be anything from abuse to addiction to mental illness, all resulting in parental neglect, which forces some youth to fend for themselves – and in extreme cases to provide and care for their own parents and younger siblings.  Imagine if you had to become the head of your household tomorrow; how long do you think you could sustain?  Even families with little to no dysfunction are vulnerable to sudden homelessness, because they may be at the whims of the country’s economic climate – joblessness affects people from all walks of life, and families move into shelters by the hundreds every day, unable to find affordable housing.

Another reason youth sometimes leave their homes is sexual abuse.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 21-40% of homeless youth have been sexually abused prior to running away.  And the victimization doesn’t necessarily stop there; many young people on the streets are too young for traditional employment and must resort to trading sex for money, food, clothing, or a place to stay.  Similarly, some youth who “age out” of the Foster Care system are dumped into society with no economic or emotional supports, and often look to misdemeanor crimes to survive – either to temporarily get money, or to be put in jail where they will at least have a bed and a meal. Many homeless youth are then never able to transition into the workforce, let alone finish their high school diplomas, when the only earning potential they see for themselves is within the underground economy.  This is part of the cycle that turns homeless youth into chronically homeless adults.

Below is a sample from a survey done by the National Network for Youth in 2013, which asked thousands of homeless young people nationwide to characterize the homeless youth experience based on their stories by offering insights that could complete the sentence, “I am a homeless youth. I…”

…am no different from other youth. I simply don’t have a safe place to live.

…may come from a poor family, or my family may have money.

…may come from a city. But I may also come from a rural town, suburb, Indian reservation, border colony, or foreign country.

…may have traveled miles from home, but I may also have traveled just a few blocks.

…sometimes act tough because that is a skill I developed to survive without a safe place to live. But, I know to behave differently if you give me positive attention.

…may have left on my own because it was safer for me to get out. But I also may have been kicked out of home because my family didn’t understand or accept me.

…may get caught up in the wrong crowd for self-protection. But I am not violent or a gang member. I’m just hanging on the street because I don’t have another place to go.

…usually just have too much stress and competing priorities to operate at the same pace as my peers with safe places to live. I am not dumb or unmotivated.

… need to take care of getting a safe place to live and a source of food and clean clothes before I can focus on finding a job or completing school.

… want to work to support myself. But I probably need some help building work skills and help finding a job, just like any other young person looking for a first job.

… want to wear clean clothes and take regular showers. If I look grungy, it’s because I don’t have regular access to these basic things.

…may use alcohol or drugs or have a mental illness. But if I do, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to get help.

…can still take care of my own child and be a good parent but may need some help in learning how since I may not have had a good role model in my own childhood.

…may be reluctant to ask for help right away because I may not trust you. So please ask me first if I need help. And be patient while my trust in you strengthens.

…have dreams and goals. I can succeed in life despite the hardships I have faced.

…am not disposable. I am a human being. Be happy I am alive. I am the future.

Many of the things mentioned above are why organizations like Youth Outreach exist.  We work to protect those who can’t always protect themselves, despite being incredibly resilient and strong.  We have two programs to help youth who don’t have anywhere to stay, whether they’ve been kicked out, run away, or their family has become homeless.  Safe Shelter is available to kids ages 11-17, and provides short term shelter with families in the community who’ve volunteered to be host homes.  The Transitional Living Program (or TLP) is designed for youth ages 18-21 who need help getting started and learning to live independently. YO has two apartments located in Newberg and McMinnville where youth can stay while they look for a job and save some money. We also have programs that work to prevent youth from running away in the first place.  Youth Outreach has a Drop-In center that is open until 9 pm on weeknights, where teens can find a safe and positive environment, with everything from peer support groups to Christmas parties.  Youth can spend their time getting help with homework, learning about things like dating abuse, working with us to find a job, or just hanging out and playing pool as a way to stay out of the rain.

If you encounter someone who is in need of assistance, or ever find yourself in a tough spot, give a us a call.  Anytime.  Day or night. 1.866.538.8023.  We can help!

Water

 

As I walk around each day I feel a sense of hopelessness. It’s that same pinch of hopelessness in my heart from my parents’ divorce over a decade ago and I wonder if true love can last. It’s the deep and steadfast hopelessness that arises each time I remember that my brother is living on the streets and getting high on drugs every day.

I go to class and put on a close to perfect face, but inside I am just waiting for the phone call to hear that my brother has overdosed, and this time it’s fatal.  If that day were to ever come, I would bake chocolate chip cookies for him one last time and put them right by his grave, along with a stack of baseball cards.

