Home > MY VIEWS, NEWS STORY > This makes Me Mad and Sad – Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways – 2 Stories

This makes Me Mad and Sad – Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways – 2 Stories

Running in the Shadows

Children on Their Own

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

MEDFORD, Ore. — Dressed in soaked green pajamas, Betty Snyder, 14, huddled under a cold drizzle at the city park as several older boys decided what to do with her.

Nikki Hall, 16, in her parents’ foreclosed home in Medford, Ore., where she has been squatting in order to finish the year at her school.

Betty said she had run away from home a week earlier after a violent argument with her mother. Shivering and sullen-faced, she vowed that she was not going to sleep by herself again behind the hedges downtown, where older homeless men and methamphetamine addicts might find her.

The boys were also runaways. But unlike them, Betty said, she had been reported missing to the police. That meant that if the boys let her stay overnight in their hidden tent encampment by the freeway, they risked being arrested for harboring a fugitive.

“We keep running into this,” said one of the boys, Clinton Anchors, 18. Over the past year, he said, he and five other teenagers living together on the streets had taken under their wings no fewer than 20 children — some as young as 12 — and taught them how to avoid predators and the police, survive the cold and find food.

“We always first try to send them home,” said Clinton, who himself ran away from home at 12. “But a lot of times they won’t go, because things are really bad there. We basically become their new family.”

Over the past two years, government officials and experts have seen an increasing number of children leave home for life on the streets, including many under 13. Foreclosures, layoffs, rising food and fuel prices and inadequate supplies of low-cost housing have stretched families to the extreme, and those pressures have trickled down to teenagers and preteens.

Federal studies and experts in the field have estimated that at least 1.6 million juveniles run away or are thrown out of their homes annually. But most of those return home within a week, and the government does not conduct a comprehensive or current count.

The best measure of the problem may be the number of contacts with runaways that federally-financed outreach programs make, which rose to 761,000 in 2008 from 550,000 in 2002, when current methods of counting began. (The number fell in 2007, but rose sharply again last year, and the number of federal outreach programs has been fairly steady throughout the period.)

Too young to get a hotel room, sign a lease or in many cases hold a job, young runaways are increasingly surviving by selling drugs, panhandling or engaging in prostitution, according to the National Runaway Switchboard, the federally-financed national hot line created in 1974. Legitimate employment was hard to find in the summer of 2009; the Labor Department said fewer than 30 percent of teenagers had jobs.

In more than 50 interviews over 11 months, teenagers living on their own in eight states told of a harrowing existence that in many cases involved sleeping in abandoned buildings, couch-surfing among friends and relatives or camping on riverbanks and in parks after fleeing or being kicked out by families in financial crisis.

The runaways spend much of their time avoiding the authorities because they assume the officials are trying to send them home. But most often the police are not looking for them as missing-person cases at all, just responding to complaints about loitering or menacing. In fact, federal data indicate that usually no one is looking for the runaways, either because parents have not reported them missing or the police have mishandled the reports.

In Adrian, Mich., near Detroit, a 16-year-old boy was secretly living alone in his mother’s apartment, though all the utilities had been turned off after she was arrested and jailed for violating her parole by bouncing a check at a grocery store.

In Huntington, W.Va., Steven White, 15, said that after casing a 24-hour Wal-Mart to see what time each night the cleaning crew finished its rounds, he began sleeping in a store restroom.

“You’re basically on the lam,” said Steven, who said he had left home because of physical abuse that increased after his father lost his job this year. “But you’re a kid, so it’s pretty hard to hide.”

Between Legal and Illegal

Survival on the streets of Medford, a city of 76,000 in southwest Oregon, requires runaways to walk a fine line between legal and illegal activity, as a few days with a group of them showed. Even as they sought help from social service organizations, they guarded their freedom jealously.

Posted via web from MovieDriver – Hollywood Teamster

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