By Frank V. Furino
The national statistics are more than a little foreboding. Between 1.6 & 2.8 million young people run away each year in the United States, including children as young as 10 years of age, with the youngest being the most at-risk for the dangers of street life. Despite these astronomical numbers, they are all too often lumped into one category as “rebellious kids” who chose not to follow the rules. Having been involved as a volunteer with SafeHouse of the Desert for the past four years, I can say categorically, it is not that cut and dried.
I’ve spent time in the SafeHouse facility in Thousand Palms, which provides emergency and long-term shelter, intervention and outreach services to runaway, homeless, exploited, and other youth in crisis. One day recently I addressed a group of these kids, who ranged in age from 11 to 17. Boys, girls and LGBT youth from all walks of life. One fatherless, 12 year old boy, stunned me when he took a tattered piece of paper from his pocket and read aloud a poignant poem he had written to the mother he never knew, because she had died giving him birth. And then there was the 14 year old girl who had been on the streets for 3 months when SafeHouse took her in. She told the story of her mother being arrested on drug charges when she was just 7 years old. The heartbreaker being, she was taking care of her 10 year old sister. And if that weren’t bad enough, there were the sex trafficked kids.
If you think something as vile as teenage sex trafficking can’t happen here in our sunny desert, Kathy McAdara, the Executive Director of SafeHouse says, think again. She quotes statistics which show that most of their survivors, some as young as 11 years of age, are victims of sex trafficking. “It is the fastest growing business of organized crime,” McAdara said. “And according to FBI statistics, the third largest criminal enterprise in the world behind illegal drugs and counterfeiting. A distressing reality in our society.”
But it’s not all bad news. SafeHouse provides emergency shelter, intervention and outreach services to youth in crisis. And one of their main endeavors, whenever possible, is to reconnect these children of the street with their parents. And I can tell you from personal experience, they do a great job. But SafeHouse doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Despite all the wonderful volunteers devoting their time and energy to the cause, providing a safe, secure environment for these needy teens and pre-teens comes at a cost.
It’s no secret that we as Americans face many, many challenges today, both home and abroad, Let’s meet those challenge with a healthy, strong, motivated and prepared new generation of young Americans. Don’t we owe that to our ancestors? To ourselves? And future generations? So, please, if you think the cause just, I urge you to visit SafeHouseofthedesert.com and help in any way you can.
SOURCES: National Runaway Safeline, Desert Sun/Sex Trafficking, Children of the Night, Riverside County Stats, FBI LA Enforcement Bulletin.