Homeless teens need support, place to stay

April 24, 2011 

Homeless teens in the Tri-Cities have few options for finding a place to sleep that don't require breaking the law.

They can couch surf, but only for so long. Even friends tire of them eventually. If the weather's good, they can sleep outside.

If you consider squatting in vacant buildings and other illegal options, there are a few more alternatives. None of which we recommend.

But what can they do?

We have shelters for children, women and adult men. But nothing for the teenagers.

But that lack of shelters for homeless teens in the Tri-Cities doesn't equate to a lack of need. The state says more than a thousand of our kids are in that predicament.

It's not a statistic that inspires confidence.

For one thing, runaways who have a home and choose not to stay there (even if it's for a good reason) are not counted as homeless.

Also, families in transitional housing are considered homeless, even though the teens still are with parents who are providing for them.

And, of the 1,000-plus, not all are homeless at the same time. A kid can spend a couple of weeks on a friend's couch before going home and still be counted.

But even if the estimate is off by an order of magnitude, still, it would leave 100 kids in our community who don't know where they will sleep tonight. The best guess is a lot more than that won't have a welcoming and safe place to lay their head tonight.

That's sad.

It's especially sad when it is through no fault of their own. Parents really should hold up their end of the bargain, but not all do.

We reminisce about the days when parents were responsible for their children. They provided a home with structure, rules and consequences. The roles of the parent and the child were clear and, for the most part, respected.

We miss those days.

But in the absence of parental responsibility, the community must provide for kids.

We like the comprehensive concept that Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery and My Friends Place have put together for homeless teens.

It will give kids a place to stay and provide counseling and services to get them on the track to self-sufficiency.

They have to be in school or working toward their GED to qualify for services. They have to leave the shelter during the day. Their parents have to be notified where they are.

Some homeless teens won't agree to such rules, but requiring them to earn the community's support is the right approach.

It's one thing to provide a bed and a meal for someone. It's a far better thing if the bed comes with hope for the future.

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