I was one of the homeless teens of America. I’m not some random writer writing about this shit, I was it. From fourteen to sixteen I was institutionalized. From sixteen to seventeen I was homeless, and from seventeen to twenty-seven I was a vagrant nomad cocaining myself around the world. If anyone can speak on teen homelessness, it’s me. So let me tell you my initial thoughts on the subject: it was the greatest time of my life.
The Greatest Part About Being One of America’s Homeless Teens
Liberation. The first time I set foot on Thayer Street in Providence, Rhode Island after escaping from my fourth institution I ended up in and saw the sea of misfit homeless teens like me, it felt like I was home at last. Finally, a group of kids that understand what it’s like to not have anywhere to go and yet be able to go anywhere they please. Teen homelessness meant true freedom. I was strung out on drugs and girls and hitchhiking; the freedom that, in my head, every teen longs for. The ability to go anywhere, do anything, and be anyone is what set me on the path to become a Guinness World Record traveler. Most people see homelessness as a bad thing, but not me. I see it as a spiritual practice. Homelessness was one of the greatest parts of my adolescence.
I was squatting in attics of garages owned by people that were in their homes with no idea there was a kid with past dodging their rusty nails and flaky insulation. I was sleeping on the fluffy grass of the Brown University main green under the most beautiful tree I had seen. There was a girl I met from South Providence that put me up during our relationship, yes homeless teens have girlfriends too. I slept at her uncle’s place often and hid out in the closet whenever we heard footsteps. She was a white chick with pink dreadlocks and a buncha black brothers. I fingered her until the early morning when I had to crawl out her window at like 5AM and find my way to the bus stop with enough cash to make it back to Thayer Street.
Teenage Homlessness is a Way of Life
I sat atop my Indian blanket with funny signs, incense sticks burning that I stuck into the pores of the cement sideway, and asked anyone who walked by for a couple quarters. Some responses were kind, others not so kind, but I was never alone. Strangers that quickly became friends were always welcome to join me on my blanket and join in on the quest to spare change enough cash till we could afford to buy dinner and breakfast the next morning. I learned tricks, like how Dunkin Donuts threw out their donuts every night and how the 24-hour marketplace chucked their sandwiches on the day of expiration. Those tricks kept my stomach full on many nights. It was sometimes scary, but I never lost faith. This was the life I wanted: a life of true freedom.
I slept on the floor of random passerbys that asked me to find them acid and weed. Selling acid was my primary means of making a living. I made friends with college kids and crashed in their dorm rooms after smoking hookah with them all night and went to Ivy league parties and told everyone I studied economics. I even met a girl that went to Brown University and attended class with her: Christianity with Late Antiquity (whatever the fuck that means). I stayed with her for quite some time and lied about my age. I said I was eighteen turning nineteen when in fact I was sixteen turning seventeen. Nobody could know my true age, which made it quite difficult whenever she’d ask me to grab her a pack of cigarettes…
Being a Homeless Teen Takes Strategy
She has since found this blog and my book and written about me and about the piece of garbage I was (basically). But before I left her one night to hitchhike my way to Georgia, she and I went pumpkin patch picking on Halloween while tripping on acid and made jack-o-lanterns in the parking lot of some dorm. In reality, teen homelessness was the greatest time of my life. I even went down to Birmingham, Alabama to recruit my best friend from the therapeutic reform school I ran away from. I told everyone how wonderful all the other homeless teens were and the amazing connections I made, just like my idol Jack Kerouac.
I stole books from the Brown University bookstore and read them on the sidewalk and bookmarked my favorite passages. I wrote shitty prose in my green journal while tripping on acid and thought to myself: one day this will be a bestseller. This will be my legacy. These pages will be published and I will be famous like Allen Ginsberg. There was nothing more exhilarating than wondering where my life was going, what would happen, and how I would make my path lead somewhere meaningful.
