‘I’m going to make a big private school, but it’s going to be for the troubled kids, the kids that don’t have it…. I’m gonna pick 5,000. It’s gonna be a four- year school…and all those people that graduate from the school will go to a four-year college. I’m going to invest in the children.”
If my mom would have laid off drugs, she would have never left for Mexico and pissed my dad off and he would have never taken off to Minnesota and left me at the neighbor’s house…. If my dad would have cared just a little bit more to take care of his son, put a little bit of time into him, maybe I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. But I learned the street when I was real young. I know how to push drugs and do that financial situation but that’s not what I’m looking to do. “I’m trying to do things right.”
–Male, 19, Los Angeles
#1: Education to get #2: a Job
Over three-quarters of homeless youth were not attending school. In general, their reasons for leaving school were associated with homelessness, and the great majority of youth said they would want to go back to school if they could.
Over 90 percent of the youth identified a specific career goal. These included careers in the medical field (as doctors, nurses, or medical assistants), music industry, or being an entrepreneur. Others wanted to work in the fashion industry, computer field, law enforcement or corrections, social work, and teaching. Many cited a strong desire to “give back” or help others in similar circumstances.
Among youth respondents, 40 percent believed that in five years they would be employed, 35 percent believed they would be in homes or apartments of their own, 16 percent saw themselves attending or having graduated from college, nine percent believed they would have their own families, and five percent believed they would be wealthy. Many believed they would have achieved some or all of these goals at the same time – though “hopefully” was often added.
Despite the high value that young people place on employment as a bridge to self- sufficiency, only a small percent received job training and help in finding work.
Programs that encourage young people to work towards stability rather than simply allowing them to “hang out” at drop- in centres are needed: “Where is the motivation if somebody’s whole life revolves around traveling to punk shows or hopping on trains to do graffiti or some huge drug deal in Reno so they can brag about it back at the park?” asked Christopher, from San Jose, at the youth/ provider convening. “I’ve seen success stories, where people go on to college…(but) then you see these people in their early 30s that were part of the scene in the early ‘90s and they never just connected with something to overcome this and get in school and hit the books…. We just have to get people connected with the reason why you can’t just hang out and watch TV and try to smack on the girl next to you, because this is what they do at our (drop-in) centers.”
Young homeless people emphasize the importance of programs that offer emotional and spiritual support as well as meeting basic survival needs, so that they could move beyond feeling that they were “just surviving.”
What he would have valued most as a teenager and young adult on his own, one formerly homeless young man said what is needed is a program that combined art with peer mentorship: That stuff is so important, because it makes you feel like you have an outlet, and that you can do something to express what’s going on in your life. That’s the biggest thing, I think – for kids to feel connected to their change, and know that they can do something positive. Because it’s so hard. Once you’ve been on the street for so long, how do you crawl out of that? It’s like you start cutting off every positive thing that you have in your life. You don’t have family…. You know people in passing, but to really have a foundation of someone that’s going to help you – I think that young adults who have been through it can best help kids, and help pull (them) up around art, and all the things that they’re interested in and they want to do. That’s so important at that age.
HOLDING A JOB
The challenges of holding down work and being a reliable employee without access to stable housing is near impossible. As one young woman in Los Angeles explained: If you’re on the streets and you get a job, you know what? They don’t care about you being homeless. They don’t care about your situation. If you’re late, then you’re fired. If you are on the streets and you’re getting a paycheck, guess what your paycheck goes to? Going inside for the evening because it’s raining outside.
Shelter regulations, focus group participants also observed, sometimes make it hard to find and maintain employment. Many shelters ban cell phone use, so that keeping in contact with current or potential employers becomes difficult. Shelter curfews often interfere with work schedules, as homeless youth, who often have weak or non-existent resumes, might be offered only swing or graveyard shifts. One 20-year-old described sleeping in a shelter two nights each week—his days off from his fast food job, where he worked a 6 p.m.-2 a.m. shift. The other five nights, because he could not access the shelter in the middle of the night, “I’d roll out my sleeping bag and pass out at the light rail station.”
Maybe just somewhere safe, comfortable to sleep and to eat. Not having to worry about getting jumped or stabbed or anything.
–Male, 19, Santa Cruz
If my mom would have laid off drugs, she would have never left for Mexico and pissed my dad off and he would have never taken off to Minnesota and left me at the neighbor’s house…. If my dad would have cared just a little bit more to take care of his son, put a little bit of time into him, maybe I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. But I learned the street when I was real young. I know how to push drugs and do that financial situation but that’s not what I’m looking to do. I’m trying to do things right.
–Male, 19, Los Angeles