Homeless teens in Chicago : When parents are not being parents

Homeless teens in Chicago : When parents are not being parents
Lawrence is gay, and had to leave home because his dad was abusive toward him. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / May 24, 2013)

When I read about the number of homeless teens in Illinois and Chicago, it reminded me of all the times when I fantasized about running away, and when dad, in his rages, said I could go live on the streets where I would be raped if I didn’t like what he had to say.

I had it somewhat easy. It was just verbal/psychological, and because of that, I thought nobody would believe me if I did ever run away. So I stayed home until I could actually move out, at 21.

These teens and young adults, though–they are actually out on the streets. If they get lucky, they can crash with friends, trusted adults and other relatives, or stay in a shelter. Otherwise, they are out on the streets. Or on the trains. At least we do have good public transit here that serves as a de facto shelter–my heart goes out for all who don’t live in the city who don’t even have that option. Where do they go? To the 24 hour Walmarts?

I am furious at the parents, too. Relatives. Guardians. Being a parent is not always a title sought after, but if the title is installed on you, you must follow through with all of the responsibilities for better or for worse.

To me, the definition of parenting is providing love, guidance, assistance even when your children make mistakes, go through the frustrating maturation process, and even when you disagree with your children’s beliefs and choices. Parenting is loving your child and teaching them, even if and when they struggle with their own inner turmoil.  It can be frustrating, unfulfilling, and exhausting. But you must stand by them.

This is not to shame the parents whomust draw a line, create boundaries to protect themselves from their adult children who are abusive, destructive, or manipulative. These boundaries can and often do include kicking the adult child out of the house, preferably with advance warning. Sometimes you absolutely have to protect yourself.

But if you make home so unsafe for your child because he is gay that he moves out…onto the streets? You are an asshole.

If you can’t provide a shelter in a crisis, making your granddaughter have to live on the streets and leave her toddler with her abusive boyfriend who has a place to live? You are an asshole.

If you drink or use, fly into rages, don’t stand up to an abusive partner, have a revolving door of “unsavory” people coming in and out, or make the home unlivable in one way or another that leads to your child feeling safer on the streets or make it so they feel trapped at home…You are a f***ing asshole.

I really wish there were more options for runaways and homeless children and young adults, because they have endured so much already, and deserve so much more. They deserve food, shelter, health care, and most probably counseling.  You know what else? The definition of parent is not contingent on blood or DNA or law. Parents can be the neighbor who always provided sanctuary, the teachers who ask after you, the friends’ parents who let you stay with them.

Sadly, not many teens and YA have these adults in their lives–and that is what makes me so mad at the abusive asshole “parents.” It makes the process of becoming a self-sufficient adult that much more of an uphill climb, and completely filled with dangers of bankruptcy, poverty, dangerous living places, and so on. It’s no wonder that so many street kids do end up in prostitution. It makes money and provides an illusion of safety.

If at all possible and tenable, I do advise trying to stay home as long as possible until you can get your affairs in order before moving out. A cheap apartment. Stay with friends. A couple of pt jobs, or if you’re lucky, a FT one. Budget. Save money. Get all the health stuff in order before you’re inevitably taken off insurance. But if you must move out because you do fear for your welfare, do. It’ll be hard, but there is some assistance. Take all the help you can get. Keep in touch with adults who do care for you. Keep working hard.  You are strong. You can do this. Show the assholes that you can be successful despite their best efforts to undermine you. We’re rooting for you.


If you or someone you know needs help, I recommend these resources. If you know of other good ones, particularly for the Chicago area, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll add to this.

National Runaway Hotline  1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929)

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE (7233)

Childhelp Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ) 1-866-488-7386

Safe Place TXT 4 HELP  If you’re in a crisis, text the word SAFE and your current location (address/city/state) to 69866. They will text you back the address of the nearest Safe Place site and contact number for the local youth shelter.

Children of the Night  (for kids and YA escaping pimps)  1-800-551-1300

UCAN’s Transitional Teen Services (for kids aging out of foster care in Chicago area)

Filed under: Abuse

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