Homelessness is a heartbreaking problem. There are millions of empty houses, and yet huge numbers of people without a permanent place to call their own as shelter. Shockingly still is how many of these people are children. Their stories are often forgotten, we hope that these stories of homeless children are eye opening and powerful. Stories have been edited for clarity
We Don’t Camp Anymore
“I was about 9 years old, and my mom said we were going on a camping trip. I didn’t really suspect anything, as it was summertime and we went camping a lot when I was younger. Although I did wonder why we were packing so much stuff. After a few weeks of ‘camping,’ I started to complain, but my mom kept insisting that it was good for us to get in touch with nature, etc. Then school started, and we were still camping. And we kept camping for another 6 months. When we finally got a house, my mom cried with joy. And we don’t camp anymore.”
“I was 13 when my family was homeless. We had just finished the school year when our landlord showed up and told us we had 5 days to move out, but we had nowhere to go. My parents didn’t tell me what was going on but I could figure it out.
My parents told us we were going camping and that we had to move everything into a storage unit. So once we sloppily packed up and moved all of our possessions into a storage unit, we went to the campgrounds that we had been to a few times before and set up camp.
The first night was a bit rough but just from the aspect of sleeping on the ground, in my head I knew what was going on and just kind of acknowledged it as ‘I have no control over the situation let’s see where this goes.’”
I Was Bawling
“It didn’t really occur to me that I was ‘homeless’ for a couple weeks. I was 16 and my mom and I were in a domestic abuse situation. She fled to a friend’s house and I fled to my friend’s house, and then from there, I sofa surfed for a few weeks until my boyfriend’s mom caught on that something wasn’t quite right.
I had spent random nights at their house prior in the spare room, but during that two weeks, I had stayed 3 times with them, and at dinner she gently put down her fork and goes, ‘Sara, something is going on. Tell me about it.’
It wasn’t a question. So I started bawling at the dinner table and realized I didn’t have a home, and in the next 5 minutes, me, her, my boyfriend, and his dad all had our shoes on and in the car, on our way to my the abusive house to grab my things. Then they made the spare room my real room for a year before I could go to university and get an apartment.”
Whatever They Had To Do To Survive
“When I was 16, my mom tricked my father into signing divorce papers while he was high on opiates after a hip replacement surgery by telling him they were hospital documents confirming more pain pills were needed (my mom is smart as heck and my father was a pill popping degenerate). We sold every remotely valuable belonging we had and drove day and night from southern California along the interstates to Georgia, completely across country. He chased us, but his car broke down in Arizona because he wasn’t remotely prepared and had driven through Death Valley in the middle of the day, completely messing his car up. He kept buying new phones with new numbers to evade us blocking him, and calling us incessantly, at every hour, with threats, insults, and abuse. We stopped answering after a while. He still had weapons; an unregistered Carbine in a duffel bag in the trunk and a magnum in the glovebox. He kept his ammo under the carpet beneath in the passenger seat.
We were living out of our car when we got to Georgia, and we’d gone to a church for help (despite my mother and sister being agnostics and me being a devout atheist). One refused help unless we’d contributed at least $50 in tithing donations, and another church refused help unless I was entered into their youth program. So my mom put me in their stupid youth program in exchange for food. It was just a meeting with a bunch of Christian kids on Saturdays, which didn’t seem so bad, except. there was this girl in a wheelchair. She was really sick, and these youth meetings were the only time she got out of the house.
After a couple of meetings, they’d all gathered in pairs for praying for each other’s deliverance from fear. She was partnered with me, as everyone avoided us both (me, the weird homeless, atheist kid who visibly didn’t want to be there, and her, the sick girl that made everyone uncomfortable with guilt). She told me her parents believed she was a good kid and that god would heal her of her cancer if she was good enough to be saved, but she just kept getting sicker. She was afraid she wasn’t believing enough, and that god was dissatisfied with her level of belief and she was failing his grand test. She was scared she was a bad person and she’d go burn in the lake of fire, and she was scared because her parents were disappointed in her. Clearly, to her and her family, her sickness was her fault. I asked if she’d seen a doctor, and she said just to diagnose the cancer in her mammaries that had spread to her chest, and after that, her and her parents refused the doctor’s ‘poison treatments’ (chemo I assumed) because it would have made god angry. I told her I couldn’t comfort her spiritually because I myself did not believe, but I sat with her and talked about it for the half hour we had and then watched her go home. She died two weeks after we left Georgia. I still think about her a lot.”
