If you are paying attention to or doing a personal exploration of current writing and literature about young people on the street, let us encourage you to consider the source and how recent the perspective is. There seems to be a growing body of thought emerging that challenges the stereotypes of what we have been reading and listening to in the discourse of our country for the past 3 decades.
It is critical to understand that ‘homelessness’ is only one aspect of the street. The blanket label does a disservice to young people ‘on the street’ and the reality that defines their lives. We find that a significant portion of what is available to read is created out of traditional thinking. Dominant stereotypes are still part of the descriptive language of homelessness, and they become so common they are assumed to be true and accurate.
Often promotions to invite people to pay attention and help, use the same images and thinking.
Young people are not powerless in themselves – only in the places we decide this about them. Many of the barriers to their efforts to get off the streets are challenges that exist because of the way we have organized and deliver our society.
Young people living in public on our streets are not delinquent by choice. In response to this statement often heard as a stereotype, a young person at the doorway stated:
“Street kids come from all walks of life and look to the streets for all different reasons, not one of these reasons is to be a deviant.”
Young people are optimists. Their optimism is born out of their fearlessness to risk. They believe in the possible, and that they can overcome by their willingness to start over.
Nicholas Sparks, writer quote: ‘It’s the possibility that keeps me going, not the guarantee.’ Young people operate within optimism! They are better at trying things not tried before, getting up to try again when they fall down. Believing in the possible is one of their strongest coping skills.
They are not likely to be cynical unless they have lived a far deeper reality than adults can imagine … and the loss of hope becomes a pragmatic conclusion.
Optimism is a go-to because it beats the rest of the possibilities and variables to the head of the line to be the only approach that allows you to be respected in the contexts in which you live.
Young people are capable, strong, and as determined as survival dictates. We can learn much from their strategies for independence and adaptability.
To learn we need to listen. That is the skill we often lack.
They can teach us. We need to choose to pay attention.