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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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.
56% of crisis callers have been on the street for one week or less