Okay, this one isn’t cool, but it’s cool that you take the time to read it…

Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways

New York Times, October 25, 2009

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Clinton Anchors, 18, in Medford, Ore., has been on his own, living in the streets and camping in the woods since he was 12.

By IAN URBINA

Running in the Shadows

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.”

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.

Read the entire article here.

The following is a GUEST BLOG from Nancy H. Williard, who lives in California and spent many years working with homeless teens:

“Over the last forty years I been working with kids society has thrown away. Most of that time I have worked within various public education systems. The kids have been called troubled, juvenile delinquents, foster kids, minorities, under privileged, at risk, juvenile offenders, or just Bad Kids. Some survive and become “our” neighbors and we don’t notice them anymore as they check our groceries or wash our cars. Some we don’t notice because they are never in the places “we” frequent because they can’t afford them. They live in the abandoned house or on couches at someone else’s pity or avarice. My last stop on the public education train was abruptly ended when a new administrator decided that “we” couldn’t afford these kids. The program that had art and counseling and drama and mentoring was cut. This certainly improved the administrator’s publicity – he had fewer Bad Kids. It certainly didn’t help the kids or their families or law enforcement or the court system. But none of them were elected. He was. So I have retired. But I know after 40 years that the kids are still there. Recently I read Push by Sapphire, on which the movie “Precious” is based. I didn’t need to read it. It is a story that hasn’t changed since I began working with “those kids.” I also agree with Ruby Payne, a controversial expert on poverty who says that the two things that help one move out of poverty are education and relationships. I would add that without the relationship, education is impossible. How can I teach you if you don’t trust me? How can you trust me if I can’t see you? So I encourage artists to paint pictures of invisible lives, people of faith to serve those who don’t know it’s Sunday, and politicians to speak to the invisible nonvoter. Let’s make them visible. Oh, and writers…who can give them heroes.”
Nancy also writes: “Please add the Ruby Payne reference. http://www.ahaprocess.com/ She’s ruffled a lot of feathers by defining the ‘rules’ for the classes. By the way, hero making was the one of the first job of the storyteller of antiquity.”
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The MOVIE trailer for PRECIOUS:
YouTube Preview Image

Link to the novel PUSH here.

A Note from Lise Haines:

When I was 13 or 14, and lived in Chicago, I spent some time hanging on the streets, in an area called Old Town. It’s a pocket of the city on the north side, not far from the lake, and not far from the projects. Many of the old shops that lined the main street were turned into pubs and hamburger joints. Most of the apartments in the area were brick with back porches, small gardens, a few wood frame houses. It was slowly being gentrified by artists and writers and it drew a lot of hippies—there to find camaraderie and hear the blues, and you might say it was something like the Haight in San Francisco. I lived at home every night, but tried to avoid being there as much as possible. I was not homeless. I knew the difference between having a home and not, or thought I did. The main street where my friends and I hung was Wells Street. Tourists buses used to come through and the passengers would get out and stand on one side of Wells and take photos of us on the other. They were afraid to get any closer. They never crossed the street. We were freaks. One day my friend Mande and I were passing the hours in a record shop and went out into the main street to scrounge something to eat, or go down to where Howling Wolf was playing. We met a girl around our age, who told us she had run away from home, and needed our help. Two detectives, two suits, were suddenly in the picture. They said she had to come with them. The suits started walking, and she kind of dropped back. She was a hair’s breadth behind them. Without planning or conversation, Mande and I slowly took her place behind these distracted guys and she moved further back. I whispered to the girl to run. She did. She ran and I never saw her again. I thought we were clever. I thought we had saved her. I practically thought we should get a reward. When the suits turned around, one of them said to me: She’ll show up again. They always do. We’ll get her next time. It wasn’t until later, when I got a little older, that the whole thing hit me. That yes, maybe she’d show up again and these guys would pick her up and maybe something would go okay for her because one decent adult in her life would step forward. But more likely if those guys did find her, they’d send her back to that place where she was terrified to be: home. Or dump her in some institution or other. Or she’d stay out on the streets and then live through things that would simply take her out.

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A program for teen girls at risk:

WriteGirl is a nonprofit organization for high school girls centered on the craft of creative writing and empowerment through self-expression. Through one-on-one mentoring and monthly workshops, girls are given techniques, insights and hot tips for great writing in all genres from professional women writers.

WriteGirl.org

4 Comments

  1. These are haunting stories– Thanks to Nancy Williard and to Lise for bringing these faces and voices to light– I am doing some work via PEN New England with a project called MissionSAFE in the Boston area, trying to provide a safe place for ‘at risk teens’ to gather– we are going to be collecting stories and poems from the MissionSAFE kids to publish as a magazine; I’ve found in several years of doing this kind of thing that even the very toughest teens really want to ‘tell their story’; we take dictation on keyboards and that frees the kids up just to talk–
    So I agree with Nancy W. that it’s important for writers to write these stories & also for the kids themselves to realize they can tell their real stories– great Post here.

  2. Sharon Mattos says:

    Hi Lise:

    It seems like just yesterday you and I were in our child’s class for a writing session (in elementary school, I think…or maybe it was the first year at middle school. That is where I learned you were a writer and professor and you learned I had a desire to write a book someday. I have not quite gotten that far yet, but I still hold onto that goal. I have had some interesting writing projects though, all stepping stones. I see though that you have followed through on your writing goals and have done very well. Excellent job, Lise! I’m inspired!
    Sincerely, Sharon (Aaron’s mom)

    • Lise Haines says:

      Thanks, Sharon! I think for most writers, stepping stones sounds about right. Each day, another step.
      Wishing you all the best in reaching your goals! Best, Lise

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