Her Only Comfort Was Among The Dead
“When I was a teenager, I had lots of problems with my mom, so I pretty much chose to be homeless. I slept at a Catholic church across from my high school so I could still make it to school and graduate early. I remember feeling really sad because I slept where they put peoples’ ashes, and I remember being so sad that those people could comfort me in death more than anybody alive. I used to talk to them, if there’s camera footage I look insane. I never realized how alone I was in the world until I was homeless. And I never realized how cold concrete can be, it chills you right to your bones and is painful.”
“I didn’t really realize what was going on, I was about 6-7 at the time. Dad said we were going to go for a drive and to pack my backpack with all the clothes I could fit and one toy. Mom was just crying. Me and my brother sat in the backseat, he was a little older and was holding our Sega Genesis and looking scared.
We drove for a little while (it was already getting dark) and we parked in front of a Walmart and dad said he had to rest for a while. Was the first of many, many nights we slept in the car.
I remember one of my parents was always awake, with their hand in their coat pocket. Looking back it was obvious they had a weapon for protection, they were sleeping in shifts.”
“I lived at school until I dropped out due to a bunch of personal reasons piling up. My mom was mad that I dropped out and wouldn’t even talk to me the first few days after and my relationship with my father is complicated/nonexistent.
I took the train to my hometown, even though I didn’t know what I would do or where I would go when I got there. I ended up staying the first night in my brother’s room (not quite an apartment, just the one room with a kitchen and bathroom he shares with like 5 other people)
After that, I posted to social media that I was in this unfortunate situation, and a friend I had lost touch with despite once being very close offered to let me stay with him and his fiancee until I got a place of my own.
I never actually had to sleep outside and I found an apartment after about one month, so all in all I was pretty lucky with how it turned out.
Oh, and my mom and I are cool now, and my dad and I are also trying to rebuild our relationship after he finally divorced his no-longer-new wife (I’ve always referred to her as his new wife even though it’s been over a decade).”
She Took Care Of Us
“At age thirteen, I got kicked out. I spent the first few nights sneaking into cars parked at the nearby transit station. I’d search for ones with blankets or something because it was nearly winter. Eventually I was sort of taken in by a trans woman who was a homeless lady of the night. She had a bunch of us homeless kids and we had a little community under a bridge downtown, where we had fashioned these little alcoves into our home. We would get up early and raid the dumpsters behind a bakery close by and a few grocery stores, just finding whatever food and bringing it back. Rhonda would work the streets and make money for anything else we needed and us kids would beg for spare change or whatever. We had an elderly gay couple who also lived under the bridge with us and one of them unfortunately passed over a cold winter night. It was heartbreaking. I remember the cops showing up, tossing all our stuff onto the street. They had us lined up and threatening us like we had done something. And we were just all crying because we’d lost a loved one. They tore apart our home, took every little thing we had. After that, we left the bridge. Things were never the same and we all fell apart.
This was back in the late 90s, early 2000s. Most of us were LGBT kids who had gotten thrown out or were running from abusive parents. My mom had thrown me out because she found out I was seeing a girl.”
“I was homeless for a little while in the 80’s. It’s terrifying at first. You feel so unsafe. I was a teenager and wasn’t willing to close my eyes and sleep on a park bench alone. So, I went to a local shelter and lied about my age. The forced me to shower and do a pee test. It turns out the women in that shelter were scarier than the street so the next night, I didn’t go back. I slept in a park but ultimately made squatter friends and stayed with them.
It was very much a community and I felt safe and loved there.The biggest problem with being homeless in the city is no one wants to let you use the bathroom. Even park bathrooms are locked. Squat peeing in between cars can be done quickly and undercover, but when you get your period, it’s a nightmare.These days, I have stability so I never pass a homeless person without buying them some food or giving them a little money. And if they use it for narcotics or drinking, I don’t care. Living on the streets is HARD, drink if you need to, my friend.”
“I was 18 and had depression. Only had to do the final exams and I would’ve been good to go. But I panicked and didn’t attend, which caused me to fail, of course. Me failing made my depression even worse. My parents couldn’t take it anymore, packed my clothes in a suitcase and set me on the street.
I had no idea were to go and didn’t want to sleep in the city like most homeless do because I was to afraid of something happening to me or the few things I had while I sleep. So I went deep into the woods, opened the case with my clothes and curled up in there to sleep. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. I was just to disappointed in myself for being such a failure and cried a lot.
Thank god I wasn’t homeless long before my grandparents took me in and I found a job. When I had a job, my parents took me back in and I went to therapy. I’m good now but getting abandoned by my parents when I needed them the most still hurts to this day.”
I Was Scared Of What Adults Might Do
“When I was 15, my dad beat me and the police told my mom we had to leave. I ran away because I was too afraid of what he would do. All I had was the clothes on my back and shoes, no phone or anything.
I slept in the desert by my house in a pit the first night. It was pretty bad because I was afraid of bugs. The next day, I walked into a McDonald’s and asked for help saying I needed a phone because I was homeless and afraid. They kicked me out. A 7/11 was surprisingly helpful, they gave me quarters to use a phone but the phone machine was broke. I had no way to contact my mom or anybody. A random man offered to let me use his cell phone but he wanted me to go in his house, I somehow knew he was a bad guy so I gave up on the idea of using a phone.
At one point the next night, I was freezing and walked down a street testing cars and found a truck unlocked, I slept there for a couple hours and then would walk around (yes I was scared, but I was freezing cold). Mainly started sleeping in parks and other hiding places trying to keep warm. Men kept following me and wanting me to ‘smoke’ with them or hang out, I was too afraid of what adult men would do to me as a girl so I never approached anybody or asked for help, I kept hiding. When I discovered a 24/7 Walmart, I felt like it was a godsend. I camped out reading books for a couple days and I used their bathroom to stay ‘clean.’
I didn’t have money for food, I found a vending machine that spit out soda bottles but that was it, I went hungry for over a week.
I eventually got very sick from not having food and was hospitalized for 5 days, a lady there called a bunch of my relatives and asked around if I could live with them. My grandparents found out what happened and picked me up and I stayed with them since. I’m VERY grateful, they saved my life.
Now I have a husband and we share a nice house with my mom and two kitties. If I could go back to past me, I wish I would have sought help sooner instead of hiding and being so scared.”
Addiction Doesn’t Just Hurt Yourself
“I was 17, a week after I graduated high school. My adoptive mother kicked me out. She was mentally and physically abusive, and had a massive opioid addiction that didn’t help. Well, all I had was a social security card and what I could carry. Couldn’t get an ID until after she (thankfully) died because she knew I’d find out I was adopted as soon as she gave me the fake birth certificate that was just a printout on a very old piece of paper that didn’t even have a raised seal on it. No I don’t know how that even worked but I imagine she was just too lazy to go get a new one after she got the one the state sent her after my adoption. Mind you, I was 19 when I was officially told despite constantly questioning why I look nothing like them… I was ecstatic to leave. Living on the streets I had the best time of my life compared to the battlefield that was my adoptive mother. I’ve always had to survive in my own way so surviving the streets took a lot of creativity I already had. I slept in a local park bathroom that oddly had heat and air. Not once did I beg for money on a corner or stay in a mission. To this day I have hip and knee problems thanks to going from locked in my room unless I was at school to walking hundreds of miles.”
I Felt Unworthy
“I was young, 11 years old, but I was aware my mom was always high and that my situation was going where it ended up. It started out with moving a LOT, state to state, wherever the cheapest place to live was. The living conditions got worse with each move. In our last house as a family before we got taken away by CPS, we had to clean it out before moving in. It was some deal my mom made with the landlord. It was disgusting. Full of mouse droppings, dirty needles, adult magazines, and the floor was completely covered in garbage. Oh well, I thought, at least it’s a house. I was excited for a new place to live. Then, the gas got shut off, and the electricity, in the middle of winter. My mom’s car got the windshield busted out of it and we used plastic wrap to fix it. We were always cold.
The cops would knock on our door and we’d do as we were trained- hide under the beds, don’t answer, don’t make a sound. Once the utilities were out, I knew we’d be moving again. We stayed in a homeless shelter for a short while, until school started back up. I was in middle school for less than two months before in the middle of the night, as usual, my mom said to pack our things and we’d be moving that night. But I didn’t realize how bad on speed she was, not fully, not until we arrived in Death Valley and slept outside of a church. Desert nights are very cold and the days are very miserable when you live outside. I just accepted it, I felt my 11 year old heart grow cold, like a candle was blown out in me.
