It was the day after they went to the New Horizons shelter for a real shower and a change of clothes.
“I’m not going,” I’d said.
A hot meal, May promised, even though, according to her, I had a long way to go before I got scrawny. A shower, Creed hinted. New shoes and warmer clothes, Santos promised.
“The New Ho’s are all right. Least, they give decent food,” he said. And last week, he’d come home with a jacket, new socks, and underwear.
I thought of my oldest brother, Jesse, the Good Samaritan. He was always the one collecting clothing for the shelters. I’d probably run into my own clothes there, remnants from another life. If they thought I ran away, that would be the first place they’d check. Were there posters up for missing kids? Would they report me to the police?
Even if they didn’t, there were other hazards. If I undressed in front of May, she would see the bracelet. And more.
“Oh, come on,” Santos wheedled as he ran his hand over Faulkner’s sleek fur. ‘I mean, I didn’t wanna say anything, but you’re getting kinda smelly―”
“I said no!”
May raised her eyebrows. Santos looked hurt. Creed appraised me thoughtfully. “Fine,” Santos said, “you don’t have to go…”
Creed pushed himself away from the wall. “Leave her alone. If she doesn’t want to go, she doesn’t have to. We all have things we don’t want to talk about.”
A sick feeling crept into my stomach. May had things. Santos had things. If they knew about my things, they would kick me out faster than I could swipe a bar of soap from the drugstore. If they knew about my friends, my house, my parents…still they wouldn’t know a thing about me.
- Excerpt from Don’t Breathe a Word
New Horizons—or New Ho’s, as it’s known—is a real location in Seattle, and their mission is to help homeless teens get on their feet and leave street life.
When I first started making notes for Don’t Breathe a Word, I didn’t know if my ideas would fit into the reality of what teens actually experience on the streets…so I did a lot of independent research and took a class at New Horizons on working with homeless teens. Just a few things I learned:
· The three most typical outcomes for homeless teens: they go home, they get off the streets, or they die.
· Rain, cold, and mold are a big problem in Seattle. A lot of kids get sick, and clean, dry socks are a big deal.
· A lot of homeless teens have pets for protection and love.
· Kids are usually running from something (like trauma or abuse), not running to the streets.
· Abuse on the streets is common. One statistic is that within 72 hours, most kids have been approached or assaulted.
· Wanting to leave bad habits is not a motivation to leave the streets—finding purpose and meaning is.
I was also really surprised when the ideas I already had for the story (like street names, ideas of justice, and banding together for family and protection) were confirmed by real life. I guess some things are universal.
So for every meaningful comment on the DBAW blog tour from now until Monday January 16th, I will donate $1 to New Horizons. Ask questions and I will try to answer them! Tell me something you’ve learned about homeless teens through the Don’t Breathe a Word tour. Let me know what you think of Joy, May, Santos, and Creed. And thank you for supporting me and my writing—it means the world.
Thank you, Jennifer at Late Bloomer Online, for inviting me to your blog!
Thank you Holly for allowing us to be a stop on your tour!