“Mom, what’re you doing?!?”
“Oh my god, Mom, he’s just a scammer. I’m gonna tell him to get a job.”
The snow blew in the window as she offered styrofoamed coffee and a cup of chili.
“Thank ye,” he said, putting both into a beat up mini-Coleman at his feet. He smiled, tucking his hands back into the camo jacket sleeves, holding the cardboard with just two fingers.
She drove away amid her daughter’s semi-hysterics about how the doors weren’t even locked and how he could’ve just reached in and grabbed one or both of them.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that 11% of adult homeless people are veterans; they are primarily men and nearly half of these are African-American or Hispanic. These men and women served in the armed forces in eleven different conflicts world-wide from World War II to the anti-drug conflicts in South America. Mental illness, lack of civilian work skills, and an extreme shortage of affordable housing all combine to leave over 45,000 veteran homeless on any given night. (1)
“Oh my god, Jenna. That’s the cooler.”
“That homeless dude my mom gave stuff to. That’s his cooler.”
“I bet he has a bunch of shit in there.”
“Like what? He’s homeless. Home. Less. They don’t have stuff – basic definition.”
“Yeah, well, I’m gonna look.”
“Stac, you better not. It’s not yours.”
“Whatever. He’s homeless.”
“Seriously, Staci, you shouldn’t.”
Family problems, economic problems, and residential instability have combined to create a homeless teenage population of at least 1.3 million on any given night. Statistics about homeless teens are difficult to corroborate due to imprecise census methods and mobility of homeless populations. Seventy five percent of homeless teens will drop out of and not finish school. Although many states have legislation addressing the needs of and providing services for homeless teens, it is estimated that at least 5,000 unaccompanied teens die in the streets every year. (2)
“I don’t know. I mean, my mom – a fucking bleeding heart if you know what I mean – but she was a bitch, too.”
“Got it, but how’d you end up on the street, Staci?”
“I mean it wasn’t like I was a crack whore back home. Jenna and me smoked weed but only on the weekends and shit. I slept around a little, too, but you know – no gang bangs or anything. I wasn’t any worse than Jenna or Marcia.”
“Yeah. You want me to call your mom? I mean, if she’s a bleeding heart, maybe she –“
“No. Look, I’m outta here. Gimme my stuff.”
“Ok, ok, but you don’t have to live on the str—“
“Just gimme my shit, ok?”
“It’s over here.”
Staci picked up her jacket and backpack. I handed her the beat-up cooler.
About forty percent of homeless adults have a certificate or license for a job skill, but seventy percent of them report economic reasons for homelessness: insufficient income, lack of jobs, or disability to perform their jobs. Over 80% of these adults express a desire to go back to school to gain additional skills for employment. And, 87% of homeless adults expressed a desire to be employed at least on a part-time basis. (3)
I do not remember how I ended up here. I only come here on winter nights. Most times I walk around the city. There are treasures everywhere. It’s an artistic way to live, really. We’ve become a cash, carry, cast aside society. Perfectly good cakes and pies in dumpsters. Coats from last year with just a stitch in the zipper. I’m not crazy, you know; I have a college degree. I used to be counselor. There’s just so much need, so much chaos, so much want – how the hell could I help them when I could barely keep myself going?
This once – a girl – I even remember her name: Staci – she wouldn’t tell me why she ran away. I mean, at least I think that’s what she did. She never really said, but she seemed to like living on the streets. Homeless. Except she had a home – she just didn’t want it. I dunno. Maybe she didn’t want to be there, but she couldn’t leave the streets either. She traveled light – kind of like me now: backpack and a cooler. A cooler just like this one . . .