A Teen's Life Among the 'Hidden Homeless'
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Every generation of adults likes to complain about how spoiled the younger generation is. Older observers, say, of a 16-year-old who's making a to-do list may wonder what sort of weighty tasks are on that list: get a new ring tone, find a ride home from soccer practice, study for tomorrow's Spanish quiz? Well, reporter Miriam Widman met a kid in Portland, Oregon, whose daily list includes something much more vital: find a place to spend the night.
MIRIAM WIDMAN: Tim Dudley is leading the hip-hop dance group at Madison High School in northeast Portland. He's very outgoing and not afraid to strut his stuff in his ripped jeans and T-shirt. Tim is a bit on the pudgy side. He used to play football but gave it up for hip-hop, his true love.
Mr. TIM DUDLEY (High School Student): One, and two, and three, and four...
WIDMAN: Tim joined the team last year and he's moved up to being a leader in the group, teaching other students the dance moves and choreographing his own. That may not be so remarkable, but it's fairly astounding for someone like Tim who hasn't always known where he's going to stay for the night.
Mr. DUDLEY: Recently, as of like last June, we got evicted and we were homeless for, say, like two months. And I had to end up going to stay with one of my friends.
WIDMAN: That friend was a fellow dance team member. Over the years, Tim's so-called home has been everything from friend's couches to a foster home. He's even stayed with his dance teacher, Claudette Saunders.
Ms. CLAUDETTE SAUNDERS (Dance Teacher): I kind of helped him out a little bit and stuff. You know, he'd come spend a night over my house, and just little things like that. So we just try to give him all the support we can.
WIDMAN: Although Tim is very outgoing and has gotten into trouble more than once for talking in class when he should've been listening, few people know about his lack of stable housing.
MR. DUDLEY: I really don't share that information, unless like I'm really close with the person because I don't feel that it's anyone else's business.
WIDMAN: Tim represents the hidden homeless, many of whom are children. Some live on the streets, some are in foster care, others live in residential motels with their families. More than half stay on couches at the homes of friends or relatives, a type of housing referred to as being doubled up. In Oregon, there were more than 13,000 homeless students last year. Nationally, the most recently released data from the Department of Education is for the school year beginning 2004. Those figures showed more than 655,000 students without a permanent residence, and the numbers are on the rise. Take away the numbers and there's a kid like Tim. In fifth grade, he went into foster housing with his brother. His mother went into a drug rehab program.
How did you manage with things like getting to school on time and doing your homework?
Mr. DUDLEY: It was pretty tough because I felt like really, like depressed and I just felt like why should I do my homework when there's nobody to show it to, you know. And like, nobody to show my good grades to besides my friend's mom and it's not really my mom.
WIDMAN: You don't talk about a dad. Is he not in the picture?
Mr. DUDLEY: He is every once in a while. You know, sometimes we have those kind of fathers that just don't - they're there every once in a while, but not all the time.
JEANNIE HARTLAUB (Director, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods): I don't know how he stays so up and so positive all the time. I would think that you would start to get down, but that's just not - that's not Tim.
WIDMAN: Jeannie Hartloub is the director of the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods or SUN program at Madison High in northeast Portland. She deals with a lot of homeless youth and says the outcomes aren't always positive, especially when it comes to grades.
Ms. HARTLOUB: They're worried about where are they going to sleep that night. So the last thing they're worried about is their homework.
WIDMAN: What's key, experts acknowledge, is the building self-esteem. For Tim, that comes through dance. Even though there have been challenges there too.
Mr. DUDLEY: I got a lot of criticism from it. They're just like, that's gay for you to be on the dance team and stuff like that. You're the only guy and you going to turn gay, and stuff like that. So I'm like, whatever, you know. I really don't bother like with that. I mean, it's something that I love, something that I love to do. I mean you can't deny what you love to do unless you just bury it, but that's not what I'm doing to do. I'm going to pursue it.
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WIDMAN: Tim is expected to graduate in 2008 and he's already won a $6,000 scholarship to attend college. His mother is out of drug rehabilitation and into a new apartment. Tim recently left the couch at his friend's house to join her there.
For NPR News, I'm Miriam Widman.
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