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
Let me tell you some statistics so you understand the severity of youth homelessness in America.
- approximately 50,000 young people in the U.S. sleep on the streets for 6 months or more
- estimated 550,000 unaccompanied youth are homeless longer than one week
- 39% of the entire homeless population is under 18
- 1 in 7 young people will run away from home
- the average age a teen becomes homeless is 14 years
- teens 12-17 are more likely to become homeless than adults
- 50% of youth who are homeless said their parents either told them to leave, or knew that they were leaving and didn’t care
When we talk about homeless youth, we’re talking about young people age 24 and under, although most of them are about 14-17. A lot of kids become homeless when their families become homeless, but most of them are either kicked out or run away.
Youth run away or are homeless for several reasons. Sometimes it has something to with their involvement in the juvenile justice or child welfare systems. Many homeless kids were foster kids, but they aged out and were discharged with no housing or income support. Sometimes they are being physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused at home and they eventually decide to leave. Sometimes there is some kind of severe family conflict going on, whether their parents are addicts, or abuse each other in front of the kids, or something else that’s unhealthy. Sometimes these youth are neglected or even abandoned by their parents.
Obviously, unaccompanied homeless youth are much more likely to get mixed up in bad things than other kids. Their experiences are also different than those of homeless kids who live with their families. Although those kids still have some tremendous issues and things to deal with, at least they have family by their side; unaccompanied youth are all on their own.
These kids, on their own and on the streets, are vulnerable to a range of awful, negative experiences, including exploitation and victimization. Because of their age and circumstances, they aren’t usually able to (legally) make enough money to meet their basic needs; so many, many homeless youth trade sex for money, clothing, and food. They also steal, and are much more likely to engage in criminal behavior and get involved in the juvenile justice system. They’re also often severely depressed, understandably so, and they drink and do drugs to mask the pain.
Homeless youth also have a hard time getting an education, because of the school system’s legal guardianship requirements, residency requirements, and requirements for proper records. Not to mention, sometimes kids just don’t have transportation to school. A lack of education certainly makes it harder for these kids to get on their feet and take care of themselves.
Isn’t it sickening when you think about it? Did you realize how many kids are homeless in our country, and not only how many are homeless, but how many are homeless BY THEMSELVES? Can you believe some of the circumstances these kids are in? Can you believe that a parent would kick their child out of their home, knowing that they have nowhere safe to go? Isn’t it awful imagining what they go through out there?
We cannot continue to allow this to happen to youth in our country. This is happening to far too many kids, and it shouldn’t be happening at all. We need more programs with emergency shelters available to young people. We need a health care plan designed specifically for homeless youth so their needs can be taken care of. We need programs that will help these youth regain stability, and especially programs with staff who are trained to break through their walls of fear and cynicism. We need to help these young people get an education, and help them find jobs so they can support themselves and gain skills they need to be successful. We need to educate our community so everyone is aware of what’s going on. We need to coach parents to be GOOD parents and take care of the needs of their children, rather than throwing them out on the streets and abandoning them. We need to take care of the children in our country.
Here at Youth Outreach in Newberg, Oregon, we offer a variety of services to runaway and homeless youth in Yamhill County.
- We have a Safe Shelter program, in which we offer emergency shelter for youth ages 11-17 who run away, are kicked out, are homeless, or maybe just need some time away from their parents. We have a 24 hour hotline the youth can call in case they need shelter after hours. We pick them up wherever they are, and take them to stay with a family in our community, where they’ll have a warm bed and food to eat.
- For youth ages 18-21, we have a Transitional Living Program for those who are homeless or kicked out. We set them up in an apartment for up to a year and a half (at no cost to them), and we help them find a job, save money, go to college if they’d like, and accomplish whatever other goals they have so they can be successful.
- We have a Street Outreach program that allows us to reach youth in our community. Every day, we send a team of three staff/volunteers out to tell youth about our services. We go downtown, to parks, and other places where youth often hang out. We carry a backpack full of food, toiletries, socks, and anything else a homeless youth may need.
- We recently started a Jobs Program. We have a Job Development Specialist who is available to help teens who need help finding a job, creating a resume, or practicing interview skills. She has monthly “Jobs Workshops” where she goes over different aspects of what it takes to get a job.
- In downtown Newberg, we have a Teen Drop-In Center that is designed to keep teens off the streets and in a safe, positive environment with adults who care. We have board games, video games, pool, fooseball, and other activities. We plan fun parties and events. We give the youth snack everyday after school, and have food bags available for homeless youth who come in. We have Study Hall twice a week, and offer free tutoring. We also offer peer support groups and prevention classes every month, and discuss things like safe dating, teen drinking, how to quit smoking, etc. Our drop-in center is open until 9 pm, giving teens a safe place to hang out even after dark.
The goal is to completely end youth homelessness by 2020. It’ll take a lot of work, but we need to get these kids out of danger and give them a better life.
Homelessness has always been an issue in the United States, but it’s a bigger problem now more than ever. Since the recession began in 2008, homelessness has increased by 12%. Every year, between 2.3 million and 3.5 million people experience homelessness at least for one night. But of those people, about 30% have been homeless for over two years.
When you see a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk, all bundled up in ratty blankets and clothes, holding a sign asking for money… what do you think? Do you think he’s just lazy and unmotivated? Do you think he should just get a job? Do you assume he’s probably on drugs and an alcoholic, and he would spend any money you give him on a beer and a joint?
That might be the case sometimes, but usually it’s not.
The three greatest causes of homelessness are lack of affordable housing, poverty, and unemployment. Domestic violence is often a reason for homelessness too. Sometimes people get stuck in tough situations that aren’t very easy to get out of. Maybe they had a great job and a big house, but they got laid off and were unable to find more work in that field. Maybe someone got sick or injured, and they had so many medical bills that they weren’t able to pay rent. You never know what that person’s story is and what happened to force them onto the streets. Sometimes it’s a lot more complicated than just getting a job. How are you supposed to get a job when you don’t have a home to shower or brush your teeth in, or a place to do laundry?
There are also more homeless families now than there have been in the past. About 36% of homeless people are families with children. About 7% of homeless people are unaccompanied minors.
So what are we supposed to do about it? There are plenty of things you can do:
- If you go out to eat and have some leftovers, give them to a homeless person instead of taking them home.
- Give them a little bit of money. Sure, you risk them buying booze or drugs with it. But they might actually buy themselves some food and water.
- Go through your closet at home, and give anything you don’t wear anymore to a homeless person.
- Put together some bags full of non-perishable food and toiletries and keep them in your car. Every time you see a homeless person, give them one or two bags.
- Get a bunch of $5 or $10 gift cards to fast food restaurants and grocery stores, and hand them out.
- Donate money, food, toiletries, clothing, or ANYTHING ELSE you can think of to a local shelter or organization. They will be happy to accept any kind of donations, and will be able to find someone who can use it.
- Develop a list of local shelters and food banks and hand them out to homeless people.
- If you keep cans and bottles to recycle, give them all to a homeless person instead.
- Give toys to homeless children, or donate them to a local shelter.
If you live in Yamhill County, you can donate anything to Youth Outreach and we will give it to a teen who needs it.
Stop thinking about it and just DO something today. There are millions of homeless people who need help RIGHT NOW. Don’t put it off anymore. Help us make a difference in someone’s life!