I sit to chat with a woman I’ve said hi to the last couple months. As we talk, she motions to the teen girl at her side.
“You her mom?” I ask the woman.
“Street mom,” she says.
I know what she means. On the streets, people take care of each other.
“I’ve got about 30 call me Mom,” she says. “I look after them. I mighta done wrong things, but I raised my own kids. If they were out here, I’d want someone to do the same for them.”
The girl is 18. Both women stay at the city’s emergency shelter, which closes in five days, despite nighttime temps at or near freezing. After March 15, the 300 or so overnight guests will have to scrounge couches and motel rooms, make up with relatives, or camp.
“She can’t be out here,” the woman says. She’s been homeless off and on four years, and knows the dangers a girl with only six weeks’ experience on the streets will face.
I pull out my cell and call a teen shelter that accepts kids ages 12-17. I ask where this girl can go. The voice on the phone suggests two shelters. One I know to be tough for anyone, much less a young girl. The other has a waiting list.
I give the woman a card with the number to the shelter I’m guessing will be a better bet for a teen just months over the cut-off for youth beds.
“Call every day at 8 a.m., and eventually, you’ll get in,” I say, parroting what I’ve been taught by the experts who do these referrals every day.
The woman nods, stuffing the card in her coat pocket. “We’re close out here. For many of us, this is the family we have.”
With shelters closing or full, resources hard to find, and untold trauma, street family may be the best place a young girl can turn.