One That Got Away: Runaway Teens Experiencing Homelessness

One That Got Away: Runaway Teens Experiencing Homelessness February 2, 2018

The largest demographic of teenagers in America experiencing homelessness are LGBTQIA youth. Most of these kids end up homeless because their parents do not accept their orientation and do the godly loving thing and kick their kids to the curb. So, in a manner of speaking, the largest cause of teenage homelessness is Christianity.

The town I grew up in is also the town my son went to school from Kindergarten through Freshman year of high school. That town has a large enough homeless youth population that the high school has a special program just for them. There is a dark side to that wonderful news, though.

The program is run by the mayor’s wife, who is a devout christian who sees being LGBTQIA as a sin. I have, over the years, encountered two different young ladies who used to intern for the program. They were both studying to be social workers. They have both given me the exact same stories of how the mayor’s wife does not address the LGBTQIA elephant in the room. Further, she allegedly will not let the staff address orientation or gender issues with the youth.

This is not an effective outreach when you cannot fully accept and deal with the child’s lives. It is for this and many other reasons that I have a limited trust level with faith based outreaches to those experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, they are the ones doing the most for people experiencing homelessness.

This story I am about to tell is from Chapter 8 of my book, “Night Moves: An Ex-Preacher’s Journey to Hell in a Taxi”. I do not think she was LGBTQIA. I did not ask her, so she may be. Despite all the lies she told, I do believe that she was a victim of rape and molestation at the hands of a relative.

Here is the takeaway. This girl lied and tried to steal. She was also willing to exchange sex for other things. Teenagers experiencing homelessness will often lie, steal, take street drugs, engage in prostitution, and other things. They are judged as bad. They are trying to survive!  Most of the time, the reason they are experiencing homelessness is because their families either forced them there or gave them no options but to run away.

Read the story, live in the tension. Walk away knowing that in your neighborhood, there may very well be teenagers on the streets who were put there by their families. We need to do better. We need to do more.

Chapter 8: The One That Got Away

Depending on which study you read, taxi driving is usually in the top 3 most dangerous occupations. It always seems to make the top ten. The point is, it is very dangerous. To many, you are a cash register  on wheels. You learn to take precautions very fast. Sometimes you get a little overconfident and all it takes is a news story about a taxi driver who was robbed or murdered to wake you up and bring you back to being careful. I would love to say that no one has ever tried to rob me. I would love to say that I have never faced the threat of violence. I have. What happened in those instances is not important. They happened and, as one of the other drivers I work with often says, “It’s only money, what matters is
getting home to your kids.”

One of the most common forms of theft is not violent but it can be if you deal with it wrong. The term we use for these thieves are “runners.” A runner is someone who, instead of paying for their fare, runs out of the cab and into the night. Like wait staff, if someone does that to us, we are responsible for the fare regardless of collection. If you get a police report on the incident, you are no longer responsible for the fare. However, police reports can take time to file and that time can be better spent on the road making your money back. There are three ways most of us deal with runners:

1. Let it go. If it is a small amount, you can make it back quickly on the road.
2. File the report if it is worth it to you.
3. Get out and catch them.

We are technically not allowed to get out and catch them but sometimes you do. If you can get your money back without violence, it is quick and efficient. I almost never do the third option. There was recently an incident in our area in which a driver from another cab company chased down a runner and the runner turned it into a fight and broke the driver’s ankle. Beyond that, taxi drivers are considered bottom feeders to many. If there were to be an incident where you were defending yourself after chasing the runner, they could get hurt and if that happens, you could get sued or charged with assault. In all honesty, it can be fun to chase runners but sometimes it is not worth it. It is only money and it is more important to come home to your kid safe and sound.

I am not one to let things go. If the fare is less than $10, I do let it go. If the fare is more than that, I am getting what’s mine. It is retail theft and I need every penny I make. We do not make much driving a cab and 20% of every penny I make goes to child support. I am glad to pay it and wish I had more to pay for it. I am fortunate. My ex- wife makes a lot of money, more than most people. So every penny of what I give to child support goes towards my child’s college fund.

