A message to homeless teens
If you are a runaway in the United States, unless you have gone through a very difficult procedure to become emancipated, you don't have the right to work or make contracts. This puts you in the worst possible position, a position of artificial dependency, partnered with inexperience and physical awkwardness. You are in trouble.
It may seem that you have four choices: seeking charity, thievery, drug trafficking, or prostitution. Not one of these is an acceptable or sustainable lifestyle, but you may decide to try one or all of them. If you do, know this, it does not make you a beggar, a thief, a drug dealer, or a prostitute. You are who you are, the fiery, self-reliant individual who is aware that he/she has a right to be treated better than what was happening at home. You stood up for yourself, and now I want you to remember that you are worth standing up for. What you are driven to do by need is not who you are. You will prove that later in life. Believe it now.
I want you to think about your troubles one at a time. You must address the same needs an adult has, but you must do it with fewer social resources. You may not be able to get a car, so now think. Where will you find shelter? Consider abandoned buildings. Consider tent living at campsites or in national parks. Consider unused warehouses. Try to avoid people who will give you a place to live in exchange for sex. These relationships almost always end in violence. Getting a place for a night or two is one thing. Getting ensnared long term grows ugly quickly.
It is often possible to sleep on buses or subways. Bring a newspaper and hold it up in front of you while you doze off if transit police check for people sleeping.
How will you keep warm? Layers of clothing are very helpful. I recently heard an interesting suggestion from polar explorers. If the night is very cold, eat some butter or margarine. This keeps explorers warm in Antarctica, so it is worth considering. Blankets are good. Huddle up with other runaways, if you can find some to get friendly with. They are least likely to exploit you.
Know that you will be exploited, you will be stolen from, you will be victimized. Be at peace with that reality, and try to limit the damage. Try not to get hurt. Never seek revenge. This advice is not applicable to the jail or prison environment where an early show of violent strength may be critical to reducing danger in the future.
Do not use drugs. Please. Just don't do it. This is the time when you will become an addict, because life sucks, and drugs are such an easy and available escape. You must avoid this trap, or you will be paying for it for years to come.
You must survive till you're able to make some contracts, or get involved in the underground economy. You may be able to find work by making friends with Latino day laborers. They often know people who will employ you without documents. Try to obtain false documents that will establish your age at 18 or 19. If you succeed at this, buy a car at your first opportunity and follow the rest of my advice as if you were an adult. If you follow this path, you may take a great deal of pride in how you lived through being a runaway.
The most important thing I can teach is that this will change. Things will get better. Have fun every day. It will help you think. Do something silly. Each day you will find new solutions. Beware of people who want to take over responsibility for your life. What they offer is seldom worth what they want in return.