Teens, Lost on the Street Part 1
extensive interviews with 50 homeless
adolescents in Santa Clara and San Mateo
counties last year, only 48 percent said
they used shelters or drop-in centers.
The remaining 52 percent were a hidden
population, so afraid they would be sent
home or placed in foster care that they
shunned all contact with service
providers and what they viewed as the
authoritarian adult world.
"I would rather be homeless," one street
teen said. "It is cold and miserable on
the streets, but it is better than being
beaten up by parents who don't care."
These street teens lived in "families" of
as many as 20 adolescents, huddling under
bridges, in woods, on beaches or in
abandoned buildings. Most were forced to
support themselves by panhandling, theft,
drug sales or prostitution.
The homeless teenager study was part of a
broader Stanford Studies of Homeless
Families, Children and Youth, headed by
Stanford sociologist Sanford Dornbusch.
The interviews were conducted by Todd
Rubin, a Stanford junior who took a year
off from his regular academic work to
complete the project.
Homeless teens who used shelters and
those who didn't shared similar levels of
psychological distress and troubled
family backgrounds, the researchers
Fully 92 percent of those surveyed came
from broken homes. Half reported family
alcoholism and 40 percent reported drug
abuse. In addition, 56 percent of the
teens reported physical abuse and 38
percent reported sexual abuse in their
"There are throwaway, as well as runaway,
teens among the homeless youths," the
researchers said. "The parents of
throwaway teens, those who were forced
out, felt that the teens caused too many
problems. The teens also mentioned
frequent conflict with parents, lack of
money or room, and teenage pregnancy and
homosexuality. Most teenage homeless were
not wanted nor well cared for."
Still, it was the differences between
street teens and sheltered teens that
researchers found most striking.
Of street teens surveyed, 69 percent said
they had experienced the death or suicide
of friends, compared with 17 percent of
sheltered teens; and 62 percent of the
street teens said they had attempted
suicide themselves, compared with 39
percent of sheltered youths, the study
(more info available on
Stanford University News Service)
Age 24, former homeless gay teen; current
volunteer outreach worker to homeless
teens in Los Angeles.