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By Zoey Jones

I wanted to do something to help Ben, so I looked into teen homelessness. What I learned really scared me. I don't know Ben's reasons for not being at home, he's never told me. But I now have a very clear understanding of why so many kids leave home and choose the streets over their lives at home.

Reasons why kids leave home:

  • Poverty – family ends up in a shelter and are separated
  • Kicked out because of poverty -- "time to look after yourself"
  • Physical or sexual abuse in the home
  • Drug abuse by family members
  • Behavioural problems – can't function as part of the family
  • Family mental illness
  • Getting in trouble and parents admitting defeat – 'kicked out'
  • Teen alcohol or drug abuse
  • There are approximately 12,000 youth (aged 24 and under) that are homeless in Canada and that number is rising. Once a kid leaves home, there are a few options available to them: group homes, shelters, squat houses and the street. Getting into a group home or a shelter isn't always easy – there are long waiting lists for these services and in many cases, kids don't even want to explore these options for the same reasons they ended up on the street.

When you're on the street, you still have basic needs. In major cities, there are food banks, shelters and soup kitchens that provide food and hot meals to those who can make it to the locations. The problem for teens is to get to these locations, almost always by foot, and during business hours. So the decision has to be made between choosing food, work, or panhandling--asking for money.

Often street kids will turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. With no income and limited education, many street kids resort to something called 'survival sex'. Survival sex is the exchange of sex for food, shelter, alcohol and/or drugs.

As rough as these statistics are, youth homelessness is not hopeless. There is help available for kids living on the street. Local shelters, group homes, soup kitchens, hospitals, public health offices, YMCA/YWCA's and community centres are able to provide information to help get homeless teens off the street. I hope Ben will be willing to look into these services, because although he's doing pretty well right now in the warehouse, things could change quickly and I'm worried, really worried.

The street is no place for a kid.

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