For this group of unhoused youth in Tallahassee, Fla., sleeping in a recessed storefront, tent collective or public park is a last resort.
Instead, they rely on their extensive network of friends and acquaintances to find nightly shelter. “Doubling up” is often how they survive. When one manages to score an apartment or cheap motel room, even a jobsite floor after-hours, the rest follow. Squeezing into whatever space available, hitching on to a friend or friend of a friend they find shelter. But it’s always temporary.
Inevitably, the landlord or manager catches on to the overflow, or the rent is late, and all are evicted. Turned loose, they scatter to find a new friend arrangement and a new, equally precarious, sleeping situation they can wriggle into. They know they shouldn’t let their friends pile into their current space. But how can they not support the community that has supported them in the past?
They place a major emphasis on love and friendship. Without solid adult figures in their lives they create their own community of emotional and resource support with their peers. The kids were ready to tell me their stories of abuse and chaos yet their kinetic energy and joy belied their chaotic upbringings.
The social connections that give them a sense of safety can supercede planning for the future. Dealing with daily crises of finding shelter, food and maybe a shower, if they’re lucky, makes long-term planning nearly impossible. Growing up in chaos, endlessly treading water, this world has become normal. Some wouldn't even say they're homeless. It’s just normal.