This is the third post in a series written by a dear friend. She has a huge heart for unknown and forgotten children. Over the next weeks, she will be sharing their stories.
It’s the holidays and it’s a tough time to be homeless but it’s particularly hard for kids on the street. Every day is hard when you are homeless but when you are a kid and you see the world celebrating the holidays its kind of like the world is throwing a great big party but you aren’t invited. Not only are you not invited, but while the world is having caviar and drinking champagne you are digging through trashcans and hoping the Mission in town is serving a hot meal. It might look fun in a movie to be “home alone” at Christmas, but when you have no home, and no parents who are frantically looking for you, being alone at the holidays isn’t fun at all.
This year at Thanksgiving our house was full with kids who had no where else to go. Some of them were our friends who have been sharing the holidays with us for years and our home is there “somewhere to go”. But this year these “regulars” brought friends with them who had no where else to go. Kids who just wanted to sit with a family (even if they were strangers) and have turkey and dressing like everyone else in America.
As I looked around our home I thought of all the stories represented there. If I could tell you each of their stories you would be amazed at the resilience in that room, at the sheer determination to stay alive, but your heart would also break with the pain and heartache that comes with life on the streets. But I can’t tell you all their stories for reasons of privacy, security and protection of their identities. Know that these kids have experienced more hurt and abuse, more rejection and exploitation than you can even begin to imagine. Know that you and I wouldn’t last a day in their shoes.
I walked into a conversation in my family room where kids were discussing how many foster placements they had each experienced. One twenty year old said she had been through 25…another young man said he’d had 29. A new young friend piped up that she had been through a LOT more placements than either of them. I looked at her with horror and asked how it was possible to have been through over 29 placements? I was shocked and horrified when in the next breath she told me she was only 14! More than 29 placements in the past two years alone….and she had been in foster care since she was five! I felt sick.
I knew with a homeless 14 year old in my home I had some moral and legal obligations to care for her and not allow her to go back to her life on the streets. I can’t share the details of the next week that we spent getting her to a safe place, but I can tell you that it was extremely frustrating and a disheartening look at the reality of our foster care system. How can it be so hard to find a safe place for a 14 year old child in this country?
I think we live with the false assumption that if a kid is hurt or lost or alone that “someone” is there to help them. Perhaps it is someone from government or law enforcement or social services. But the truth is that if that kid is hurt, lost and alone and doesn’t have parents to advocate for them, then they can simply fall through the huge gaping cracks of our system and get lost in the world of the streets where they are abused, exploited and very alone.
This 14 year old is in a safe place right now getting the care she so desperately needs after the horrors she faced on the streets. I’m sure she will be joining us for the holidays this year and probably each year after that. Unfortunately there are many other children just like her who haven’t found a safe place to land for the holidays….or for any other day. Their lives are filled with the struggle to find food, a place to sleep and a way to stay safe. Unfortunately many of them will instead “be found” by people who will exploit them and abuse them and cause them more pain. They will face rape, beatings, hunger and pain. They will be passed around men like a brown bagged bottle of booze. Frequently the only escape from the hell their life has become will be the drugs that are given to them by the people who control them.
This year when you see that crusty looking street kid standing on the side of the road, know that the most important thing about them is that they are just a kid. Underneath the dirt, the make up, the glaring eyes and ugly words, there is a kid who just wants to know a safe place. To have a home for Christmas….and every other day. A kid who has probably been bounced around the “system” through dozens of homes and never wanted in even one. Now imagine that hurting child is YOUR child standing on the side of the road. Because the truth is these are all OUR CHILDREN and they need us to step into the gaps of a broken system and give them a home.