The U.S. has dealt with teen homelessness for generations. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, more than 250,000 homeless kids rode freight trains across the country in search of work. Their situation improved as more jobs became available in the 1940s.
Today, youth homelessness appears to be rising in many areas of the country. In King County, Washington, for example, the number of homeless teens increased by 700 percent between 2016 and 2017. In San Diego, California, the number jumped by about 40 percent in that time.
The problem even extends to college campuses. A recent national survey found that nine percent of university students were homeless in the last year.
Experts say there’s a reason for the apparent increase. Communities are getting better at collecting data on the number of homeless teens. That’s a good thing, notes Howard. In fact, having accurate figures is the first step toward addressing the problem. Still, authorities agree that the number of kids in crisis remains alarmingly high.
While the causes are different, homeless teens tend to have one thing in common. Most have few people, if anyone, they can rely on for help.
That was certainly the case for Savohn. The summer before his senior year of high school in Orlando, Florida, Savohn says, he had a huge fight with his mom. She kicked him out of the house after their argument.
For months, he moved from one place to another, carrying his belongings in a tote bag. Sometimes he got lucky and was able to stay with friends or his older sister. But on other nights, he slept on a bench at a bus stop. “It was hard to fall asleep because I was so hungry,” he recalls. “I cried every night.”
Through it all, Savohn continued to go to school. Depending on where he’d stayed the night before, he sometimes walked 20 miles to get to class. That journey took about 5 hours. He couldn’t afford to take a bus. That meant that on those days he forced himself to wake up at three in the morning to make it to his first class.
At the time, he desperately tried to hide his situation. “I didn’t tell anybody,” he says. “I felt embarrassed.”
Still, Savohn remained focused on school. He also continued to pursue his passion for singing, dancing, and acting. All that hard work is finally paying off.
Today, Savohn, now 20, is a freshman at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, a performing arts college in New York City. He says he hopes to put the past behind him: “It’s like starting a new life.”