I try to talk to people about my feelings, but people just say, “I am sorry,” and they think it will get better.

Well I am tired of that answer! I am tired of feeling stuck and I am just waiting for this big piece of my life to fade away.  If you have family or friends dealing with addiction to drugs or alcohol, I know you can relate.

So, I am here to encourage you…right?

I don’t have perfect little things to say and I don’t have the answers – if I did, I would take my own advice.  But, what I do know is that you should find just one person you can talk to, such as an aunt, grandma, teacher, tutor, someone at Youth Outreach, or a friend.  Even press into faith if you believe.  I would encourage you find someone who will just listen and be there.  And not say, “I’m sorry.” In my eyes, to say “I am sorry,” is for little things, like, “I’m sorry you missed class today because the teacher did something wild!”  If you can’t find someone, then write. Write a page to whoever in your life is abusing drugs or alcohol. Then write clearly what you would say to them.  I know this might sound silly, but trust me – it helps.  After you write this letter, read it out loud and know that it is okay to cry! Next, take a thick black pen and draw over the things that really upset you. After, tear it up, go workout, and just allow yourself to feel what you feel.

Another helpful coping method is to find something that you love to do: cook, journal, maybe clean, or play music. What I have found important is to keep yourself busy in a healthy way.  One of the things that I like to do is write poetry.  Poems can take on many forms, so there are no rules and there is no pressure.  It’s very therapeutic.  Here is piece I wrote that reflects on hopelessness in a hopeful way.

 

Water

It has its perks and it rocks my boat.  I swallow my words to not say a thing to anyone about anything, so I will stay on the path of rowing

I sit on a boat and I look at how calm the water is on top.  Do I dare look below to see all the hurt that I have seen

Would I be able to look back up

Why is it so hard for me to keep my mouth to myself

I start to think about things that I could do to maybe have control for once

I glance at the idea of what I could breathe in and then I remember all the people around me that are at the bottom of the ocean because of taking that first dirty creation

They have no way of swimming up because every time they try and take a breath it’s filled with more dirty water and they can’t float up

The question becomes how could I save the people in my life that are treating their bodies as a miserable disguise

I wonder if these addictions will fly away

A family is by a simple definition to be healthy and to love

Is the definition for people that are surrounded in dirty water to just breathe in

I can’t imagine becoming one of them

I see how their life will never go back to being who they once were

If that was the case, it would be broken hearts and deep desires to let anything in

Do I have hope

I want to believe that I do

Now what

I can jump in with a lifejacket

I can swim with goggles and make eye contact with them

I can keep breathing underwater and wave them to come up

Then, when I have no more air I can come back up

My lifejacket is God

and the people around me

They are holding me so tight that nothing is stopping me

I know that God will never leave me so my security is solid

But how do I keep my own dignity from hurting the people that are a part of me

and

right

down

under me

Life is a journey and no one can say life is easy

It they do, they are either blind or life is blinding them

So, I say to you dear people that are living a life full of life

Don’t think that you can’t make a change, a difference, or have a new way at looking at life

Trust that you have the boat with lifejackets and that you can steer in the direction you choose

You will always have the people that are breathing in dirty water

a part of you

But you and whoever is not a part of the dirty water will be in your boat

So, look up and see the leaves changing

Have hope that you are hope

Know that you are

not alone

Teens & Gangs

When you imagine a gang member, what kind of person do you think of? Probably a man, living in a big city, most likely. Someone who grew up on the streets, is into drugs, and probably didn’t have a good childhood, Maybe he’s in his mid-late 20’s, or 30’s, or even 40’s. Yeah, that sounds like a typical gang member, right?

Wrong. The average gang member is 17-18 years old. About 1/4 of gang members are 15-17… 1/6 members are 14 and younger. 

Yeah, that’s right. Most gang members are your age. They are high school students just like you. Some haven’t even gotten to high school yet. And also, gangs aren’t just made up of guys. About 1/3 gangs members are females.

How exactly do they end up in a gang, and why do they do it?

First off, the definition of a gang is: “A group of people with similar interests and goals; most often they are groups that involve themselves in criminal activity, usually of violent nature. Gangs usually have a symbol, a color, create hand signs for themselves and claim their territory.”

A lot of people believe that gangs only exist in large cities. Yeah, 74% of large cities have gangs roaming their streets. That’s a pretty huge number. But who knew that even 57% of suburban areas, and 34% of small cities have gangs? Even 25% of rural areas now have gangs. Gangs also exist in all 50 states, which wasn’t the case just twenty years ago.

So, whether people are aware of it or not, gangs are pretty much everywhere.

