Runaway Homeless Teens and How They Survive

This is a list of how my son existed and was able to exist for five nights without a phone or money as a teen runaway.  While he was gone we were constantly speculating how he was able to exist, where he may be living and what he might be doing. He was actually more prepared for the adventure than I thought. I am making this list for your information if you should ever be in the same situation. We have not talked to him extensively about his experience, since he has returned to residential treatment, but these are a few things that I learned.

  1. He did not leave the house with a sleeping bag, but some how he did acquire one. He was sleeping outside, in youth homeless camps.
  2. He did not have any money and was panhandling for money. Some people gave him as much as $40.00. He was also seen in front of Safeway where he claimed to get free food.
  3. In his backpack were newspaper clippings from the free newspapers advertising different locations, things to do, head shops in the area. Anything that was free clinics, shelters and food. There was one pamphlet on how to be homeless and another piece of paper with a listing of the homeless shelters circled by someone.
  4. When he arrived into a town he would go to the free kitchen, local park and talk to the homeless people to find out where he could stay. Interestingly enough from my conversations with some of these people, the adult homeless do not want anything to do with underage kids. They would give him information on where the “homeless teen camps” were located or how to hook up with them.
  5. While looking for him most of the teens that we talked to did not want to have anything to do with us, but if we got into a conversation with them, then they became forthright. They also would give us there opinion on how we should be parenting our kid.
  6. My son claimed he did not hitchhike (yeah!!). He took the bus from location to location. The bus for teens / students I think is roughly one dollar.
  7. He went to the library and check his MySpace. We and his brothers had written him messages, he did receive them but he did not respond.
  8. As each day went by the weather got better and I think it got easier for him to live on the street.

A teen runaway is not a crime in California, therefore the police or law enforcement are not actively looking for your kid. There are over 28,000 teen runaways in California alone. Our son was found by a friend and picked up by the police in the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. The Haight is a mecca for homeless teen runaways and somehow they all know it. Many gravitate towards it, I think they know they can survive there. He told us he met kids from all over the country. They can only hide for so long, they have to come out. I always felt like he was hiding from us or watching us and it seemed like we were always one day behind him.

Links to more information:

The Runaways
Time Magazine 9/1967, old article but still very relevant.

Huckleberry Youth Programs
Huckleberry House has the distinction of being the oldest program for runaway and homeless youth in the country.

NRS, National Runaway Switchboard, Runaway Statistics by state
56% of crisis callers have been on the street for one week or less

55 thoughts on “Runaway Homeless Teens and How They Survive”

  1. My beautiful grand daughter is 17 will be 18 in november. She hadan argument with hdr mom june 24 and walked out the door. No shoes just her pj shorts and a shirt. It has been four days now. I am so worried. If she only knew how everyone is worried and how much we all love her and care. My heart is breaking. I cant eat,sldep orbarely function. I pray several times per day. I went through this with my own daughter 25 yrs ago.but it is worse now.i dont know what else to do.

  2. I was a runaway as well i live here in Indiana and stole a car with my boyfriend and went to California. i was missing for 6 months. i also panhandled but never got caught. i loved my life as a runaway. i didn’t stay in shelters or any thing that was for free. i stayed in motels almost evey night and when we wernt in motels we had a tent and evey thing we need to be day me and my boyfriend were fighting and thats wen we got caught. well thats a little peice of my story there is alot more that that tho. iam not saying runing away is the best thing to do but it sure wakes u up in life when your on yur own

  3. I feel like many of the parents and the children who have commented on this are divided and unable to see the other’s point of view. I would like to change that.
    I am a 17-year-old girl, and I have often considered running away, due to the nature of the unhappy home life I have lived. I decided not to in the end. There is too much at stake for children to consider that. Sure, your home life may be unhappy. My parents were so strict and demanding (although not, in my opinion, abusive) that they were reported to child services by my school, leading to a police investigation. This angered my father, a former alcoholic who was also in trouble for recently having gotten a DUI, and so he kicked me out of the house, temporarily. As well as a poor home life, I also have a poor life at school, socially and academically. I used to be a straight A honors student, and now I have only a 3.0 GPA, which is considered unacceptable in my household. For this, along with many other reasons, there have been times when I began to take the steps to run away.

    Many of the parents on this blog seem to think that a child should, under no circumstances, run away, because they are unfit to take care of themselves and it’s unfair to the parent. I’d say that in most cases this would be true, but it is narrow-minded to assume that there is no valid reason for a child to run away. Just because you think that you’re a rock for your child, unwaveringly there for their protection, and that your parents were your rock, doesn’t mean that this is true for every child. Children in the foster care system, victims of abuse, and children whose parents are neglectful, substance abusers or criminal often do have a good reason to run away. So consider that before you condemn every run-away.

    Teens/Children/Potential run-aways: Come on, seriously? Having your parents transfer you to a different school or give you a curfew or take away your video games is nothing to runaway over. Even if you argue with your parents every night, you shouldn’t run away. It’s only when these interactions become abusive (i.e. violent or sexually abusive) that a child should even consider running away. I went through rough patches with my parents (my dad suffers from anger management problems and my mom is very strict academically) but I never ran away. This is because I recognize, and you should recognize, that there is no real future waiting for you out there. To live a successful life you need to complete your education, preferably through college. If you run away because your parents are bad people or you never get along with them, then you’re letting your parents and your bad home life take away the most important thing: your future.

    A note to all on this board. If you have a strained family life, work on decreasing tension in the little ways if it’s to hard to tackle the big things first. Parents, if you have a moody child who constantly defies or annoys you, try to reach out to them. You never know what they are going through. I went through depression which caused me to act out. Teens, if your parents hate it when you do something little like get home past your curfew or wear a certain type of clothing, try, for two weeks, not to repeat the annoying behavior. You’d be surprised at how much the little things can add up to ruin a home life.

    Lastly, if you are a child or parent living in a situation that you can’t stand any longer, and you find yourself subject to abuse by a family member, don’t hesitate to get help through family counseling or child protective services. Do not take an abusive situation lightly.

    Best of luck to all,


  4. I know how you felt looking for your child. I was a runaway myself and so was my daughter. It is a very hard place to be and when your on the run, you are constantly looking over your shoulder for the people who you know are looking for you. I wrote a poem about being a runaway soon after I “graduated” from the foster care system. It is titled “Streetchild” and it is going in the book I’m currently trying to get published. The book’s title is also Streetchild.
    Listen for the silent cry
    see an invisible tear fall from the eye
    the face betrays no thought of pain
    as it beats down on them in the rain
    the eyes, so dark and cold
    the actions, so bold
    on their own
    away from home
    watch as they fly away
    running through another day
    find your home.

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