Runaway youth have always fled to cities but they now find themselves adrift in much costlier cities, where even the fully employed are barely scraping by
The first thing Zach Hicks did after he was run over in Roanoke, Virginia, was to write a Facebook post. He kept it simple: I just got ran over by a truck. The first commenter was his mother, hundreds of miles away in the midwest, who also kept it simple: WTF!?!?!?!?
He was retrieving a dog, Sobaka, that hed been given by a band of Hells Angels. The dog had bolted and was cowering beneath an 18-wheeler truck. Against his better judgment, Hicks crawled under to pull Sobaka out, and was hit.
The wheel started going over my leg, and then my side and then the side of my face, he says. I know what tire treads look like from underneath.
That was August 2015, two years after hed left home in Oregon. Today he is resting in a secluded alley on Masonic Avenue, a stones throw from Haight Street in San Francisco. Fifty years ago, the children with windy feet ran to this very block from parts unknown, in search of something anything during the Summer of Love.
The kids are still coming, along with legions of tourists who ensure this neighbourhoods street signs are among the worlds most photographed. But this is a side of San Francisco few will ever see.
Hicks is joined by a dozen tattooed and pierced young men and women wearing luminescent orange vests. They smoke, sip Gatorade, and all but inhale three donated pizzas between shifts sweeping the pavement and wiping graffiti off the walls. Some of these young people ran away from home, some were abandoned, and some experienced a bit of column A and a bit of column B. Christian Calinsky, the founder of Taking it to the Streets, a work and housing programme for young homeless people, considers it largely a difference without a distinction in his mind they simply left home.
Theyre both on the same playing field, man. I really cant distinguish, says Calinksy, 44, a former runaway who was homeless for large stretches between ages 12 and 34. All their traumas are the same in my mind. But I dont see people as their trauma. I see them as their potential.
Hicks, 22, has plenty of both. He sports a beard like a rhododendron bush and a rugby players build. He has piercing blue eyes, a ready smile, and the phrase 25 Jokes tattooed across his knuckles. Thats how I make my bread when Im on the road. And its five for a dollar; when you buy in bulk you get the extra joke.