Homeless teens and young adults can be encountered in schools, job sites, public events, just about anywhere people meet. With nowhere to stay and no one to rely on, most carry the additional burden of dealing with traumatic, abusive events that have directly contributed to their homeless state. Many people feel awkward about having a conversation with someone who appears homeless, though homeless youth are no less caring or perceptive than any other young person, or any less deserving of your attention and respect.
Here are a few things we hear our Tumbleweed youth say they hear, and which they wish they could prevent!
Why doesn’t your family help you?
Everyone’s story is unique, but most homeless young people between the ages of 12-25 are fleeing abusive home situations that include physical violence, neglect, sexual abuse or parental substance abuse. Many LGBT youth have been evicted from their families due to their sexual orientation. Help from their immediate family is not an option.
If you just got a job you could get a place to live.
Due to chaotic, violent or neglectful home environments, many homeless youth have not developed the life skills needed to attain independent young adulthood. The psychological and physiological impact of abuse makes them less likely to have developed skills such as impulse control, management of emotions, or keeping to a schedule. With counseling and a supportive environment, these skills can be learned relatively quickly. However, this kind of comment, no matter how it is intended, is usually not well-received or helpful.
Nobody is going to want to help you when you look like that.
Most young people flee a bad situation with little planning or forethought. They don’t anticipate the difficulty in keeping clean and neat. Going for days in the same clothes or without washing up or brushing teeth is a difficult experience for homeless youth and has a negative impact on mental health. Often, getting a shower and clean clothes is the first Tumbleweed service many young people want to use. Like anyone, homeless young people are aware of their appearance.
Are you using drugs?
Although the pain of an abusive background and homelessness mean some young people do get involved with substance abuse, it is difficult for homeless young people to understand why strangers feel comfortable asking questions that are confrontational, disrespectful or intrusive.
The vast majority did not choose their situation and have no desire to be homeless. Many people are surprised by how thoughtful and intelligent young homeless people are, especially if they are approached with courtesy.
You should go to (fill in city name). They give handouts to homeless all the time.
While it is understandable that a casual passerby might think a young homeless person intends to permanently seek handouts and will go to the place he or she is most likely to receive them, that is almost never the case. Most homeless young people have a strong desire for stability and permanence.
Oh, and almost all the homeless youth we help are originally from the Phoenix metro area.
Next week, some tips that can help you have a conversation with a homeless young person.