Last month I drove from California to Arizona on the not-so-lovely, desolate 10 highway. As my husband and I stopped at truck stops to fill up or grab a snack, we noticed a strange phenomenon. Something we’d really never seen before in all our years of driving to and from Arizona, and it bothered me: young, homeless people. And when I mean young, I’m talking barely 20.
Our first young and homeless (or urban nomad) sighting was near Palm Springs right off a highway exit; a very young, beautiful woman with dirty blond dreads holding a “Hungry, need help” sign. She looked about 20 years old. My first reaction was that she was a run-away. Young, homeless people aren’t that uncommon in a place like Venice, CA which is not that far from where I live. Yet seeing one so far east off the 10 freeway through me off guard. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop to help. I felt horrible about that once we were back on the highway.
As we continued our journey eastward, crossing the Arizona State Border, I noticed a young man walking in the middle of absolutely no where. He was on the other side of a barbed wire fence in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, a large duffel bag slung over his shoulder walking as if he was on a mission. As he was walking in the opposite direction that I was driving, I thought his presence was peculiar to say the least. We were at least 20 to 30 miles from a town or a truck stop. This downward gazing, beanie wearing young man obviously wasn’t hitch-hiking since he wasn’t close enough to the road. The man’s presence in the middle of sparse desert was eerie in some ways. I can’t say for sure he was homeless, he wasn’t begging or trying to hitch a ride. He also didn’t hold a sign that stated his situation. His duffel bag was really my only clue to his possible predicament. But the fact that this was the second young person within a few hundred miles who seemed alone left me thinking about the state of our economy and how tough it must be for young people these days.
Again, I didn’t stop to help. I was zooming down the highway at 75 MPH (this speed is legal in Arizona on sections of the 10, I swear). These images keep popping up in my mind over and over again. Reading articles in Time Magazine and MSN.com about how difficult it is for teenagers and young people to get a “first” job these days only confirms that there are more young, homeless people today than in the past. Not because of mental illness or drugs, but because our economy is shrinking. There are so many skilled, experienced workers to choose from, young, inexperienced job seekers must be having a heck of a time convincing a manager to hire them.
What will this eventually do to this generation of young people? Will they be late bloomers in some ways because they nabbed their first job in their mid- to late-20’s instead of getting an early start in their teens or early 20’s? Will they forever be behind the 8-ball and financially doomed? Will these two young, urban nomads eventually find jobs, reconnect with their families, get help? These questions continue to haunt me.
On a similar – yet different – note, I found an intelligently written blog about a woman raising four kids in an RV. She is currently unemployed and struggling to make ends meat. However, her blog is witty, inspiring, and coming from a totally different perspective. Check out The Box Car Kids.