There was one time that I took a fare that I let get away. It hurt but I do not regret it.
I was having a decent weeknight when I received a call to pick up someone at one of our hospitals and take her to Chicago’s Union Station. I pulled up to the hospital’s emergency room entrance. Out of the ER came a thin teenager with brown hair. She approached my cab with a large duffel bag and a backpack. I asked her if she was Lexi. She said yes.
She got into the cab and asked me if I knew how to get to Union Station in Chicago. I told her I did. I turned on the meter and we were underway. I asked her if everything was all right. She told me yes. I asked her what happened. She said she had a seizure in a coffeehouse and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. I asked if everything was fine. She assured me it was. She has been prone to seizures since she was a young child.

I asked her why we were going to Union. She told me that she was meeting her very unhappy mother there. I asked why. She then went on to tell me how she came from Ohio to Joliet to meet a boy here but the young man turned into a jerk and just left her at the coffeehouse when she had the seizure. She said her Mom and Dad were already unhappy with her about the leaving home to meet a guy and even less happy about her not bringing her seizure medication with her.

There were likely a lot of holes in this story but she told it well and I bought it all hook, line, and
sinker. I asked her how unhappy her Dad was about this stunt. She said it was a real good thing her Dad was not ever going to encounter this guy. She darkened a little about the mention of her dad. I decided to fill in the silence by telling her about my child.

We talked about the clothing that is common for junior high and what an institutional hell middle school is. We talked about how much bullying sucks. We mostly spoke about it in the context of my daughter but she seemed to relate all too well with the low self-esteem and the bullying.

Eventually we got to Union Station and I pulled up to the valet section to drop her off. She told me she did not see her parents and asked if she could run in to get them. I asked her to call. She did and was getting no answer. She asked if she could run in if she left her backpack in the car. I said okay. I should not have. As soon as she left the taxi I thought to myself, “Are you that stupid?” I answered my own question with, “Yes, and you KNOW better. This is a rookie mistake and you are not a rookie anymore!” I sat there and waited, hoping against all hope that my delayed gut feeling was wrong. 3 minutes. Nothing. 5 minutes. Nothing. Police were slowly coming up to the cars behind me telling people to move along to clear the valet.

I grabbed her backpack. It felt light. I opened it. It was stuffed with paper towels. It was for show. There was nothing inside it. It was a cheap backpack. Something you can get in a thrift store for $3. The cop was now two cars behind me. You could tell he was not in the mood to talk to anyone about anything, so I pull out and radio in to dispatch about what happened.
We both knew we were not gonna be able to get her in Chicago’s Union station. She was gone for good.

But if I could at least get a police report, I would not have to pay for the fare. I would just lose the fare. The fare was $119 on the meter. The dispatcher tried calling Lexi and she at one point answered the phone and said her name was not Lexi and hung up.

The dispatcher tried calling police while I drove around the block. She came back on the radio to me after a few minutes and told me that after three transfers by Chicago PD, they basically told her it was my problem and to have a nice night.

In anger and frustration a brilliant idea hit me.
“Car 6 to dispatch.” I said into the radio.
“Dispatch to car 6, go ahead.”
“Dispatch, call her back, even if she does not answer, tell her police have been alerted and that we have a relationship with the hospital where we picked her up and they are coordinating with Chicago Police with her information. See if the bluff works.”
“10-4 car 6, this’ll be fun.”
I continued to drive around the block of Union Station hoping against hope that this plan would work.

Dispatch got on the radio to me.
“Dispatch to car 6”
“Car 6,”I replied into the radio, “Go Dispatch.”
“Car 6, Lexi is scared and swears she is heading up to where you dropped her off and will give you your money if we don’t give the police her information.”
“10-4 dispatch. Thank you sooo much.”
“Get cash upfront next time car 6, you’re not a rookie anymore.”
“10-4, I know better.”

