Homeless Youth deals with hunger, cold and independence

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

Nate has been arrested, lost his family and his home, and struggled to find ways to stay warm and find scraps to eat - all by the age of 20.

"When I was 17 my parents kicked me out. I think they expected I could live on my own," said Nate, a resident at the Glory Hole homeless shelter downtown who declined to give his last name.

"I think maybe they should have made me move out when I was 19 or 20," he said. "I just wasn't ready and they thought I was. I figured out pretty quick I wasn't."

In 1998 there were an estimated 100 homeless young people in Juneau on any given night, ranging in age from 12 to 19, said Joan Decker, executive director of the Glory Hole. And the number is only going up, she said. Recent estimates place the homeless teen-age population at more than 250, she said.

Greg Pease, one of the founders of the Alaska Coalition of Housing and Homeless, said young people find themselves homeless most often because of family issues such as domestic violence and not following rules of the household, addiction, mental illness and a social system that doesn't support them.

Decker said homeless children pose a threat to themselves on the streets by eating from garbage cans. They also are at risk to freeze.

And Nate is one of them.

Nate said that after his parents told him to move he rented an apartment. Through a series of associations with bad people and choices including drugs and alcohol, he said he lost everything.

"I lost my place because of making noise and having alcohol parties about two months ago," Nate said. "So I became homeless. I kind of walked around and looked for shelter. I just tried to find ways to stay warm."

The police cited him for underage drinking, he said. He couldn't go home, which is how he ended up at the Glory Hole.

His parents live in Juneau, Nate said. He doesn't see them much although he talks to them sometimes. He said he misses his brother although he attributes some of his hard luck to his brother's friends, who taught him to party, he said.

But he said it was his sister who is inspiring him to stay at the shelter by the way she is trying to get clean from a drug habit hundreds of miles away in Seattle.

He said he hopes he can learn from her mistakes and make a life for himself.

"I wasn't hanging out with the right people," he said. "And I'm trying to avoid those types now."

Nate said he doesn't know how long he'll be at the shelter so he makes the most of his time there. Nate's day consists of doing chores around the Glory Hole, walking miles of circles around town looking for work and maybe talking to some people. Although, he said, there are few people he gets along with.

"I guess I'm kind of young but old enough," he said. "I don't really talk to these people (at the Glory Hole). They're all grown-ups and I don't really get along with them pretty much. I guess I get kind of lonely. I haven't really ever gotten along with people very well."

Nate said he hopes to start working soon so he can get out of Juneau.

"I'm still working on getting a job," he said. "I think it's good that I'm here. I've been reading the (driving instruction) manuals and I learned basic math. And I love walking now. I walk all over town filling out applications. I don't just ride. And I'm buying food on my own now and stuff."

He misses having his own place to live, Nate said. He'd like to make his own rules again. But there's even more he misses about home, he said in an interview shortly before Thanksgiving.

"Kind of, growing up, I didn't always miss my family as much," he said. "So I guess it's good I'm here. I might see them for Thanksgiving. They might want me to come home. That would be nice. But if not then, then definitely Christmas. I really love Christmas. It'd be fun to see my whole family."

Plans of saving enough money to go on a trip with his family next summer keep him going during the day, he said. They are going to "some big cities" and he said once he gets there maybe he'll stay.

"I'll find some place eventually," Nate said. "I think I'll find a place where I get along with people someday. It won't be soon, I don't think. Maybe after I'm 21. It won't be Juneau or anything the same size as Juneau. But I think I'll find some place."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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