Tuesday, October 27, 2009

U.S. depression: Children hitting the streets

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. 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."
That's the lead-in to a poignant New York Times story, subtitled "Running in the shadows," chronicling the surge in youth homelessness across the United States. Each year, more than 1.6 million children in the United States either run away or are thrown out of their homes. With the harsh economy, the number of children living on their own has more than doubled, according to a federal survey of schools. At the same time, fewer public services are available to help them. Harkening back to Dickensonian London, reporter Ian Urbina found children as young as 12 hiding out from abusive families who did not want them or could no longer afford to feed them. Too young to sign contracts or get legitimate employment, young runaways survive by selling drugs, panhandling, or selling their bodies. They remain hidden in the shadows because their families did not report them missing or, if they did, police failed to enter their names into the national database of missing children. Many of these invisible children will be victimized on the streets; others will be our clients. Read the heartbreaking story HERE.

Hat tip: Jane
Photo credit: "Motherless Brooklyn" by Shrued (Creative Commons license)

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