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Homelessness in America: Glamorizing Life on the Streets

Written By: Christine Dantz

There are always two sides to every story; being homeless in America is no different. Does it really matter how someone ended up living on the streets? Is it is some kind of glamorous lifestyle that a person chooses?

I admit, as a preteen and early teenager, I romanticized the transient lifestyle popularized in many television shows and movies. The kids shown on the streets of cities like New York, Miami, and L.A. intrigued me as I sat comfortably in my middle class house, located in the cushy suburbs of a city still not feeling the full effects of General Electric's massive layoffs.

Fiction: Living Free…Fact: Dying Hard

They were free, no parents yelling at them…and these children of the streets lived together like a family. Street kids didn't have to go to school or do homework. The drugs, alcohol, and sex for money made it look more exciting than my boring, suburban life.

Living in my bubble still, as kids that age often do, I saw freedom just a hop away from the train tracks not far from my backdoor. Often, just like in the movies, cargo doors were open and trains stopped for hours at a time waiting to go through a transfer station a few miles down the tracks. It wouldn't have been hard to hop on that train and runaway.

My life wasn't perfect; nonetheless, it wasn't a life in poverty or of severe abuse. I was bullied at school, which added to this desire to run away. The kids at school made fun of me, played mean "pranks" on me, and tortured me, making me hate my existence. My parents were having marriage problems and I felt going away would make everyone happy.

I'm not exactly sure what stopped me from taking that leap, but I'm glad I stayed grounded. Now I see that leap could have been a death sentence. I see now what I didn't then, the truth of homelessness and transient living. Any sense of adventure, any fun I may have perceived, comes with a heavy price that they don't show on TV.

powerful images from his teenage years hopping freight trains and hitchhiking across 46 states is an example of poor advice.

Reality vs. Fiction in Hollywood

Growing up in the 1980's was a learning experience for parents and children with cable television. Our parent's grew up with black and white television sets, featuring three, maybe four channels, and everything ended at midnight. By the time I was five, there were over a dozen channels and parental guidance ratings were still in development.

I saw Jaws 3D with my parents in the theater at 5-years old. Later that summer, I refused to go into the ocean in New York City, where we were visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousin. Looking back, I still chuckle, knowing now why we have ratings and discuss fiction and reality with our children.

Today, I monitor what my son watches and make sure not to let him watch movies and programs that will give him nightmares. His conscious mind knows there are no volcanoes in New York, but when he's dreaming, all bets are off. Not all children are as lucky as my son is, and what's available on television today, is 100 times worse than when I was a child.

  • Leslie Nielson's classic, Airplane shows a lady snorting cocaine as the plane is going down
  • Scarface, 1983, showed Al Pacino as Tony Montana snorting cocaine
  • I watched Miguel Ferrer's character Bob Morton in the original, 1987 Robocop, snort cocaine off a prostitute's breast
  • Goodfellas, 1990, like all good mob movies, glorifies drugs, crime, and numerous other abuses


Reality. Snorting coke is expensive, on the street that will lead to cocaine's generic brand, crack. With no money, no shelter, and no food, prostitution is about survival, there's no romance involved. Prostitution is just a loss of any self-respect, more risk, no reward, only survival…and not even that is a guarantee.

  • An estimated 5,000 homeless kids and teenagers die every year
  • Kids on the street are more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted
  • Living on the street puts youth at a high risk of mental health issues, compounding any issues prior to being homeless
  • The homeless are at a higher risk for drug abuse and dependence

America's Future at Risk

I didn't make that leap, but millions of other young people still do, today. Homeless teenagers are a part of the larger issue of homelessness in America.

Today the internet makes it worse if you look in the right places, or more appropriately, the wrong places. Anyone with an internet connection (Free in many cities and towns throughout the world,) can access personal stories and tips on running away.

I have to admit, if I'd had a free guide to help me make that leap in the early 1990's, I wouldn't be here today.

The Runaway Guide is easy to find on Google, with a basic search for "runaway guide," it pops up at the top of the search page. Yes, it offers a disclaimer within the website's author's "about me" story. Even though it's in red ink, I don't see it lending much discouragement to anyone under the age of 18. Instead, everything about the site glamorizes and romanticizes the lifestyle.

"My name is Leif (Layf), the runaway behind The Runaway Guide.
When I was 16 I ran away from home and explored the far reaches of Europe and the Middle East without a cent to my name.

It was a journey that opened my eyes to the world and changed my life. Not only that, I learned some great techniques to travel on the ultra cheap."

With billions of blogs, message boards, pictures, videos, and other websites freely advertising the allure of the street, the most secure kids and teens are drawn to the life they see.

The proof is in these sobering numbers:

  • Children ages 12 to 17 are more at risk of being homeless than adults are
  • In 2013, there were 1.3 million homeless children living without supervision on America's streets
  • 75 percent of runaways are female; between 6 and 22 percent of them are pregnant
  • 20 to 40 percent are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender
  • 75 percent of the 1.3 million homeless children have dropped out of school or won't finish high school
  • 46 percent left a home where they were physically abused; 38 percent because of emotional abuse, and 17 percent fled sexual abuse

Self-Expression or Poor Advice?

Music, artwork, photographs, and videos are great forms of expression, education, and a personal way to tell a story. It also doesn't tell the whole story and can speak to people differently.

One example is a song by Soul Asylum that was popular when I was growing up. Keep in mind, this was during a time when MTV still played videos; there was no YouTube video to catch later. Kids, preteens, teens, and adults would spend hours watching music videos featuring their favorite artists. Watch the video, released in 1992: Runaway Train by Soul Asylum.

The video features the names and pictures of missing children suspected of running away. Today, speaking as a parent, I find these images heartbreaking.

Not all art is equal in its healing or helping power. A photo essay by photographer Mike Brodie showing powerful images from his teenage years hopping freight trains and hitchhiking across 46 states is an example of poor advice.

Before the internet, the chance of a young teen coming across the exciting, yet extremely dangerous adventure photos was rare. In 2014, a quick Google search will bring up Brodie's and similar images, along with videos, and blog accounts.

Unlike runaways and throwaways, Brodie wasn't homeless, didn't run away, and had a home to return to at the end of his "adventures." Unfortunately, you won't find this information as easily as you will the stories about the thrills of living dangerously on America's freight trains.

Homelessness in America is more than a tragedy; it's an insult to our founding fathers and one of the greatest threats to our future.


Other Articles of Interest:

Seeing the Individual Not the Disability

Online Public Schools: An Education on Today's Education

A Lesson in History: Remembering the Power of a Simple Pencil

Newsflash Public Education Has Always Been a Form of Control

A Son's Tribute to an Amazing Father: "And That's All There Is To That"


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