Saving a Lost Generation

By | Sep 17, 2012

Teenagers at a ConcertI know that, sometimes, hearing Justin Bieber songs every hour on the car radio, in the grocery store, or on TV music stations can be obnoxious. But if you are a teenager in love with his squeaky clean voice, you’re hardwired to swoon at every high note. It is part of who you are.

You, American adolescent, are supposed to be tweeting “LOL” (Laughing Out Loud) to your friends, posting off-key YouTube music videos, and sneaking into movie theaters.

You are supposed to graduate from high school, and hopefully attend college. You are supposed to join athletic teams, participate in school clubs, and start cool rock bands in your friend’s garages. Some of you are even supposed to enlist in the Army after you turn 18.

At the very least, you are supposed to hang out at the mall, drink soda in the food court, and ogle crushes.

This is part of your right of passage. Your right to a carefree life before adulthood sets in, with the burdens of paying rent, working 40 hours per week, and raising a family.

So why do you, the boy standing on Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood, look like you’re ten years older than your 15 years? Why are you spending your time desperately trying to get someone to give you a few dollars to do anything? The fact that your crushes were the same gender as you doesn’t give your family the right to decide you don’t deserve to live at home.

Or you, the girl who just turned 18, who spent your adolescence living with a string of unrelated families. Why are you hanging out with a 30-year-old guy in a homeless encampment in the hills overlooking the city? The fact that your mother was more in love with a substance than with you doesn’t give the adult world the right to keep you from knowing real familial love.

You, our next generation of American adults, should have the right to a safe home, where you are surrounded by people who love you.

But instead, 1.7 million of you are escaping your family homes in search of a place where you are free to live the you are supposed to live. Sure, most of you eventually return home, perhaps because your search leads you to a dead end.

But thousands of you leave your family homes permanently. Thousands of you, who are still transitioning into adulthood, are experiencing an animal-like life on the streets. Even at age 15, or younger.

You, the youth of the LGBTQ community, the alumni of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. You are the most likely to be part of America’s lost generation.

Those of us in the homeless housing and care world are scrambling to address your growing numbers. Our adult-like solutions to homelessness don’t always fit your needs. We can’t just hand you a key to an apartment and expect you to excel. We wouldn’t do that with your housed peers, and we won’t do it with you.

The federal government (through its Interagency Council on Homelessness) is also changing the way they approach homelessness among unaccompanied youth. Just this month, their long-term plans were altered to obtain more information and create better strategies to address your needs.

Sure, you probably think all of these “good-hearted” adults are just giving lip service to promises that will never come true. That’s what you have come to expect.

“Please come home, and I promise your father will never touch you again.”

“If you change your gay ways, you can return home.”

“You need money? I can help…”

Your life is a far cry from those adolescents swooning over Justin Bieber’s syrupy lyrics, “’Cause when I stare in your eyes it couldn’t be better, I don’t want you to go, oh no, so.”

It’s so much easier for you to believe words from a teen idol than words from the adults who have failed you. At this point, I’m sure Justin Bieber’s love ballads seem more sincere.

But for many adults wanting to repair your broken childhood, the hope of providing safe housing with a community of love and support is still there, whether you believe in it or not.


Photo by llonglifee.