Just a Kid

On a rainy Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I was making my way to Shaw’s supermarket to pick up a couple of items in time for a sporting event I planned on watching that evening. On the way out, I noticed a kid who couldn’t have been more than 14, maybe 15.

He was wearing a couple of shirts and a pair of old jeans that were falling down a little. His cheeks were bright red, obviously from being out in the cold. He had a cup in his hand, asking people for change. I gave him a buck, and he thanked me, but I noticed his eyes were welling up a bit. I think I may have been the first person to give him anything: panhandling in Lynn is tough.

As I made my way across the street to another store, I kept looking back across the street at this kid. Pedro, the owner of the second store, noticed I was looking. Pedro has known me for years and knows about what I do. He told me he’d never seen the kid before and that he had pretty much been in front of Shaw’s all day. He said: “It’s a shame, a young kid being out there like that.”

I agree it’s a shame. Now, I’ve written about youth homelessness before, and I’ll write about it again, because nothing seems to change. That’s the real shame. Yes, since the last time I wrote about kids being on the street, a youth shelter has opened in Cambridge, and a drop-in center for homeless youth has been established in a couple of places, but it’s not enough.

There’s also no real way of knowing how many kids are out there, no matter how many youth census counts you do. People just don’t seem to be in an uproar about it or about homelessness in general, and it doesn’t help when you’ve got politicians making claims they’ve ended veteran homelessness or chronic homelessness, like in Utah, where we recently found out that those claims are untrue. It gives false hope.

Actually, that’s too nice. Let’s call it what it is: lying. I know I’ve said this before too, but it bears repeating. At the very least, 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and have been rejected by their own families. Many have aged out of the foster-care system, and many of them usually become addicted to substances because it’s the only way they can endure. That should piss you off. It does me.

I don’t know if any of that applies to this kid. After I left Pedro’s store, I went back across the street to the kid and found out he was from Marblehead and had been couch surfing but couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t pry any further. Instead, I told him where the Haven Project was and let him know that he could grab something to eat at My Brother’s Table. I also gave him info on Bridge and the youth shelter in Cambridge. I wrote down the numbers for him, gave him $5 and made my way home. He smiled and said thank you.

Some people might say I should have got more information from him. But I didn’t need to. I had all the information I needed. He was homeless and he was just a kid.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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