Homeless Youth: Expectations, Resilience, and BS

I spent my first year of graduate school reading all about homeless youth, and the summer after my first year I began my own research to explore this resilient community of people.

I was struck – in the studies I’d read – by the hints of abundant resilience that HY seem to carry inside of them. Of course, the reasons for any given youth being homeless (and the spectrum of what “homelessness” includes) are quite varied, and the experiences that lead up to and precede homelessness are also varied. But whatever the reasons, the history, or the struggle, these youth seem to find a way to carry on, to sort through all of the shit they’re up against, and make the most of it.

In all honesty, I was quite nervous to go from reading scholarly articles discussing research with HY to actually interviewing them face-to-face. Let’s be real: the only classification of marginalization I can truly claim is being female, and perhaps that I didn’t have as many advantages and opportunities as some of the kids I grew up with. However, I’ve had a pretty good life with a supportive family, a roof over my head, healthy food at my fingertips, and many unnecessary comforts of modern life. HY, on the other hand, are a marginalized group within just that categorization, let alone the many other pieces of their backgrounds and identities that put them at a great disadvantage. I was anxious, I felt like an intruder: what right did I have to come ask them about their lives? Would they see me as a fraud?

They welcomed me with open arms and were eager to answer my questions. I’m sure it was my own misconceptions and assumptions that made me nervous about interviewing them, and I found that going in with an open mind and an “I don’t know anything” attitude worked quite well.

Spending three days a week interviewing these kids has put a lot of things into perspective for me, while also reflecting back to me a piece of who I am that I sometimes forget or don’t give myself credit for: that I, too, was resilient – AM resilient. These kids are an inspiration to me when shit gets rough, and remind me of the strength I carry within myself. This has been quite poignant for me as I interview them, as it has been a period of internal struggle and half of the time I don’t feel like I have the energy to get out of bed, let along walk into a room full of unpredictable youth and listen to them talk to me all day.

Although I expected – and indeed have encountered – the strong sense of community among HY and the numerous ways in which they support one another through this period of their lives, I have been more struck by the resilience they exude, by their ability to capitalize on the opportunities and resources they do have, by their drive to make the most out of their lives. I have also been caught off guard by how self-reflective a lot of them are, by the depths of what they think about all day long, and by how articulate they are in expressing it.

I wish I could go into detail about the kernels of wisdom I hear from these youth every day, about the struggles they’re overcome and the details of their strength and compassion and ability to live life so fully, about the beautiful art they create and the songs they sing. Of course, some youth are really struggling and haven’t dug their way out of the hole they’re in. But even those youth show signs of trying, or not giving up. I cannot divulge the details of confidential interviews, but here are a few personal lessons I’ve learned from these youth so far:

  1. Drop your expectations.
  2. Tap into your own resilience.
  3. There’s no time or room for bullshit in life.

In regards to the third lesson: the HY I’ve interviewed have no patience for BS. They don’t associate with people who bring them down, they walk away from situations that don’t serve their goals, and they move on without looking back – but, crucially, they also see the importance of learning along they way. I resonate with that a lot, but it has also made me recognize more clearly the bullshit I create. I’m working on that one.

I’m looking forward to the rest of my summer interviewing these youth, to all they are teaching me, and to using the data I’m collecting to help them in the future.

Categories: Community, Sense of Community

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