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Runaway chooses transient lifestyle; VOA tells of risks, dangers


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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — There are a lot of reasons kids run away from home, and a bad home life is one of them. In 2003, a 13-year-old left his mother, and he said he never looked back.

"My lifestyle's probably the best. In fact, I feel bad for people who live in houses," Ian said. "Me and my girl go crazy when we're housed up."

Ian was just 13-years-old when he ran away. Even though he is now an adult, he is still living the life of a teenage runaway, riding freight trains across the country.

"About the age of 13, just cruising around, doing whatever the hell I wanted. No rules, no regulations," Ian said. "Home life was never really pleasant. Single mom — she was off doing her thing, trying to make ends meet. I was on my own."

Wherever the tracks led him, Ian said he would go. Along the way, he would steal cars and do drugs while begging for food, money and clothes.

"Most of the time the best thing to do is just flow with it," Ian said. "You know, people walk up to you and hand you money. They see you just traveling and having a good time, and they're thinking, ‘Huh, that person looks homeless but they're having a great time. What's up with that? I want to know.' So they come on over, they chat you up, you tell them your story, and most of the time they throw you a twenty dollar bill."

In the mind of Ian, he is living the runaway dream — jobless, moneyless and homeless.

"By choice, (I'm) home free — not homeless," Ian said.

However, most runaways don't have the mentality of Ian. The non-profit organization, Volunteers of America, has an outreach program for kids on the street who often believe they have nowhere to go.

The VOA reports that seven out of every 10 of these kids have experienced either physical or sexual abuse at home, and sometimes both. They flee to the street because they believe it's safer than home. However, typically it's not.

"About 70 percent have experienced trauma prior to being on the street," said Veterans of America representative Zach Bale. "The same percentage experienced trauma while being on the street. It's a dangerous place."

The VOA seeks out the runaways to get them off the street and provide them with the basics to survive so they don't have to do the unthinkable.

"It's not free even though someone says, ‘Hey I'll give you a free place to stay,' " Bale said. "It's usually not free."

However, Ian made no mention of the dangers of his lifestyle. He said he has a girlfriend now and she has quickly taken to the boxcar life of a runaway.

Talking about one of her experiences on the train, Ian's girlfriend said, "Then I just passed right out and woke up in Reno. Passed out again and woke up here."

Ian is a rare case and he made it clear that most people can't handle his lifestyle. By choice, he said he does not have a job so he begs for money, he begs for food, he sleeps in parks and travels on trains. While his life is not glamorous or safe, it is the life of a runaway.


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Mike Headrick


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