Life as a Homeless Teen is Like a Pilgrimage
But pilgrimage or not, there were a few bad moments living on the street. More than a few…
On one occasion, I got sick. I hadn’t eaten much. Most of my meals were stolen from the deli, but when I got sick I couldn’t move very well. My friend from Birmingham had to carry me to the library in Brown University and lay me across five chairs so I could sleep. Everyone stared at me. Of course they did. The money their parents were spending to give them an Ivy League education was being tainted by the young homeless teen from Thayer Street. I waited with a stomach ache of pain and a headache that vibrated through my whole skull. He brought me candy bars and told me to eat up. He got me water and told me to drink. Years later I saw him and all those days came rushing back to me as if it were last week he shoplifted those chocolate bars to keep my blood sugar alive.
There were other occasions when I went to sleep in bad places and woke up in bad situations. Rain was the enemy. On one night, well, more than one night, when I had exhausted all the places I could possibly sleep in the rain, I headed down to South Providence and entered a house known as Sassafras. The house had a few roommates and a cult leader known as the Grateful Fred. It’s unclear if anyone in the rooms of the house was paying rent, but it was clearly not an ideal place for anyone to be.
The Bad Shit of Teen Homelessness
There were needles and gangs of kids roaming in and out all morning while I tried to sleep past 7AM. I acted like I didn’t hear any of the chaos. They smoked blunts on the couch I was asleep on like I was invisible. But in the end it all made for a great story and a great story is not only fun to read, but even better to live. That’s why I made homelessness a part of my chapters of youth. Homeless felt cool and risky. Being one of the homeless teens you may pass on the street and feel bad for gave me the freedom to paint my life in any direction I so chose. I was a handsome kid and that helped. Without my prettiness it may never have worked. I’m not sure. All I know is girls were the best part of vagabonding as a teen.
Some chick brought me back to her mom’s house in Cranston once. That was fuckin weird. I walked in and it was as if her mom was a tardy friend that could never make it to class on time. There was no substance to their relationship so when we walked into her home there was nothing odd to her mother about my existence. The girl I was with, Angela, damn I still remember her name twenty years later… anyway, Angela had no rules like I had no rules and that’s why we vibed even though she technically had a home. I wanted her more than anything but I think she only ever gave me a kiss on the lips.
The game of homeless teens is a game only those of us lived can explain. There are serious long term side effects, and that should be clear. It’ll hurt a lot of people close to you. You’ll put your family in a damn frenzy. Everyone will be worried sick. I don’t know if that’s a tradeoff you’re willing to make, but leaving everything you have to roam the world, or country, or even state, is one of the most memorable adventures I ever had.
The Best Places to be a Homeless Teen
The best place to be a homeless teen is a college town. Bloomington, Indiana, Boulder Colorado, Providence, Rhode Island, Portland, Oregon… I mean, any place where a lot of colleges exist is where homeless teens should go. You’ll find other people just like you, and most of the kids you’ll never understand how they got to where they are.
For Instance I used to hang out with this kid Isaac. Apparently he had a home but was too scared to go there. He walked around in a cape and was known up and down Thayer Street. Another kid named Ari lived at his dad’s house but always hung out on the corner with us and dated homeless chicks. Dreadie John was a heroin dealer that didn’t even remember his 29th birthday when it came around. He wasn’t a homeless teen but the point is his story was nonsensical like the rest of our stories were.
The moral of the story is, and I’m sorry to say this, but being one of the homeless teens on the street is fucking incredible. It’s where I learned how to take care of myself and probably the greatest lesson I learned is: you can always leave if shit is not going well.
You can pick up and go somewhere else.
Wherever you go there you are, sure, but still it helps to know nobody is holding you back. It might sometimes feel like everyone is holding you back, but really there’s nobody that can keep you in a situation you want out of, and I never woulda learned that on my own without being a homeless teen. And when shit got too crazy, and believe me, when your best friends are prostitutes that rob their pimps and drug dealers with warrants for their arrest, shit can get pretty crazy pretty quickly, sometimes ya just gotta bounce and there’s nothing wrong with that type of thing. Create the life you want. That’s what being a homeless teen is all about.
Now here’s a tale about when I went to jail before my date with Elizabeth Olsen.