Category Archives: Alcohol
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!
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.
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
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
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