Puzzled by teenage boys on our streets

How many teenage boys in Terrace are homeless? Kermode Friendship Society is asking

How many teenage boys in Terrace are homeless? That’s a question the Kermode Friendship Society is asking in a survey to measure the need and support for a 24-hour Youth Centre and Homeless Shelter for males aged 16 to 18.

I have no way of knowing or guessing the answer to that question. A dozen? Two dozen? More?

Unless you’re a teacher, a cop, a sports coach or someone else whose work brings you into association with other families’ kids in this age group, how can you identify a homeless youth? Do they inhabit a particular part of town? Exhibit a typical demeanour, style of dress, public behaviour like a rare bird?

Where do homeless boys call home? Where do they spend their nights now? How do they come by food? Clean clothing? Medical care? Do they attend school? Can they read? Who pays for their cell phone usage?

The little I’ve learned about teenage homelessness comes from talk shows (whether the teens are Canadian or American their background histories and basic situations are similar), TV news reports, and local daily RCMP incident reports.

Such sources inform me a teen may become homeless as a last resort when his home life becomes too abusive; or his parents throw him out for his unruly behaviour and refusal to follow the most basic and reasonable parental guidelines. Some may drop out of school and behave in ways so obnoxious no right minded parent can any longer tolerate their disruptive ways impacting on younger siblings. Unfortunately, this behaviour also makes them unwelcome in many homes. Is this one reason they aren’t in foster care?

An American documentary about life in the Dirty Thirties told of families without employment of any kind too poor to feed their children. Parents sent their teen boys on their way to look after themselves the best they could. Many rode atop freight trains in search of work in other states. They got no help from drop-in or homeless shelters.

Today China has a homeless youth population because of the government’s one child per family policy. Parents cannot register their extra offspring in schools, for medical care, or acknowledge them in any way without suffering governmental reprisal.

But Terrace suffers no such dire economic or social problems. I find it hard to accept that any Terrace teen must live on his own, couch surfing at friends’ homes, skipping school, lacking direction from a trusted adult to pursue a decent future.

Yet on any mid day trip to town when I would expect them to be in school, I’ve noticed a fair number of youth in that age range walking in pairs or groups on the street, lunching in fast food eateries, or roaming in malls. Are they between classes? Homeless? Out of work? Working nights? Runaways? How is one to tell?

Invariably they’re texting suggesting they have income of some sort, whether from honest or dishonest means.

Terrace council March 11 was briefed on the survey. One councillor pointed out “social service providers employ many people in this community. They are essentially part of the business community because they generate jobs and revenue.”

And therein lies the rub. Anytime our social networks step in to fill a parental shortcoming, the public purse hires substitute parents or workers to step into the breach. In this case there will be the expense of renting a suitable building, staffing it with a variety of workers to counsel and care for the boys. We’re back to the old maxim – we should help little kids to avoid this teenage problem.

Council agreed to write a letter “in support of Kermode Friendship Society’s push to find solutions for homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 18 who currently have no shelter in Terrace.”