The Kid with the Backpack and the Books

There were the skinheads and the punks, boys and girls sporting brightly colored Mohawks, nose rings, tattoos, and clothing held together by safety pins, with giant crosses dangling from their earlobes and from around their necks. Then, of course, the prevalent surf culture, one and the same with the skateboarding culture, made up the foundation of Santa Cruz youth. The heavy metal crowd mostly inhabited the logging towns of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, and Felton. Heavy smokers and dedicated tobacco chewers, the boys sported long hair, short and spiky on top, and wore t-shirts that advertised their favorite bands, while many of the girls with their heavy makeup, big hair, skin-tight clothes, and black pumps looked more like they were setting off for work in a strip club than going to school. There were the preppies, including many of the Scotts Valley kids, and the mods with their dark clothes and brooding looks. And there was me, usually sitting off to the side, reading a book or writing a story. I carried a backpack with me everywhere, even when I wasn’t in school, packed with notebooks full of my creative writings and novels. I rarely did homework, but I read and wrote every day.

Synanon Kid Grows Up by C.A. Wittman

Too Tough To Cry

Zert dropped the I-ring on the couch. Cribbie, Mr. Fearless, the toughest guy in their whole class and his best friend, was dead. He felt the tears well up inside of him. He wouldn’t cry. Thirteen-year-olds didn’t cry. He was too tough to cry.

Surviving Minimized by Andrea White

Bullying Is A Community Effort


To complicate matters, I realized that the girls’ parents were just as gossipy and juvenile as their daughters. At my daughter’s soccer game one afternoon, I heard several mothers talking about some of the players. They remarked on how fat some of the girls on the team were and how they should be at fat camp, not on the varsity soccer team. As they went on, I got angrier and angrier. They were chatting away about someone’s child. I left at halftime because I was disgusted with their behavior. Even if I wasn’t teaching my daughter this type of behavior, it was everywhere. Her peers were bullies, their parents were bullies, and it only made sense that Emily would learn to act that way too, in order to fit in. It seemed we were living in an environment where we couldn’t escape it.

Bullies ruined my childhood. Then I realized my daughter is one.,, by Kate Young on March 3, 2016

Homeless Youth Shelters

Homeless Youth

There are youth shelters throughout the United States but there are far fewer of them than adult shelters and sometimes they don’t advertise their location for safety reasons. Often youth shelters are not included in resources listing. For example: I did a quick search for all shelters in Duluth, MN through Homeless Shelters | Find Homeless Shelters | Homeless Shelter Search and the local youth shelter was not listed, despite having a website and generally being as visible as a youth shelter can be. This means that children and youth find out about shelters through other homeless children and youth, or through the staff at the adult shelters.

Adult shelters will not take children without an accompanying adult and sometimes they will turn away families because they have children – other times they will turn away adults without children, it all depends on the shelter. So homeless kids without a guardian frequently sleep and survive on the street.

A few years back, I interviewed a few people at the Life House youth shelter in Duluth MN and they made some very interesting points about the unique challenges in securing funding for a youth shelter. They admitted that many children in Duluth were forced to sleep outside because the shelter simply did not have enough beds. But they also said the funding wasn’t JUST for beds. Homeless children need an adult support network, schooling, counseling, positive discipline tactics, stability and a litany of other things that can’t be found in an adult shelter or on the street. While the Life House provides all of these things, they have to PAY the adults to do them.

That particular town had an extensive network of services for children, including a very active foster care program and a crisis shelter (usually used by parents who need childcare while addressing an emergency) through Lutheran Social Services ( as well as several abuse-oriented shelters and programs. Yet, the local homeless service providers estimated that at least 25–30 kids were sleeping on the streets every night. Duluth MN is not a big city. It’s a small-to-medium sized market, at best.

Minneapolis is a city (not a BIG city like New York, but a city) and it has a significantly larger population of homeless youth. There are shelters: Youth Shelter Information But there’s never enough resources to meet the overwhelming need.

Here is where I see the BIGGEST problem in all of this: I have heard it said that a child generally lasts about 20 minutes before someone on the street snatches them. Pimps, child abusers and human traffickers of all kinds recognize a runaway or otherwise desperate child and lures them away with promises of food and shelter. 20 minutes!

I personally experienced being lured. I was 16 years old, traveling alone, reading a book in a Milwaukee bus station. Two pimps sat themselves down on either side of me and proceeded to play good-cop-bad-cop, trying to entice or force me out of my chair and into the street – with them. The fact that I knew a) exactly what was happening and b) how to get rid of them tells you something about the people in my life at that time. While I was street smart enough to recognize and avoid that situation, I also had someplace to go. I was hungry and completely out of money, but I had a bus ticket and a destination. I could skip a meal or two.

How long did it take them to find me? I don’t know when they identified me as a target because I’d been in the city a few hours, but when they approached me I’d been sitting at the bus station for about 20 minutes.

Place a child/youth who is naive or desperate in that situation and these guys can get away with pretty much anything. Having enough shelters with enough beds for every child in need of help is a life and death matter for homeless children.

Sadly, that’s not our current reality.

Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Where can homeless youth (under 18) find shelter in the USA?

Also see:

South Florida Punk Redneck James Dean


I emerged into the sticky-hot evening to find Ricky smoking on the hood of his battered car. Something about his mud-encrusted boots and the way he let smoke curl from his lips and how the sinking sun lit his green hair reminded me of a punk, redneck James Dean. He was all of those things, a bizarre cross-pollination of subcultures possible only in South Florida.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

The Movie opens September 30th!

The Occupation


It is not uncommon for a young black teenager living in a ghetto community to be stopped, interrogated, and frisked numerous times in the course of a month, or even a single week, often by paramilitary units.

The militarized nature of law enforcement in ghetto communities has inspired rap artists and black youth to refer to the police presence in black communities as “The Occupation.” In these occupied territories, many black youth automatically “assume the position” when a patrol car pulls up, knowing full well that they will be detained and frisked no matter what.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander


Unethical Portrayal of Homeless Youths

I picked up this edition of the City Pages with high hopes for the cover article. Sadly, the reporter touched on the realities of homelessness in a disturbingly common manner. The first half of the article presented intimate details about the difficult situations, including abuse, rape and living ‘arrangements’ wherein teenagers trade sex for a place to live (a common method abuse perpetrated on this particularly vulnerable community) in a semi-sensational manner.

About midway through, while describing a collection of teenagers who managed (against all odds) to band together, get a roof over their heads and begin forming something akin to a family (read: formerly homeless and basically unsupervised teenagers sharing a house in the wealthy western suburbs), the following comment is made:

“They’re a hodgepodge of exotic sexualities and obsessive fandoms. With the exception of Crystal’s “super gay” girlfriend, the others are open to dating any number of people regardless of sex or gender.”

This is followed with details that enforce the idea that broken kids, with kinky habits, have set up shop in town. Honestly, I found myself wondering why the article wasn’t titled something like: Slumming It Just Got Local, New Options In the Suburbs!

After finishing the article, I felt really bad for the teens portrayed, because the fallout from this journalist’s work will be life-long and extremely damaging.

I also felt angry…enraged, really…at the insensitive and irresponsible nature of the piece. The details highlighted directly benefit pimps, johns and predators. Even worse – they were not necessary, or even pertinent, to the story.

There is an enormous amount of information related to homelessness among the super-wealthy that is never touched upon. There are issues never explored. There are realities that effectively disappear because the media-defined ‘important’ facts only exist at the  intersection of sex, youth and desperation.

Bottom line? Homeless teens need real help and reasonably accessible resources. Journalists like Ms. Du need some eye-opening experiences or sensitivity training – probably both.

The Real Homeless of Wayzata High, City Pages, by Susan Du

Bullying is Unnatural


Though bullying is a problem that cuts across lines of class, race, and geography, the reality is that most kids aren’t directly involved—either as perpetrators or as targets. And when kids understand that concerted cruelty is the exception and not the rule, they respond: bullying drops, and students become more active about reporting it.

-Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon

Textbook Death


“She’s rushing away from her school toward the bus stop on the corner. I can tell she wants to run, but I understand why she won’t. Running would draw unwanted attention. The hunted quickly learn that it’s better to blend in whenever possible…She has her face buried in a geometry textbook. It’s a useless shield. I’ve studied the same book, and I’m pretty sure it has killed far more people than it’s saved.

-Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance edited by Rhoda Belleza

From the introduction:

But bullying starts with adults. It starts with controlling parents who will do almost anything to maintain that control, and teachers who don’t tolerate kids finding their ways through natural developmental stages…Back before language we absorb through all our senses. If we grow up experiencing domestic violence, even if it isn’t aimed at us, we learn the ways of violence…It’s too easy to look for bullying kids and try to stop them from being bullies. That usually results in making them more devious. Let’s call it meanness. Let’s call it indecency. And let’s understand that it never starts with the kid.

On The Day You Die

As someone who was a teenager during the late 1980s, and fully remembers the hysteria surrounding AIDs, this book brought back many memories – not all of them good. It’s an excellent and authentic tale. However, it portrays teenagers doing things that most parents would prefer their children refrain from considering, much less actually doing. I highly recommend this novel to fellow cold-war era survivors, but I’m not certain I would feel comfortable handing it over to a teenager.

On the other hand, when I was a late-80s teen, teachers and other adults handed me novels like The Scarlet Letter, The Lord of the Flies, Watership Down and a handful of Russian novels that I strongly suspect I understood better than my instructors – particularly when it came to the methods of survival utilized by primary characters. Perhaps I am overly cautious.


“I figured that on the day you died, the tunnel would be so narrow, you’d have squeezed yourself in with so many choices, that you just got squashed...I thought about Finn. How he did whatever he wanted. Just like my mother said. He never let the tunnel squash him. But still, there he was. In the end he was still crushed to death by his own choices. Maybe what Toby said was right. Maybe you had to be dying to finally get to do what you wanted.

I used to think maybe I wanted to become a falconer, and now I’m sure of it, because I need to figure out the secret. I need to work out how to keep things flying back to me instead of always flying away.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt