You know, a couple times a year, I am asked to speak before groups of homeless youth. Whole rooms full of homeless youth, even.
And usually, I’ll do it.
I am asked to speak before rooms full of homeless youth because I am seen, in some quarters, as a formerly homeless youth success story.
Yeah, I know. Me. A success!
I am seen in these quarters as a formerly homeless youth success story because I used to be homeless. From the age of twelve all the way to age eighteen, I was. But I am not homeless anymore. Now I’m just formerly homeless. Now I’ve got somewhere to live and two jobs and three academic degrees and a busload of kids and a blog that gets dozens of page views a month.
A success. So today’s homeless youth obviously need to hear all about me.
Every time I am asked to speak before rooms full of homeless youth, the People in Charge hand me guidelines on what I can say and what I can’t.
I can be honest but not too honest. I can inspire but not aid and abet. I cannot, for example, give tips to the kids as to how they might evade the People in Charge. I cannot do that even though it is exactly what the kids really want and need to hear. I cannot do that even though I’d be really, really good at it.
Why, I bet I could teach a kick-ass, semester-long course on “How to Be a Feral Child in the City.”
People would come from all over to take my class. There’d be homeless kids and kids who were thinking about it. Moms trying to figure out where their kids had gone. Recent divorcees starting over. Bearded survivalists looking for ideas. Writers and social workers.
And cops. Always cops. Probably a whole lot of cops.
I’d tell them it’s not an easy thing, being a homeless thirteen year old. It’s harder than it sounds. I’d tell them you can’t be seen during school hours and you can’t be seen at night. You don’t have a home but you can’t look like you don’t have a home.
And if you require medical treatment – even once! – then buddy, the jig is up. Even if you eat rancid meat or break your leg jumping from a third story window. Even if your stomach’s been getting bigger for nine months. Even if, yeah, that green thumb really does look infected to me.
You’re just going to have to suck it up and pull that molar yourself with some pliers in an alley – if you can find yourself some pliers and an alley – because if you go to a hospital, here come the social workers and here come the cops and here come the, you know, People in Charge. Teachers and counselors and foster dads, oh my.
I’d tell them how I’ve seen it happen.
Not to me, of course, because I was really, really good at it. I’ve got a weird crooked finger and a pupil that’s partially paralyzed but still. Really, really good at it.
And if the People in Charge would only let me, I’d give these kids my lesson on how to avoid the cops, which is important because homeless youth have got to learn how to avoid the cops because homeless youth are going to be breaking the law much of the time.
Like every single day.
Trespassing. Theft. Truancy. Prostitution. Vagrancy. Panhandling. Breaking and entering. Fraud. Public intoxication and drug possession and fishing without a license. Maybe it will not be all of those every single day but it will be some of those. Every single day.
If I could do my own course, my course would be killer. Amazing. My course would be one of a kind. Way better than Algebra or Geology II.
But for now, I’ll follow their guidelines when I speak. I’ll say, “Regardless of what you do in life, you’ll do fine if you do this: First, find two people in the world whose opinions you trust. Two people from very different walks of life. Even if it’s just a librarian and that weird chick from the bus stop, find two. Then, before you make any major life decision, ask them both about it and compare their answers.”
I’ll say, “That’s what’s always worked for me.”
I’ll say, “Well, that and meeting rich girls on the internet.”
Generic advice, sure, but helpful. Honest but not too honest. I mean, I sort of want to be asked back again to speak to next year’s rooms full of homeless youth.