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Runaway Youths Tell Why They Left Home

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Staring out the window, an Ozone House staff member shook his head and stuffed a cigarette into an ashtray. Nodding his head in the direction of a shaft of sun coming in the upstairs room, he said, "Now that the warm weather's coming, you'll really see the kids pouring into this place." About seven to 30 a week, Bill Klems estimated. All runaways or kids with drug hang-ups. All with no place to go. Ozone House, a two-story counseling center for runaways located at 302 E. Liberty, filters about one-third of those who end up in Ann Arbor. It's the first, last or maybe only alternative to days of walking the streets or dodging the authorities who'd send them back home or to juvenile court. The hous? gives the youths a meal and a place to "crash," or spend the night. Often, it's the last stop after days of wandering around penniless and without food. Aside from the kids that Ozone House deals with, there were 373 labeled as runaways by local authorities last year an increase of about 200 from three years before. They usually range in age from 12 to 16 years old, with some even younger, juvenile court authorities say. And for many, it's not the first time they've run away from home. What drives a young boy or girl to reject parents and a roof over their heads in exchange for the uncertain, sleepless or hungry existence of life in the streets? They all have different answers. But they're all also strangely the same. Fifteen-year-old Jess, who identified himself as a three-time runaway, settled back in the lumpy brown couch in a room at Ozone House and puffed nervously on a cigarette : "It's wasn't because of my mom I ran away," he said. "Me and her, we could sit down and talk about things and she'd see me half-way. ents objected to Dove, his "hippie lifestyle" and his long hair. He remembers the first time his father "really beat me" was when Dave refused to cut his hair which had grown just past his ears. After "knocking me around the room he got on top and started choking me," simultaneously asking, " 'Is your hair really worth all this?' " Dave said. Dave added he couldn't accept his parents' "old-fashioned" ideas and their attempt to "make my own life for me." He said his father'd worked hard to buy material possessions and luxuries for the family and expected his son to want to do the same. Dave's father also considered Dove "lower class" and believed rumors she was a "bad girl," Dave said. So, when his father put his foot down and forbade them to see each other, the couple used money Dove had earned while working in a pharmacy and headed north. For Roger, a tall, husky 15-year-old dressed in Army fatigues and an expressionless face, running "away from home" is a misnomer. The product of numerous institutions and foster homes, he was taken away from his real home when he was six. TTic mnthpr uTin VinH pivpn hirth in More likely, they said it was their parents' insistence they were "drug addicts" or tendency to over-exaggerate their use of drugs that led to the break. Once the youths break from home and are on the run, they 're subject to a whole new set of pressures, some they'd bargained for, some they hadn't. If they're picked up by pólice, they'll either be sent back home or kept in hands of state authorities. However, by staying free, they're at the mercy of the streets. To support themselves, girls can fall prey to prostitution and girls and boys can sell dope. Juvenile authorities and other persons who work with runaways say that leaving home represents both an escape from an intolerable situation and an attempt to cali attention to it. Alice Morgan, staff counselor at Ozone House,, described running as a sign the youths are trying to be seen as "their own person." In some situations, on the other hand, it's a way to get attention, bring the problem out in the open and get evidence their parents really care, she said. Linda Bolton, who works with runaway girls as staff social worker in the Group Service Department of the Juvenile Court, said that most come from homes where there's deterioration in the quality of communication. "It's not that they don't talk enough, it's the way they talk" - either constant complaints or nagging. A lot of parents don't bother to talk to their children until they want them to do something or order them around, she said. She added that runaways' homes represent two extremes. Either children complain they've been overworked and abused, or they've had no limits put on them and wonder, therefore, if they're loved. Juvenile Court Judge Francis L. O'Brien accounts for the increase of runaways in the last few years to "children have something to run away from and something to run to." Physical and verbal abuse, not being able to live up to parents' expectations or too much work around the house add up to motives for running. Conversely, Mrs. Bolton said, so does too lax an atmosphere. Also, years ago, living on your own and having to "hussle" wasn't particularly admirable. Today that attitude's more acceptable, especially when it's complemented by a rejection of the parents' way of life, Mrs. Bolton said. Mrs. Bolton doesn't see anything particularly wrong with rejecting parents' beliefs or lifestyle. There are those who make "successful runaways" - taking care of themselves honestly and adequately and adapting to a different style of Ufe. However, she added, these same motives trap the kids who can't take care of themselves very well or who run away because of emotional problems more than philosophical ones. If an effort can be made on their part and that of their parents, these are the ones who should go home. Many runaways "reject the materialism of their parents, but they also understand they need food, clothing, and medical care," Mrs. Bolton said. If given the chance or excuse to go back to their parents, these are the runaways - and their parents - who should Hive it a try. accent on women Section Two April' 1971 Pages 13 to 22 ".BUI niy uau, I juatTTTTTTmrTTmTrw him. If you don't think like him, he'd teil y ou to getlost." Jess said problems started a long time ago. Family arguments often erupted after his father, an executive with an automobile company, had been drinking and had come home in a belligerent mood. "I couldn't stand it, especially when dad would come home and push his old lady (Jess' nother) around." And there was friction because of Jess' older brother, also a runaway. Arguments usually centered around choice of friends, hair length and homework, but they ran deeper than that. "I couldn't sit down and talk with him. Either you thought like him or not at all,'" Jess said. Jess first ran away at the age of 13 and was picked up and sent back home. But, after he had become used to the freedom of the streets, Jess admitted, it was even harder to accept his father's rules. He ran away for the third time about one and a half weeks ago. Jess' story was echoed in part by two cheerful runaways from Texas, Dave and Doris, who prefers to be called "Dove." They left home last January and came to Ann Arbor at the suggestion of a friend who lived in Milan. Dave, who describes his father as a i"typical redneck Texan" said his twins, couldn't af ford to Keep ner two i older children and so Roger and his sister were made permanent wards of the state. Roger's never been able to forgive this. He's got a record of running away from just about every foster home and institution. And he's made it clear that if put in another one, he'll probably do the same. Roger admitted stoically that although some foster homes have tried to make him feel comfortable and a part of the family, he could never "really feel like I fit in." But they are still better than some state institutions, Roger added, where if you want to see a counselor you "have to waítfor a week." Running away is not always the result of dissatisfaction with a place Roger said. He was sent to one foster home, for example, that he really liked. "It was like a dream," he said. But one day he heard his foster father on the phone discussing with authorities where Roger'd go next. It was a toss-up between a half-way house and the Boys' Training School. Not wanting to take the chance of being sent to the training school, Roger said, "I split," Although most of the kids admit they've smoked marijuana or experimented with LSD, mescaline or speed, they all reject that over-simplification that drugs drove them to run.