Streetwise Revisited: Homeless Youth

Follow us throughout the fall for posts which highlight library resources and information that supports the Tiny: Streetwise Revisited exhibit at the Central Library and its community programming.

Every year the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness conducts a One Night Count, a county-wide effort to count the number of individuals sleeping on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing.  They also conduct another count that focuses exclusively on youth ages 12-25 called Count Us In, now in its sixth year.  The results of the 2015 Count Us In efforts reported a staggering – and increasing – number of youth and young adults without reliable housing.  Over 800 youth did not have housing on January 22, 2015.   Within those results are some figures that are especially troubling: fully one third of homeless youth identify as Black/African American, and nearly one quarter identify as LGBTQ.  These numbers make it clear that we, as a city and county, have a lot of work to when it comes to supporting youth who are struggling. 

Why do youth end up homeless?  The reasons are infinite.  Teens from families living in poverty may leave to fend for themselves.  LGTBQ youth are frequently rejected by family after coming out or may face unbearable harassment at school and in their community (read more on LGBTQ homeless issues here).  Youth aging out of foster care at 18 can have a particularly difficult time finding their feet as many lack the support networks taken for granted by many young people.  Others may be struggling with stigma surrounding incarceration or dealing with untreated mental health or addiction issues. Interested in getting a better sense of their stories?  Here are some books that address the realities that so many of our youth are facing today. 


Author Paul Griffin writes gritty urban fiction about young people trying to find their way and Ten Mile River, his first novel, is one of his best.  Ray and Jose, having fled foster homes and juvenile detention, are trying to make it on their own through a combination of working and stealing.  The dialogue is sharp and very funny and it is difficult not to care deeply for these characters, especially as they try to plan for the future.  Authentic and convincing, this novel illuminates the day to day realities and struggles and barriers youth face when living on the street. 

In Coe Booth’s debut novel, Tyrell is a 15-year-old who is trying his best to do what is right but taking care of his younger brother and trying to earn enough money to leave the emergency shelter is hard enough. Taking the easy way out starts to sound like the best solution, even if means following in his father’s footsteps.  Booth’s characters are exceptionally well-drawn; readers will get a sense of how complicated things can be when a family is one step away from being on the street.   

Punkzilla, a street kid living on the streets of Portland, OR, writes letters to his older brother, Pete, about his life and his travels to Memphis, TN, where Pete is in the final stages of terminal cancer.  Author and playwright Adam Rapp is known for his brutally honest storytelling and, while he does not shy away from the uglier side of life, his characters are crafted with nuance and respect. 

Hiding in Plain Sight is a memoir by a transgender youth who spent several years surviving on the streets.  Eventually finding enough stability to attend college, the author is never able to fully leave behind those years spent alone.  A job at a shelter for homeless youth seems like the perfect place after graduation, but a youth with a malicious streak seems determined to ruin the happiness Zane has created for himself. 

Interested in making a positive impact on the state of youth homelessness in Seattle?  You can find a list of youth shelters here.  Youth shelters rely on private funds, donations of clothing and personal hygiene items, and volunteers to meet the daily needs of youth in crisis.

These books depict the varied experiences of homeless and insecurely housed teens. Fictional works featuring homeless characters are listed first, followed by nonfiction titles. This list was created by a librarian at The Seattle Public Library for the “Streetwise Revisited: A 30-year Journey” exhibit, September 15th through November 3rd, 2016 at the Central Library: Streetwise Revisited: Teens and Homelessness

~posted by Summer H.

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