While there certainly are instances where teens are forced to join gangs, most of the time they join voluntarily. Teens usually join to make money, for the thrill and excitement, for protection from bullies, a desire for prestige and power, and/or a chance to belong. Many of them may get picked on at school and not have any friends. Being a part of a gang will, in their minds, give them a group of “friends” who will protect them and take care of them, and maybe even “take care of” the bullies and mean people at school.

Why would a gang want members who are so young? Well, because they do a lot of the dirty work. When teens are in gangs, they are expected to commit violent acts and crimes, including: gang fights, armed robbery, drug dealing, gun play, vandalism, and theft. They might even get mixed up in sex trafficking or be told to murder someone. According to research, 89% of violent crimes in gangs are committed by teenagers.

Some teens might think that joining a gang sounds cool. Really? Do those crimes sound cool and fun to you? Being in a gang is the opposite of cool. It could ruin your future, get you arrested, and even get you killed. It could get your friends and family killed, too. Gangs often get into wars with other gangs, and they will not only be after you and threaten your life, but they will threaten your loved ones, too.

If one of your friends has been acting different lately and you’re afraid they might be involved in gang activity, here are some of the warning signs:

  • Sudden changes in clothing, especially if they wear the same color all the time
  • Hiding their activities from everyone
  • Hanging out with different friends
  • Loss of interest in school and other activities
  • Having large amounts of money with no explanation
  • Run-ins with the police
  • Having the same symbol on many of their belongings
  • Has a new nickname
  • Starts drinking and doing drugs
  • Change in appearance (hair style, hair color, piercings, tattoos, etc)

If your friends tells you they’re in a gang, here’s what you do:

  1. Ask questions. How long have they been in? Have deep are they in, how connected are they and what have they done for the gang so far? If they’re not in that deep, it will be easier for them to get out.
  2. Tell them how you feel, and the truth about gangs. Tell them that you don’t want to lose their friendship, and that you’re worried about them. This gang is not their family, they only tell them that to get them to do stuff for them. They don’t really care about them. Gangs do bad things to innocent people… do they really want to do that? Do they really want to risk getting killed or getting arrested?
  3. Get help. If your friend wants help, talk to a trusted adult. Everyone needs to make sure your friend is safe in case the gang gets upset with them.

Gangs are bad news, straight up. There are no benefits to joining a gang. It’s sad that gangs have been so successful in luring teenagers who need the things that they think gangs will give them. But really, it’s all a bunch of lies. Gangs will do nothing but ruin your life. Don’t get involved, and if your friend is a gang member, do everything you can to get them help and get them out.

 

Teen Suicide: There is Always Hope

Have you ever known someone who committed or attempted suicide? It sucks. Some people feel so overwhelmingly hopeless that they don’t know what to do other than ending their life. That level of pain and misery is hard for a lot of people to imagine, but some people have such a hard time getting through each day that they just can’t do it anymore. And once everyone finally knows how they really felt and what it caused them to do, we’re all left here wondering, “Why didn’t I do something? Why wasn’t I there for them? What could I have done to save them? Is it my fault?”

When a friend or family member does commit suicide, don’t ever blame yourself. It isn’t your fault. It’s natural to have those thoughts and feel guilty, but really, you cannot blame yourself. When people think about killing themselves, it isn’t because of one or two things that happened, or even because of one or two people; it’s always very complex. There’s a lot going on in their lives, and it all adds up to the point where they choose to end it. So if you feel like it’s something you did or didn’t do, don’t put that kind of blame on yourself, because there probably was a lot more to it than you know.

Teen suicide is becoming a huge problem. In the United States, suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for people ages 15-24. When people commit suicide, they attempt it approximately 25 times before they are “successful.” Most suicides are committed with guns, many are committed by overdosing.

What is going on? Why are people doing this?

Being a teenager can be a strange time in a person’s life. You’re awkwardly in the middle of being a child and being an adult. It can be a time of tremendous hope and possibility, but also a time of great stress, pressure, and confusion. Dealing with people at school can be rough, being pressured by society sucks, and it seems like everyone expects you to figure out you’re whole life right now: Are your grades good enough? What sports will you play? Where are you going to go to college? What are you going to major in? What job do you want for the rest of your life? Does that job make enough money to support your family? When will you get married?

The list goes on and on and on….

