For most people, the teenage years are full of high school football games and homecoming dances, study hall and college applications. But for the roughly 100 homeless youth in Knox County, the teenage years are filled, not with term papers or parties, but with fear and uncertainty. Few shelters are equipped to handle homeless youth and social services are hard for them to find. Alone, these kids are in survival mode, searching for food and a place to stay warm.
In WUOT’s “On Their Own,” freelance reporter Leslie Snow introduces us to Robert Felter and Shariyay Goins, two young people who lived on the streets as teenagers. And to Annette Beebe, the case manager who helped them find their way home.
Robert’s story of homelessness begins with the parents he barely knew. He spent his early years moving from foster home to foster home, suffering abuse and neglect along the way. When his home-life became intolerable, he decided he’d be better off living on the streets. He ate expired canned food out of dumpsters to survive. He was stabbed under a bridge for the five dollars he had in his pocket. And when he tried to find help at an adult shelter, he was told that he was too young to stay there.
Shariyay became homeless when she was kicked out of her house after a fight with her mother. Feeling vulnerable and alone, she bought a tent and tried to make it a home. She didn’t shower for a month. She sold food-stamps when she needed money. When her homelessness became too much for her to bear, she made her way to the Community Action Committee and to Annette Beebe.
In her role as the homeless youth coordinator for CAC, Annette helps find housing and employment opportunities for homeless youth. Resources for this population are scarce, with only a handful of emergency beds available in Knox County. It’s a difficult population to serve. Most homeless youth don’t know what social services are available or how to access them. And while she tries to maintain a professional distance, the bond she develops with her clients is clear. They come to trust and depend on her. With help, Annette says, they start to believe they can have a brighter future and a chance at happiness.
Hear more from Robert Felter:
And from Sharyiay Goins: