Program Aims To Help Homeless Teens

They are shadows who find solace along cold walls in empty buildings and abandoned homes.

They are children - sons and daughters of circumstance.  One girl just turned 17.

"I ran away for a few times and then I started moving in with my grandma, but then she kicked me out because me and my cousin, Stacy, didn't get along," the girl said.

They are homeless.

"I was scared because I was out there by myself," said a teenage boy. 

"Most of the time I just hang out at the library by myself," said another boy.

Many want nothing to do with foster care.  They find other teens to call family, 10TV's John Fortney reported.

Even with bars blocking the windows, an abandoned home provides some shelter.  Children would try to kick in a hole through the door and let themselves in.  They would not have heat or electricity or water - just shelter.

"The worst part is not having something to eat," a homeless girl said.

Few trust the adult shelters.  Yet, some sell themselves for a place to stay.  They will trade sex for shelter and survival, Fortney reported.

"Some of my friends - they did not do that - but they didn't do it for a place to stay," a girl said.  "They just did it for the money."

The Drop-In Center run by Ohio State offers shelter by day and a safe structure. 

Professor Natasha Slesnick secured a grant for the center.  It's part of a larger study to find out how many children are homeless, living on the street.

"You don't see homeless youth in Columbus because they're hiding," Slesnick said.

The center offers them a place to get warm, get clean and find clothes.

"They don't have underwear or socks and those are really coveted items," Slesnick said.

Her program is a way out.

"These kids don't trust anyone," Slesnick said.  "What I want is, by the end of this project there - to be a drop-in center in Columbus - this is going to be, I believe, the only way to reach out to homeless kids to get them reconnected into the mainstream."

Some are now young adults who are working their way off the street.

"I could have reversed and been a thug - been out robbing people," a teenager said.  "I took the other route.  I took the challenge.  The challenge was being a man."

Slesnick believes that there could be upwards of 1,000 teenagers who find themselves homeless in Columbus.  She hopes her study will help nail down a solid number.