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Teens, Lost on the Street Part 1


Gabriel Tovar


Topic: Teens, Lost on the Street Part 1

In 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 found.

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 families.

"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 reported.
(more info available on 07/10/02)

Guest: Gabriel Tovar

Age 24, former homeless gay teen; current volunteer outreach worker to homeless teens in Los Angeles.


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