Bill walks into the office. He's nineteen, tall, and scrawny. His eyes never reach mine as he talks. I notice he's wearing the same clothes I first saw him in last week, but I don't think anything of it. When we first met, he'd told me if he could go to college he'd like to study History.
With his eyes cast down to the floor, he begins to tell me he needs a job. He inhales, and in one sweeping breath, he tells me he doesn't have a place to live. He's squatting in an abandoned building, has been "living" there for two weeks.
My heart stumbles.
I tell him to sit. He sits, leans over, and stares at the floor between his feet. I can tell by the way his face tenses that spilling the truth isn't easy for him.
"Have you eaten?" I ask.
"Yeah, I'm going with my guy to eat. He's waiting for me outside," he says.
"Do you have some place to stay tonight?" I ask.
"Yeah, my guys letting me crash in his place tonight. But I don't have anywhere after that."
I proceed to call our youth case manager who hooks him up with services. He thanks me, still without looking at me. I tap him on the shoulder and tell him to take care and be sure to come back, and I watch as he slowly walks out.
It takes me a while to gather my strength and pull myself together. I begin to draw a billion questions in my mind. What's going to happen to him? How could this happen? How would his life be different if he'd been given a better life? Will he ever get to study History?
Of course all these questions are futile. There is no going back, there is no choosing where and how you come to be into this world. There is only the moment and the future. And hope.
I wish I could say the story above is fiction. But it's all too real.
"Although an official count hasn't been taken since 2005, data from the National Runaway Safeline and accounts from youth service providers in Chicago suggest that more and more youths--those about 12 - 21 years old--are on their own." Chicago Tribune