There aren't many places for homeless kids to go when it rains in L.A. Alison Hurst, my co-executive director at StandUp For Kids, once told me that there are less than 460 beds in this city and that's supposed to take care of all the homeless population. That's not much when you consider that we see about a hundred kids each week in Venice alone and there are 11,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles. There's a shelter in Culver City that opens in the winter to provide beds, but most of the kids have dogs and dogs aren't permitted there. Others don't want to be separated from their boyfriends or girlfriends, and in the shelters it's men on one side and women on the other.
The rain and wind were fierce at the boardwalk last Monday night, but Callie, one of the street kids, was on his bike when we found him. Callie knew where the kids were bunking down for the night. We found a couple of them who set up their sleeping bags in a damp garage off the alley. One of the boys had no shoes, and his socks were soaked. His friend said she'd follow us back to our cars to get him a pair of shoes and a new wool blanket. Molly and her boyfriend were there, too. She has brilliant red hair and her face is pure alabaster white with just a smattering of small freckles splashed over her nose and cheeks. We asked why they were in the garage and she said they didn't want to be split up and they couldn't go to the shelter anyway because of their dog.
Molly is 19 years old and she's been on the streets for five years. She's not on meth or weed and she doesn't drink. She left home because she had no choice. She didn't have the chance to finish high school, but in the last few years she got her GED, so she can go to college. She wants to be a nurse because she says she really likes to help people. Her mom left her dad when she was twelve and moved to East Washington. She stayed with her dad who finally remarried, but he was abusive. She said her father and his new wife had a small child and "he didn't dare touch the little one, and the older girl belonged to the new wife so that left me." When she was fourteen she split, but she was picked up in Portland and sent back to her dad, so she split again, but she was caught stealing some food and was sent to a juvenile hall for nine months. When she got out she went to see her Mom.
Her mother had Molly when she was younger than Molly is now. Molly says she's "her mother's mother." Her mother is a meth user and that's why Molly had to live with her dad. Things didn't work out with her mom so she decided to head to Idaho where her best friend lived. She stayed with him for a while but he went into a sober living home and there was nowhere for her to go. She hitched to L.A. and has been here for about four months. A lot of people think that kids on the street choose to be there. This is not the case. The majority of these kids just don't have any other options and Molly is one of them.
Molly met her current boyfriend at the Boardwalk. He's been on the streets a lot longer, but he's gentle and listens to Molly attentively whenever she speaks. She likes the protection he provides and most important, he makes her feel safe.
Molly thinks she has a plan to get enough money to see her dad in Washington over Christmas. She's hoping he will treat her better than he did when she left five years ago.
I asked when she would be leaving and she said she didn't know. She didn't have the money. I told her that if they went to the Greyhound Bus Station they would call her dad and he could pay for the bus ride over the phone. She sadly admitted that he'd never do that. Molly tries to look toward the future, but she has no skills to help her get there. Molly and her boyfriend say that, after the holidays, they want to live with her boyfriend's parents who live two hours east of L.A. They can both attend community college, but they haven't discussed any of these plans with his parents.
Alison Hurst and I are working hard to open an outreach center in Venice so these kids can get the medical and psychological help they need. They didn't ask for these lives, but because of their parents' dysfunction, they had no choice but to leave. I know a boy who told me that his mother's boyfriend kicked him out because he looked too much like his own father and it threatened the boyfriend to have the kid around. There are a hundred stories like this. A thousand. These kids have nowhere to go, and they desperately need our help. There are so few facilities in Los Angeles to house and care for these homeless teenagers and StandUp For Kids is working hard to offer these teens a place to go. Alison held a fundraiser for StandUp last night and we're having another one in February and we will keep fundraising until we have the money we need for a full service center to shelter and care for these forgotten young people. For more information, please go to www.standupforkids.org. There you can donate to our Los Angeles program.
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