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Check It Out

Courier Article by Charles Sutton
Sunday, March 8, 2009

Teen Literature Puts Face On Child Homeless

The number of homeless students is rising. Young adult literature can provide a basis for understanding homeless teenagers' struggle to survive. 

The Nation recently published an article, "Hope for the Homeless," that cited a 150 percent increase in homelessness in students of Cleveland's public schools.  In the Nashville, Tenn., area, at least 2,200 children are homeless, according to a recent article in The Tennessean newspaper.   And in Detroit, the Free Press published an article on Monday that said 24 percent of homeless people nationwide are younger than 19 years old.

Evansville has its share of homeless students. According to the Destination:Home Web site (, the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. identified 485 students who experienced homelessness; about half were teenagers.

Young adult literature provides readers an opportunity to experience teenage homelessness vicariously from a homeless teenagers point of view.

"Sketches" by Eric Walters

For Dana, Brent and Ashley, surviving on the streets is a never-ending quest for food and shelter. When Dana finds Sketches, there may be some hope.

Walters does an excellent job of creating a delicate balance between the realities of homelessness and available services in an environment where establishing trust and asking for and accepting help is dubious.

"Theories of Relativity" by Barbara Haworth-Attard

Dylan has his theories. For example, no one gives something for nothing. He also isn't stupid. "There are no real friends on the street. You've got to look out for yourself. That's not a theory. It's just the way it is."

Dylan is surviving on his own, trying to avoid the predatory grip of Vulture. But, can Dylan remain drug-free and safe long enough to find his place in the world?

"Can't Get There From Here" by Todd Strasser

Maybe lives on the streets with her tribe of runaways and throwaways. If you live to 20 you're lucky. You don't stand a chance on the streets, but going home or to the Youth Housing Project isn't that easy either.

As each of Maybe's tribe succumbs, goes to the hospital or with family, she is left to ponder her fate. Maybe she will have a chance.

"Ten Mile River" by Paul Griffin

Ray and Jose escape juvenile detention and foster care together and take refuge in a burnt-out station house in "Ten Mile River." The two must do whatever it takes to survive. Can Trini and her aunt Yolie help the boys or will the bonds of their friendship be forever broken?

"Without a Net" by Michelle Kennedy

Michelle Kennedy's true story is about the fragility of middle-class America. Living paycheck to paycheck can be devastating after separation from a spouse or employment. For several months, Kennedy and her three children lived in her car while she saved for an apartment.

Homelessness is a serious issue and these stories lay bare the stark realities of surviving without stable or adequate housing. We see cold, hungry and exhausted human beings who didn't ask to be homeless, each trying to find a place in the world.

Charles Sutton is a teen specialist librarian. Readers may contact him at 428-8217. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.