Their own parents

October 11, 2005

They have homework, but no homes. They sign their own permission slips. Iven Bailey and Gary Sells, whose stories are being told in a Sun special report this week, are but two of thousands of teenagers in Maryland who are shifting on their own, trying to act as grown-ups because their parents can't or won't.

These kids' troubles are many, deep and difficult to solve, but one thing is clear - the status quo doesn't work. Communities, charities and governments must find ways that work to house, care for and teach these children life and work skills - and, ideally, that most people care about children and wish and expect all of them to succeed.

Of the 6,500 Maryland schoolchildren counted as homeless for at least part of the past school year, 1,300 went to Baltimore schools. City principals suspected another 950 still attending school were likely homeless, including hundreds of high-schoolers too ashamed or afraid to tell the authorities they don't have a place to stay and that their parents aren't around. They won't call themselves homeless because that might call in the uncertain aid of the state - iffy group homes or foster parents and almost certainly a move away from the few people they can count on a little bit.

Perhaps they could have benefited from a neighborhood-based boarding school, or a neighborhood school that offers additional social services. They might have taken advantage of a teens-only homeless shelter. Perhaps they'd have done better at a drop-in center that offered laundry and showers, a couple of nights' rest and maybe a little advice on how to get a permanent bunk somewhere.

All are ideas worthy of debate - now. And action, soon. The city and the state cannot afford to keep bringing up unparented children, those never taught how to hold a good job - or to make good parents in their turn.

Iven and Gary are unusual - and commendable - in at least two respects. They courageously allowed The Sun's Liz Bowie and AndrM-i F. Chung to follow them through more than a year of their lives. And they were committed to graduating from high school, something half the young men in Baltimore cannot accomplish, parents or not.

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