Maine Teen Leaves Life on the Streets
The streets of Bangor, Maine offer little in the way of comfort for a homeless teen in winter. Jess found herself trying to attend school without the benefit of a permanent home at the age of 15. On average, 7,500 youths a year will spend at least one night homeless in the state of Maine. Of those youth, 1 in 3 is likely to try prostitution within the first 48 hours of leaving home. 70% of young people that live on the streets become victims of sexual exploitation. Many cannot keep up with school and struggle against a cycle of abuse, neglect and poverty.
In 1991, the Shaw House Shelter in Bangor opened to provide a safe place to be during overnight hours. Over the years with funding from the Administration for Children and Families, the state of Maine and private donors, other programs and services were added to fully meet the needs of runaway, homeless youth and their families.
Jess’s story is heart wrenching, but not unique. After her parents’ marriage ended, she found herself emotionally bereft with a sense of loneliness that never seemed to recede. Feeling unsafe in a chaotic environment, she left home and stayed with an older brother for a while, but he was unable to keep the apartment. She started couch hopping, a term many homeless use to describe sleeping on floors, couches or a spare cot at the homes of friends or acquaintances. Jess tried to maintain her studies and keep up her attendance in school despite her lack of a stable environment. Without money for shoes, she helped herself to a pair and got in trouble with the law for shoplifting.
An experienced juvenile corrections officer understood Jess’ dilemma and got her connected with the Shaw House. She eventually moved to the transitional living program that offered a longer-term placement for young people to attend school, get a job and prepare for the day they leave and take their place in the community. Jess was able to graduate from high school and found a job afterwards. She plans to further her education and is saving money for a car and a place of her own.
Through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, ACF's Family Youth Services Bureau supports street outreach, emergency shelters and longer-term transitional living and maternity group home programs to serve and protect these young people.