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

Alcohol, Drugs, Homelessness, Juvenile Crime, Safety, Trouble

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!

Violence in the Media: Stay Away!!

Bullying, Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Crime, Life, Safety, Technology, Trouble

Violence is everywhere in the media these days. Shows, movies, video games, and even songs are full of it. Movies contain scenes of people beating each other up. Song lyrics talk about murder and rape. Video games are based around shooting and killing the enemy. Everywhere you look, violence is shoved in your face… and, somehow, nobody thinks it’s a big deal.

Studies have proved time and time again that watching violence in the media makes teenagers more accepting of violence. I mean, think about it. How many times have you seen a character get shot in a movie, or how many times have YOU shot somebody in a video game? Probably more times than you can count. How is that okay?

Think about it this way: when you’re watching TV or playing a video game for approximately 3-4 hours a day (which most teens do, at the least), it becomes more than just a game or entertainment. It becomes your environment. You become used to it, even numb to it. It doesn’t affect you so much seeing somebody get stabbed in a game or show, because you see it all the time. Even if you don’t realize it, you are actually becoming desensitized to violence: meaning you aren’t as sensitive to it anymore.

People who watch violence or play violent games are much more likely to engage in violent behavior themselves, since they have become desensitized to it. They are more likely to think it’s okay to punch somebody who they’re angry with, or get violent with a significant other, as opposed to people who don’t watch violence.

Of course, I’m not saying that every single person who plays COD and GTA and watches rated R action movies WILL engage in violent behavior. What I’m saying is that it puts you at risk. It doesn’t really do you any good to participate in those kinds of activities, and they’re pretty awful anyway, so why do them?

Try to stay away from violent media. Also, try to cut back on media all together. Quit staying in your room playing COD all day, for hours and hours at a time, and go outside! Pick up a football or a Frisbee and play with your friends. Go to the mall, get a milkshake, and people watch. Read a book. Get some exercise. Create art. Be social. Don’t be one of those kids who stares at a screen all day.

The Dangers of Cocaine

Depression, Drugs, Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Crime, Trouble

Cocaine is one of the most dangerous drugs out there. Teens think it’s cool because it’s a stimulant drug, meaning it gives you tons of energy so you can stay up all night long and party and hang with friends. But it can also kill you.

Stimulants are drugs that elevate your mood, give you more energy, and increase your feelings of well-being. Basically, they cause your body to speed up… which means they also elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, which is incredibly dangerous.

Cocaine is available in two different forms. It can be in powder form, which people can either snort or inject with a needle (if they mix it with water); or it’s sometimes in the form of small white rocks, otherwise known as “crack cocaine,” and can be smoked. Some street names for cocaine are coke, coca, snow, blow, flake, candy, or rock; it’s also called “speedball” when it’s mixed with other drugs.

Here are some of the short-term effects of cocaine:

  • faster heartbeat
  • body feels hot
  • shaking and twitching
  • can’t sleep or eat
  • feelings of anger, nervousness, paranoia, and fear
  • stomach pain
  • headaches
  • vomiting
  • fainting
  • weight loss
  • after the high wears off, you will crash and feel tired and sad for days (and crave it)

And here are some of the long-term effects:

  • built up tolerance (so you crave more and need more to feel the same high)
  • strange unpredictable behavior, like panic attacks and feeling paranoid
  • snorting can lead to hoarseness, loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, and a constant runny nose
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • respiratory problems
  • heart attack
  • brain damage
  • violent behavior
  • sudden death (even for first time users)

If you suspect that one of your friends may be using cocaine, you definitely need to get them help. It could save their life. You can usually tell that something sketchy is going on when friends start acting really weird, and not like themselves: if they’re starting to not do as well in school, hanging out with a different crowd, if they seem depressed and have lost weight, lost their motivation, and aren’t taking care of their appearance and hygiene. People using drugs are also very moody, might have changed their sleeping pattern, and have bloodshot, tired looking eyes. They also might always be asking for money, or even stealing money.

Try talking to your friend and ask if something’s going on. In some cases, they may actually open up and be honest with you about what they’ve been doing. But sometimes, probably in most cases, teens can be afraid or embarrassed to admit that they’re using drugs, and will lie to even their closest friends. They might get angry with you. If that happens, you need to tell an adult. You aren’t telling on them, or getting them in trouble… you’re literally saving their life by telling someone. It’s nothing to feel bad about. Tell a trusted adult, like a parent, school counselor, teacher, or coach. They can help you confront your friend and get them the help they need.

You could also have your friend call either 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-662-HELP. By calling these hotlines, your friend can talk to a professional about the steps they should take to get over their cocaine addiction. Or, you can go online with them and visit http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment and find a local treatment center where they can receive help.

Cocaine is highly addictive, so even if your friend has only tried it a few times, they’re still craving it. Or if they’ve been using for a long time, it’s going to continue to get worse. It’s only a matter of time until something happens to them. Get them the help they need NOW.

Steroids: Not Healthy and NOT Worth It!

Depression, Drugs, Health, Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Crime, Trouble

Have you heard of all those pro athletes that have gotten busted for using steroids? Steroids are drugs that make you bulk up and gain tons of muscle and testosterone without actually working for it. It’s illegal and it’s cheating. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of pro athletes that have used steroids to get stronger and better at their sport… But sometimes high school students even use steroids, too.

Although the percentage of high school students who use steroids is relatively low (1% of female students and about 12% of male students), that number is growing. People use steroids to either improve their sports performance or the way they look, but usually it’s for sports.

The type of steroids that people use to gain tons of muscle are called anabolic-androgenic steroids. Anabolic refers to the steroids ability to develop muscle, and androgenic refers to their role in promoting the development of male sexual characteristics (testosterone). These steroids are usually made up of synthetic substances similar to testosterone, which is how they cause people to build so much muscle, grow more facial hair, get deeper voices, etc. In some cases, doctors do prescribe steroids to people who have unusually low levels of testosterone. But otherwise, they’re illegal.

A couple of “street names” for steroids are juice and roids, and they’re taken either from pills or needles. People who use steroids illegally usually take doses that are 10-100 times higher than what doctors prescribe patients for medical reasons.

So, what exactly is so bad about steroids? Here are some of the health consequences:

  • stunted growth
  • acne
  • weight gain
  • sleeping problems
  • greater chance of getting injured
  • blood clots
  • cancer
  • kidney impairment/failure
  • damage to the liver
  • cardiovascular problems: enlargement of heart, high blood pressure, changes in cholesterol leading to increased risk of stroke and heart attack
  • weakened immune system
  • for guys: reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, increased risk of prostate cancer
  • for girls: growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in menstrual cycle, permanently deepened voice
  • possibly death

On top of all of that, steroids can always have a huge effect on your behavior. You could start experiencing mood swings, manic-like symptoms leading to violence, depression, irritability, paranoia, delusions, and impaired judgment.

If somebody you know is using steroids, here’s what you can do:

  • Tell a trusted adult, like a parent, teacher, counselor, or coach.
  • Talk to them. Tell them about the health risks that go along with using steroids, and that it’s really not worth it.
  • Call the Treatment Referral Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP. They can refer you to local treatment facilities, support groups, and other organizations that can help.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. They can help you with all kinds of issues besides suicide.

If you want to be a star athlete, don’t cheat… you need to work for it! You just need to train, eat, and practice the healthy way. Don’t use drugs to help you reach your goals.

Teens & Gangs

Alcohol, Bullying, Community, Drugs, Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Crime, Safety, Trouble

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.