Homeless Youth Testimony

ED 3140-95 Guest BSU Jul 30, 2010 12:56 AM

Hello!  My name is Jeff, and though I may not quite live up to the definition of expert, I do feel comfortable filling the role of  advocate voice for American homeless youth.

My personal experience as a street kid is too narrow to be representative of anything other than my own story- but the timing of my arrival on the streets was fortuitous.  Although I ran away from home earlier, I was not truly on my own until 1989.  By 1990, I was familiar with at least 50 other runaway kids in downtown and uptown Minneapolis.  We banded together- forming the family that we were denied by our parents or lack of parents.  In the process of getting to know my new brothers and sisters, I was told many stories about them and where they came from.  I began to notice a pattern of common themes:

1. Abuse-  This is the most common reason that kids leave home.  It is generally severe (rape, molestation, beatings or utter neglect), else they would not place themselves outdoors in a climate that means death without shelter.  In other words, they found their homes to be more dangerous than the street.

2. Extreme Personalities-  It takes guts to leave an abusive home and attempt to strike out on your own, especially for a child.  But exceptional bravery is not the only character trait that I found in extreme measure amongst these folks.  Very high intelligence was common, as well as musical and various other artistic talents.  These were kids that had potential to excel academically if they had the opportunity.

More tomorrow. Tired

Barbara Bridges Jul 30, 2010 6:12 AM

Thank you SO much for sharing your story.  I am the teacher for this class.
Question: How many K-12 kids are out there?
Where do you find food and shelter in the winter?
By extreme personalities… do you mean suffering from mood disorders? Sexual orientions out of the mainstream?
From your point of view… what percentage might be self medicating with street drugs?
What percentage are using chemicals recreationally?
Finally, what could a teacher have done to help?


ED 3140-95 Guest BSU Jul 30, 2010 9:42 AM  This is Jeff again.
Before I respond to your questions, I’d like to refer you and your students to a program that every MN teacher should be made aware of.  It is called Project Offstreets, now Youth Link.  It was and is a drop in center that provides a hot meal, a safe, warm place to be during the day- to congregate with other street kids, counseling, showers, and now it looks like they are providing some housing(not an option when i was a kid).

If you use facebook this page will give some insight into what it was like from the perspectives of the actual children (adults now), and how Project Offstreets helped us:  http://www.facebook.com/UptownReunion?ref=search#!/UptownReunion

Now, to answer your question about how many K-12 kids are out there, I checked with Youth Link.  They say that in 2008 1,196 kids used the Offstreets drop-in center.  This is by no means a complete count of all of the kids out there.  But it gives you a good approximation. I’d say double that number and you have a ballpark figure of kids on the streets in the Mpls/ St. Paul area.

Food is not as rare as you may think.  As well as being very wasteful, Americans tend to be fairly generous when it comes to getting hungry kids fed.  Some of us ate out of restaurant dumpsters, some stole, some panhandled, some prostituted, some sold drugs.  We could count on one hot meal per day, provided by Offstreets.  Shelter was always available, but not the type that you are used to.  We used what we called “squats”, which were abondoned buildings- houses, warehouses, crawlspaces. anywhere we could get into where we could sleep, sharing eachother’s blankets and body warmth(most squats had no heat, electricity or running water)
we were constantly on the lookout for new ones, because cops were constantly busting us and forcing us out of them.  Again offstreets was a benefit, as we could get together and share intel on possible sites.

By extreme personalities, i do not mean suffering from mood disorders.  But there was of course no shortage of that.  I have been diagnosed with PTSD and hypervigilence.  No, what I meant was that they were extreme in the aspects of intelligence, charm, resoursefulness, creativity- basically the opposite of what you might expect a street kid to be.

I would guess that 95 percent of the people i was on the streets with used drugs.  I don’t see much distinction between self medication and recreational use

Teachers should be aware of Project Offstreets and the Bridge, should be educated on the warning signs of abused children, because once we hit the streets, there was no more school and you’ve lost us.  Can you imagine waking up tired, cold and hungry and choose to go to school rather than try to scrounge some food?

Jeff here again.

I’ll give you my own experience as an example, Terry.

When life at home turned sour, it telegraphed into my life at school.  What I mean to say is that when my dad started to get violent with me(about 12 yrs old), the feelings of confusion and guilt and shame did not go away when i went to school.  I became reclusive when possible and disruptive when pushed to interact.  School began to become a very uncomfortable place for me, and when i ran from home, i ran from school as well.  I was 13 when i first ran away, and I was quickly found by my father.  He brought me home and made an attempt to be fatherly and I returned to school.  But dad had his own issues and i assume that i was his release valve.  He started beating me again, and I was not willing to live that way, so I ran again at 14.  I stayed gone until i was picked up by cops downtown for curfew violation and charged with truancy and absenteeism from home(yes it’s a crime to run away).  I was sentenced to attend a school called IDT(Intensive Day Treatment) in St. Paul.  It was a pretty positive experience because i was in class sizes of 6 or fewer students.  Plus i was provided with a counselor.  But I was back with dad, and eventually the violence started again. I left for good when I was 15.  It was very hard at first, and the idea of going to school while trying to scrounge food and shelter didn’t compute.  It’s cold out in the snow when you’re low, lonely and broke.  But, I was a bright enough kid, and i did thirst for knowledge.  I acquired a library card and educated myself.  Eventually, I got a GED and talked admissions at the U of MN to allow me to enroll in their school.  I guess they don’t like non HS grads.  I think I was 20 or 21 when i did this.  I seem to remember some of the other kids trying to go to their high schools, but i don’t think it was fruitful for them


Brooke Chaffee Aug 3, 2010 1:49 PM

Wow, what an incredible story Jeff, thank you for your honesty in sharing it.  I think it really is sad that instead of recognizing the reasons for running away and getting you out of an abusive situation, the state basically threw you back into it.  There was an opportunity there to make things better for you and it went completely unnoticed.  I have a few questions…

1.  After you were picked up by the cops, were you ever given the opportunity to explain why you ran away, and if so, how did the authorities react to it?