I pulled up to the valet area and there was my young lady with the brown hair and the duffel bag. There was also the same police officer moving traffic along. There was sheer terror in her eyes as I pulled up. I decided to put on my mean face. She ran up to my window and with a shaky voice asked, “Do the police have my information?”
“Nope,” I said sternly, “but they might. That depends on what happens right here, right now.”
“How much is the fare?” Her eyes were watering. What I saw before was performance art. This was fear. This was terror. Pure unadulterated terror.
“One hundred nineteen dollars, Lexi.” I said through gritted teeth. I had her scared and on the ropes and I was angry. I was gonna milk this revenge for every penny it was worth.

I could see in my rear view mirror the officer was moving the line along again. He was about a dozen cars back. Her face dropped a little. “Um, sir, all I have is thirty bucks. I just bought a train ticket.” She held an Amtrak ticket in her hand up to my face to show me. The ticket was close enough for me to grab it so that is exactly what I did. “Sir, please. I need that back. Please, sir.” Her eyes were wide and she was near pale.

“You will get it back for one hundred nineteen dollars. I will understand if you don’t want to tip. Lexi, look over your left shoulder, there is a cop coming. He’s about six cars away. You got 2 or 3 minutes, tops, to figure out what you are gonna do here.”

“Sir. Please. Why are you doing this? I’m sorry. Why?”

I grabbed my cell phone and pulled up a picture of my child and held it up for her to see. “Because of my kid, Lexi. Everything I do, I do for him. He is my life and I have to pay for 60% of this fare. Your free ride costs me better than seventy bucks out of my pocket plus the gas it took us to get here. Lexi, you’re not getting a free ride from me, you are taking money out of my pocket and I need that money to take care of him. He is all I have. THAT is truth. Not that string of f**king lies that spewed from your pretty white suburban spoiled little mouth the whole ride here.”

Tears are streaming down her face, her lower lip is trembling, and her nose is running. She does not move to wipe her face, she just stands there. “He’s getting closer,” I gestured toward the cop, “so do I get my money or do you go to jail for grand larceny?”

“Grand larceny?” her voice was near a monotone the tears still streamed.

“We are in the three digits here, kiddo. Ever faced a felony conviction? ‘Cause the beginning of that road is almost here.”

She got into the cab’s front passenger seat, looked at me, and was very serious. Her voice was still a monotone. “I meant what I said. I only have thirty bucks. If you want a bj or a handjob, we can do that, just please don’t hurt me and can we finish before midnight. I can’t miss my train.”

“Jesus the f**k, Lexi!” I screamed. “No!” She flinched and shrank in the passenger seat. As a former minister with extensive exposure to youth I could see the signs of abuse. “Who damaged you, kiddo? What makes you think this is okay?” I peeked in my rear view mirror. The cop was having a heated argument with someone three cars behind me.

“Can I just have the ticket and go? The hospital wasn’t bull. But I had to use the insurance card. I’m on the radar.”

“Who’s radar, Lexi? Are you a runaway?”

“Kinda, but I’m 19, so just kinda.” Her knees were huddled up in her chest now. She was trembling.

“Lexi, I got an office. I can take you there, let you sleep for the night and take you somewhere in the morning where you can get help.”

“My dad thinks I’m pretty. Says I remind him of mom. Then he gets mad at me for what he does to me.”

“Lexi, we can get you help.”

“I’ll just steal whatever isn’t nailed to your office.”

“Thirty, huh?” I asked.

“Yeah. Maybe a few more than that.” She pulled wadded bills out of her skinny jeans. There was about $35 in small bills. She started to hand it all over to me.

I stopped her. “Just give me $15 for my gas.”

“Um. What?”

“You got a train to catch. Get a sandwich and no giving strangers bj’s and handjobs.”

She handed me the money I asked for. “Can I have your card? I wanna make this right.”
I gave her the card and wrote my email on the back. “Look, you need help. This is only gonna last so long. A pro would have never answered the call from the taxi company. You’re not as clever as you think. If you ever want help, I know people who can help you and protect you from him.”

She wiped her face with her sleeve, grabbed her duffle and went back into the train station. I drove away, got on the radio, and lied to the dispatcher. I told her I collected every penny and thanked her so much for her help. The first time Lexi left my taxi, I felt I made the wrong call. When she left my taxi, I knew I did the right thing, or the least wrong thing.

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