“I can’t wait to go home, shower, and get into bed.” That’s what I told my colleague at 2:30 am when we couldn’t fall asleep. As I tried to warm up, it hit me: the youth we spoke with just a few hours before, at some point in their lives, wondered where they would take their next showers or if they would have clean bed to sleeps in.
Homeless youth do not choose to put themselves in situations that lead to homelessness. Yet this year, 4.2 million kids will be homeless in America. With this in mind and heart, five of my TAO Group colleagues and I decided to participate in the Covenant House Young Professional Sleep Out last week in New York City.
During the breakout sessions, where we had the opportunity to learn from Covenant House Youth, it was clear that they are not “bad” youth. Rather they struggle with a variety of issues including family problems, human trafficking, neglect, abuse, and fear. They are left with no choice but to leave their homes.
One story which resonated with me from a previous trip to the Covenant House was about a young girl who was kicked out of her own home on her 18th birthday, as her mother was pregnant again. Her biological father was in prison, and the man that was living with her mother was abusive.
Take 5 seconds and imagine that you were dealt that hand. What would you do?
With no place to turn, these youth are forced to find food and shelter, care for themselves, and plan their lives and careers. And they are forced to do all of this without the resources I, and so many of my friends and colleagues, have been afforded.
I didn’t make the baseball team in High School, but my parents told me I was still good enough. I wanted to go to college–and I worked with a college adviser to prepare my application. I want to take a shower or brush my teeth–and I go home and do so. I was always reassured that everything would be okay – by my parents, by my friends, by my teachers, by my mentors, by my colleagues. And it always was.
Homeless youth need simple reassurance that their hardships are not deserved, but rather unfairly placed upon them. At the ages of 18, 19, 20, and 21, youth are forced to find the resources they need to survive by themselves including food, shelter, hygiene, medical, and education. All of that on top of their homelessness causes a feeling of abandonment.
As we laid on the cold concrete with garbage trucks and fire engines passing, all we could reflect on was how fortunate we are. Not only are we fortunate to have had the necessary positive support systems growing, but fortunate enough to also have the opportunity to sleep outside together in solidarity of the fight against youth homelessness.
And we are fortunate enough to have the network – all of you – who are generous enough to support our mission. (Donations to support Covenant House you can be made at Taogroup.com/CharityCharles through May 4, with all proceeds going directly to the cause.)