2.  What do you think contributed most to your “thirst for knowledge” in such a difficult situation?  How did you overcome your situation?


Barbara Bridges Jul 30, 2010 10:20 PM

Jeff,  Many of my students may have the sterotype of raged , older indigents in their minds when they think homeless.

Could you give us a list of tells?

Guest  ED 3140-95 Guest BSU Jul 31, 2010 2:17 AM

OK.  The first thing that you should remember is that we are talking about kids.  Some have obvious mental health issues, but most are just healthy kids in unhealthy(to say the least) environments.  If you, as teachers, want to help these kids, it is imperative that you get to them before they run.

So, watch for excessively introverted kids, flinching, boisterous or even violent behavior, inappropriate sexual language or contact(many victims of sexual abuse become hyper sexual- even prepubescent children), homework assignments not getting done, of course bruises.

I intentionally got myself into trouble so that I would get punished with after school detention, just so i could avoid going home for another hour each day.  One of my teachers noticed, and she detained me every day that i was in her class, whether I acted out or not.  The other kids thought she was being mean, but she was showing compassion in an admittedly strange way.  But really, what else could she do?  And this is the problem that you face.  Even if you see some of these signs that i listed, how do you know its abuse?  It could just be a shy or mean or unmotivated kid.  I wasn’t going to rat my dad out to anyone, but that one teacher was empathetic enough to recognize that I could use an extra hour of peace each day.  It frustrates me and breaks my heart to know that there are children going through the same shit(and worse) as me, and I know that they feel utterly helpless.  Who do you turn to when you are an 11 year old girl and daddy is raping you each night, or your crackhead parents smoke up the family resources and abandon you?  Trust your teachers?  Counselors?  Friends?  How?  How can you trust anyone when the people that are responsible for every aspect of your well being betray you?

My apologies, I don’t mean to discourage you, but this is a serious, delicate issue, and I hope that some of you are a little more sensitive than most of my teachers were.  Many of those kids that were my family died before they hit thirty. Drug overdose, suicide, aids. There is hope though.  You are now aware of Project Offstreets.  Duluth has a similar program, as do most cities.  Its unlikely that an abused child will talk to you, but they will hear you if you talk to them, and if you have options for them- help that they can turn to confidentially, they may just turn to that help.


Michael Illies Jul 31, 2010 9:54 AM

Thank you for sharing your life experiences.  When you mentioned hoping we (as new teachers in MN) are more sensitive than most of your teachers were, I wondered, did your teachers refuse to acknowledge the problem?, or did they do something that made the problem worse?


Dawn Tracy Jul 31, 2010 10:53 AM

Would an after-school or extra-curricular program have been of help to you – to keep you away from home and oout of detention?  Or, would this just have made the situation worse and perhaps more noticeable?  By the way, thank you so much for sharing with us and giving the resources to help us with this very uncomfortable but very prevalent topic.

ED 3140-95 Guest BSU Aug 1, 2010 1:20 AM


It is likely that some sort of program would have been helpful, but i was pretty much a misfit.  So I didn’t seek to involve myself in activities that required interaction with other students.  You raise a good point though, Dawn.  I’m sure that any kid that has interest in music or sports or tech or whatever could benefit from an after school program that fosters their interest.  Sorry I let the last post get so sappy.  I guess I still have some pretty strong feelings about that stuff.


ED 3140-95 Guest BSU Aug 1, 2010 1:11 AM

No, Michael, I didn’t get the sense that my teachers were being intentionally obtuse.  I’ve read all of the other discussions on this subject, and it’s been an eye-opener.  Seams that teachers have a huge responsibility in dealing with many more issues than just educating kids. With 35-40 classmates, and my schools being in North Minneapolis, it is no wonder that most of my teachers didn’t seem to care much.  I’m sure they did, but there is only so much one person can do when there are so many students and so many problems.  You guys have a big job ahead of you.



Shelly Demers Aug 1, 2010 1:01 PM

My questions is based on the reality.  We, as teachers, are mandated reporters.  If a student comes to us in confidence and tells us about their horrendous family life, we are legally bound to report.  There is no guarantee that the students are going to get out of the situation, and things may get worse, or now they may run.  So, how do we keep their confidence and be sensitive while following the law?


Trista Lund Aug 3, 2010 1:06 PM

Besides looking and reporting signs of abuse, what are some other ways teachers could have kept you in school


ED 3140-95 Guest BSU Aug 3, 2010 5:43 PM

This is Jeff again.

I like this question, Trista.  I like it because there were a certain few teachers that seemed to take special interest in me and challenged me personally to apply what gifts I had to my academic progress.  I still remember their names and their tactics.  Some would appeal to my interest in certain topics and they would try to get me to see how those things tied into other subjects that i found dull- Get me to look at the big picture as far as my education went.  Then there is that one in fifty teacher that is excited and therefore exciting when it comes to teaching.  They would go out of their way to find stuff to bring up in class that would grab their students’ attention.  One teacher would begin each class with a new joke everyday.  It worked.  The more engaging my teachers were, the more inclined i was to give them my attention, and the more attention we gave our teachers, the more motivated they were to find new and interesting ways to be engaging.  Unfortunately though, most of my teachers worked their curriculum by the book- with dry, uninspired delivery- Ben Stein style.