In college, I volunteered at the Covenant House. Every Thursday from 7-10pm we would drive around the worst parts of Houston handing out sandwiches and juice packs to the homeless and letting them know that any homeless kids were welcome back at the Covenant House.
What impressed me the most was how different the homeless adults were from the teenagers. The adults were what you would expect homeless to be like. Some depressed, some hungry, some listless, some drunk, some too embarrassed to tell their kids they were living on the streets, usually grateful for a sandwich or a clean pair of socks. The kids on the other hand were on an adventure. None of them ever came back to the Covenant House with us. They always had someone to stay with, or a car to ride in to Las Vegas, … places to go, things to see. And they never seemed hungry. Full of hope. And then I would listen to them talk and be just horrified. I will always remember the conversation between two fifteen year old girls, with babies in their laps, talking about the job they had the night before at a strip club. The way they had been treated was inhumane. (I tried – unsuccessfully – to get all my friends to avoid strip clubs in Houston forever.) Yet these girls just took it in stride. At the time, I thought it was because they were kids and kids had more hope and maybe more strength and flexibility. After reading Rene Denfeld’s book All God’s Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families, I now think it’s because they live in an alternate reality, a completely different culture, than the rest of us. Rene Denfeld describes the completely alien culture of street kids in a way that not only made sense but completely matched what I saw. It was fascinating and terrifying.
As a side note, Rene blames many of the agencies that help street kids for promoting the street kid culture. By providing them food and resources they enable the street life – large groups of kids with nothing to do except hang out and create their own rules. Very harsh and violent rules.