My mom didn’t enroll us in school, we got MRSA (a flesh eating disease, yum) and got no medical treatment, we weren’t fed so we’d steal food from stores and ask restaurants for free samples. I met 2 strangers who cared and bought us food. It was embarrassing, I felt unworthy. Being homeless made me feel a little less human than everyone around me. I could go on about the experience. I ended up in foster care and in and out of mental institutions. I’m disabled now because of some of the things that happened to us. But on the bright side I have an amazing boyfriend who knows everything and still loves me”
Now She Can’t Stand To Eat Pancakes
“My parents didn’t tell us that they lost their house to the bank. One day we left everything but a few clothes and essentials behind. I remember sitting in the car watching the world outside and I felt extremely alone. The drive just endlessly went unless we had to go to the bathroom. We ate some cracker things and had water at rest stops from bathrooms. Sleeping in a carseat that you couldn’t lay back in really was hard to adapt to so I didn’t sleep for the first couple nights. It really sucked but as the days turned into weeks, things just became the new normal. We would drive around for hours and sometimes camp out at campgrounds or road sides instead of sleeping in our woefully tiny car.
This completely ruined our education because we couldn’t stay at any school long. I loved school for their food and I would steal paper, pens, and books sometimes so I had something to do. My mother eventually said she would just homeschool us but that was soon dropped for us kids to do for ourselves. I was able to almost get my GED before a sickness stopped me but some of my younger siblings only have an education from 3rd or 4th grade. When it was winter, I remember having to take showers from those hand pumps at the campground. The water was so cold it would instantly burn and numb up anything it touched. We also didn’t have winter clothes, so most of us would wrap up in our old blankets and layers of clothes. We rarely had any food and I resorted to eating some of my clothes, paper, grass, or tiny pieces of my own skin to try to not feel hungry.
Once we had to eat pancakes as our main food for months. I cannot eat pancakes anymore because the very smell of them makes me sick now. Other food we got was ramen, and rarely a hotdog. I’m not sure how my parents managed to get the food or have money even if it was very little. Maybe from a food pantry. Cooking food on the fire wasn’t that hard to do and I learned how to make a fire and gather what a fire needs.
If we got sick, we never went to a doctor. Just had to hope it got better. We were on and off homeless until I was in my late teens when my grandmother bought my parents a house for us all to live in. It still feels so strange to actually have a home and even food. I still have a hard time knowing a lot of social norms because of the isolation from homelessness. You just do what you can to survive.
I still resent my parents for avoiding any help from the government or going to any homeless shelters. They lost our house because of stupid spending and going into bankruptcy. Their habits never changed. We would get a place to live for maybe a year or two then lose it because my parents were terrible at managing money.”
Out By 13
“I was 13 when my parents kicked me out and told me they no longer wanted anything to do with me. I was terrified to visit a shelter because I’d known some foster kids and the whole system scared me plus I wanted to continue going to the same school. I didn’t want to lose my friends, too. The scariest part at that age was really finding out what I was hoping to eat. There had been a dilapidated trailer just minutes down the road from my dad’s place so I stayed in that.
I don’t think it all really hit me until I had to choose one night between food and blankets because the temperature was expected to drop down to the mid 30s and I had only had one somewhat thin blanket at that point. The next day, I put on my best attire which was nothing impressive and asked for a job at Long John Silvers. I lied and told them I was 15 and I worked 5 days a week rushing over after school.
I ate more unhealthy than I have since to save money for some form of shelter which came in the form of a 91 Toyota Camry that I purchased out of the Thrifty Nickel for $300. I loved that clunker plus heating myself was much easier.
From there it was mostly uphill. Found an older lady willing to rent me her garage without any sort of credit check. Took a couch off the side of the road to sleep on. I even had internet in there where I mostly read scary stories all night (I wish video streaming services were really a thing back then) and I just kinda… Learned to roll with the punches. My childhood wasn’t normal. It was downright terrifying a good chunk of the time but it is what made me who I am today”
What Did I Do Wrong Mom?
“I was kicked out by my mother at 16 and spent 2 months homeless before the local authority placed me in foster care.
I think what hit me first was how my own mother could make one of her own children homeless. I felt like the least favorite of her children – it all came out of nowhere, I racked my brain for years after, trying to think of what I might have done in particular.
Also the crippling loneliness you feel when you are trying to get hold of people to ask for a place to sleep for the night. I could not feel more alone in the world when someone would either not answer my message or tell me they were busy.
I’m pretty sure I camped out in the park that night. Didn’t sleep at all.”