Sewer water soaked through the threads he called socks. In the downpour, he trudged down an alley, on top of a dumpster, up the broken fire escape to the roof. His home. A place to get dry and warm in his trash-bag tent propped beside the heating unit.
As he struggled over the roof’s wall, his stomach rumbled against his spine, told him that the three fries he’d snatched from the bottom of a fast-food bag for dinner wasn’t enough.
Underneath the harsh strobe of the street light, the grayish hue tinting his cheeks made the dark smudges underneath his eyes more prominent.
On the roof, he walked to the heating unit and stopped. Someone else had found his home. He moved away, far from the warmth he wouldn’t have that night. In a corner, he dropped down and covered himself. No money. No food. No shelter. No options. He took out the razor blade, again. Held it to his wrist and cried. Because, again, he didn’t have the guts. He huddled underneath the blankets and trash-bags, and waited for another night.
To most he’s invisible. To the ones who search him out he’s cheap, easy money. An extra $50 a night from a john. To some, he can handle a drug deal without being suspected. A body that’s expendable and easily replaced.
He’s not a war veteran who’s lost his way. He’s not mentally ill with no place to go. He’s not an addict who’s worn out his welcome with friends and family.
He’s a child, 15 years old. One among millions who live homeless in one of the richest countries in the world.
America, best known for its freedoms, prosperity, and resilience, suffers from dual, terrifying conditions. Plights so monumental, they endanger a generation. Teen homelessness and runaways. The statistics from the National Runaway Hotline are horrific:
1.3 million youth live homeless on the streets of the United States every day.
Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year.
Youth aged 12-17 are at higher risk for homelessness than adults.
12% of runaway and homeless youth spent at least one night outside – in a park, on the street, under a bridge or overhang, or on a rooftop.
32% of runaway and homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
Running from homes of abuse, whether physical or mental, sexual or drug-related, teens hope to find peace, but most only trade one hell for another. Many succumb to acts of violence. Some succumb to suicide.
Whether runaways or throwaways, no matter if they sleep in abandoned buildings, in train stations, or under bridges, hundreds of thousands of our children have nowhere to call home.
Many organizations such as The National Runaway Switchboard, Children of the Night, Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity, and Covenant House fight to save youth and teens from the streets, but the war to safeguard these children from predators, poverty and homelessness is a formidable battle. Donate your time and recourses to help a generation lost. Together, America can defeat its most shameful epidemics.