It’s a rough time for everybody, but some people seem to have rougher circumstances than others. There are many factors that put teenagers at risk for thinking about suicide, here are some of them:

  • mental health problems: anxiety, depression, bipolar, insomnia
  • going through major life changes: parents’ divorce or separation, moving, parents in the military, financial changes, victims of bullying
  • alcohol/drug use
  • feelings of distress, irritability, agitation
  • feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • previous suicide attempts
  • family history of depression, suicide
  • victims of emotional, physical, sexual abuse
  • lack of support network, poor relationships with parents and/or peers, social isolation
  • dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive or hostile environment

When people are planning on killing themselves, they almost always give the people around them warning signs. Sometimes, tragically, people see their cries for help as them “wanting attention.” If you think someone might be hinting that they’re going to attempt suicide, you must take it seriously. Don’t hesitate to get help, because what if they’re serious?

Some warning signs are:

  • talking about suicide or death
  • giving hints that they might not be around anymore
  • talking about feeling hopeless/guilty
  • pulling away from friends and family
  • writing songs, poems, and letters about death and loss
  • giving away their things
  • loss of desire to take part in their favorite things and activities
  • changes in personality/behavior
  • fatigue/loss of energy
  • neglect of appearance/hygiene
  • sadness/indifference
  • aggressive, destructive, or defiant behavior
  • poor school performance
  • engaging in risk-taking behaviors
  • having trouble concentrating/thinking clearly

If you suspect that a friend is having suicidal thoughts, make sure to express your concern, support, and love to them. Knowing that someone cares and someone wants to help will give them hope. Tell a trusted adult who is close with your friend, like a parent, another relative, coach, counselor, or teacher, and ask them to talk to them. Another important thing you should do, even though it might be awkward, but you need to ask questions. Ask how they’re feeling, if they’re going through anything, if they need help. Ask them if they’ve been thinking about killing themselves. Just bring it up. They may hesitate at first, but if they say yes, get help immediately and let them know how much you and so many other people care about them. If you need to take drastic measures, you can tell a doctor who can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

If YOU are feeling suicidal, tell someone. It may not seem like it, but so many people do care about you: parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, classmates, teammates, coworkers, teachers, counselors, neighbors. Make sure someone knows how you’re feeling so they can help you. If you feel uncomfortable talking to somebody, you can always call 1-(800)-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK for help, too.

Nobody should ever feel hopeless, because there is always hope.

Peer Pressure: Don’t Give In!

Teens are always pressuring friends and people at school to do all sorts of things that aren’t cool. You may have had a friend or peer try and talk you into things like drinking, smoking, doing drugs, having sex, shoplifting, or cheating on a test or homework. They probably make you feel like you’re lame if you don’t do it, right? They usually say things like “it’s not that big of a deal,” and “everyone’s doing it.” Maybe they even say “you won’t know how you really feel about it unless you try it.”

Being pressured to do something is tough. On one hand, you don’t want anyone to think you’re uncool or too scared or too good to try something. You definitely don’t want to lose your friends. But on the other hand, you know what’s right and what’s wrong. You also know what’s illegal, and you definitely don’t want to get in trouble with the law and put your future at risk. So what can you do?

Here are some ways you can say no….

  • Just say no. Be straight up with them. Just say “no thanks,” or “nah dude, I’m good.” You can just walk away if you want, or change the subject. You really don’t owe them any explanation.
  • Give a reason. If you do want to give them an explanation, or if they keep bugging you about it, just tell them honestly why you don’t want to. If they’re pressuring you to smoke, you can say something like, “I’m trying to stay in shape for basketball” or “I have asthma.” Or you can even say something like, “I think smoking is gross. It’s super bad for you.”
  • Avoid the situation. If you’re invited to a party where you’re pretty sure there will be alcohol, it might be a better idea to just not go to that party. If you don’t want to participate, just stay away so you don’t get pressured all night.
  • Change the subject. Just change the subject and ignore the question. If someone offers you a joint, say something totally random like, “Oh hey, did you see what this person posted on Facebook?”
  • Reverse the pressure. If they’re making you feel like you’re lame, turn it back on them. Say something like, “I don’t need to do that to prove I’m cool” or “dude that’s lame, I don’t do that.”
  • Delay. If someone is trying to get you to go out with them and you don’t really want to, say, “Let’s be friends for a while so we can get to know each other better first.”

If someone is trying to push you do something that 1) is bad for you, 2) will get you in trouble, and 3) they know you don’t really want to do…. Are they really your friend? For real. Friends don’t do that. Friends respect each other, and you shouldn’t need to do stupid stuff in order for you “friends” to like you.

If your friends are trying to pressure you to do anything, anything at all… you should probably find a new crowd to hang with. Peer pressure is lame, don’t put up with it from anyone.