Homeless young people range from runaways leaving painful family lives, such as Nia, to those who have been abused emotionally and physically, to those edged out of their houses because their families are facing bankruptcy and foreclosure.
The National Runaway Switchboard, a federally funded hot line, reports that between 1.6 million and 2.8 million young people leave home each year.
“Homelessness doesn’t look like a cardboard box,” said a spokeswoman for the Interfaith Nutrition Network, a Hempstead-based nonprofit that provides food, shelter and rehabilitative services for the homeless. “It’s the neighbor struggling to pay their mortgage,” she said. “It’s the victims of [Hurricane] Sandy who don’t have the resources to rebuild again … It’s here, and it’s in every single neighborhood — it doesn’t matter what your ZIP code is.”
While most homeless young people are placed in short- and long-term shelters, many go unreported, seeking refuge on the couches of friends or relatives, in abandoned buildings, in desolate parks or on the streets. One of them was Michael Ivey, an 18-year-old runaway who was found in an empty, filthy home on Scaneateles Avenue in Lakeview by Nassau County police last July and accused of committing a string of burglaries in the neighborhood. The home, which was filled with mildew and animal feces, was “unfit” for human habitation, authorities said.
According to police, it had been unoccupied since 2008, when the bank foreclosed on it. Ivey hid out there for two months before he was arrested and charged with stealing cash, credit cards, electronics, and assorted knives and swords in three home invasions.