When Avery* decided to call 1-800-RUNAWAY, she had already been homeless and surviving on the streets for ten months. She was sitting on the sidewalk, downtown in a big city, selling drawings out of her sketchbook and asking passerbys for change when a social worker doing street outreach asked her about her situation. She didn’t want to talk and told him she was 19, even though she was only 17. He gave her a pamphlet. “If you ever do need some help, here are some numbers you can call.” Avery took the pamphlet but told the social worker, “I don’t need help, thanks.”
Later that week, after another exhausting day, Avery decided maybe she did need someone to talk to. She was a long way from home, after all, and had long ago learned not to trust people she met on the street.
When the phone rang, crisis liner volunteer Mandy* answered. “National Runaway Safeline, how can I help you?”
“Umm, I don’t really know how this works…what am I supposed to do?”
“Well, that depends on your situation,” said Mandy. “What were you hoping we could help with today?”
“I guess I just need someone to talk to,” said Avery. She told Mandy how she had been homeless for nearly a year. After Avery’s mom found out her daughter was a lesbian and in a relationship with a girl from school, Avery’s mom kicked her out of the house.
“My mom totally freaked out. She said I can’t stay with them [her family] ever again, not to call, and that she was going to pretend I was dead.”
Avery stayed with friends for a while and continued to go to school, but she soon ran out of places to stay and decided to hit the road. She dropped out of school and had been surviving on the street since then.
“I’m so sorry to hear that, you don’t deserve to be kicked out, you deserve to have your sexual orientation respected. What your mom did was not okay.”
“I mean, don’t feel sorry for me, I don’t want your pity,” Avery responded shortly.
“Of course not. It sounds like you are incredibly resourceful, you’ve been surviving for so long without anywhere stable to stay or any support. What you are going through is incredibly difficult, and it would be a challenge for anyone. It sounds like you are surviving the best you know how. You are a really strong person. We are here to listen and support you in any way that we can.”
Avery told the liner how she had hitchhiked and hopped on trains from one side of the country to the other. She stayed in a tent in one city, slept on a stranger’s couch in another state. For money, she panhandled or busked (playing music for money). She went dumpster diving for most of her meals. She tried staying at a youth shelter once, but she was harassed by another resident and felt unsafe. The shelter called her mother, who said that Avery didn’t have permission to stay there. Avery ran away from the shelter and tried to avoid social service organizations after that.
“We aren’t here to tell anyone what to do,” said Mandy. “It is understandable that you are unsure about going to a shelter. There may be some resources we can find for you that may be able to help in other ways, like a drop-in center that might be able to help with showers, laundry, and food. There are some programs that don’t call your parents. However, all the overnight shelters will, since you are a minor.”
“If there was somewhere that wouldn’t call my mom, I would consider going if they had stuff I could use. But I feel safer sleeping on the beach than going back to a shelter” said Avery.
“We can respect that. We want to make sure that we are supporting you in the way that you want to be supported. We aren’t here to force you to do anything, and you can call us any time you need to talk, for resources or just for support over the phone. You are the only person who can make those decisions for yourself,” Mandy reassured her.
Avery agreed to let Mandy call some resources in the area to see what they could offer without having to call Avery’s mom. Mandy was able to locate a drop-in center for LGBT homeless youth. With Avery waiting on the other line, Mandy called the drop-in center and confirmed that teens can come during drop in hours to access laundry, showers, food, and other resources with no questions asked.
“This should help a little bit at least. If you ever do need anything, you can call us any time 24/7 and we are here to listen and help however we can.”
“Thanks,” said Avery. “It was good to get some of this off my chest. Thanks for listening, and I will check out that program.”
“You sound like a very strong, tough, and resourceful person,” said Mandy. “You don’t deserve to be in this situation. I’m so glad that you called today. Please let us know if there is ever anything else we can do for you.”
Thousands of LGBT teens like Avery become homeless every year due to a lack of family acceptance. Not every youth who calls 1-800-RUNAWAY is looking to reunite with family or to connect with social services. NRS listens non-judgmentally and provides options without pressuring youth or telling them what to do. If you aren’t sure what your next step is, you can call 1-800-RUNAWAY or chat with us on www.1800RUNAWAY.org. We will work with you to develop a plan that you are comfortable with, or just listen when you need to talk.
*names changed to protect confidentiality.