I took these photographs almost a year ago, while walking my dogs on a city bike path. At the time I was pleased by the colors. I mused about the contrast between city decay and the vigorous growth and life force of the wildflowers. Nature taking back its own. The triumph of life over death.
Today I walked that bike path again, seeing it all without the softening effect of the flowers. There was even more graffiti on the battered fences and sidewalks. Trash littered the ground in place of wildflowers. Broken glass sparkled in the dirt.
Today I thought about the lost and desperate souls who created this, carried out the vandalism. Mostly young. Roaming without purpose, without meaning in their lives beyond the moment. Unloved. Unwanted. Shunned and invisible. Banding together for safety, comfort, a feeling of belonging. Pushed aside by the rest of society, left out for a myriad of reasons. Asserting themselves with a paint can, communicating, making their mark so that they cannot be ignored.
As Catholics, as Christians, what do we do about these armies of troubled teens? Every town has them. Not in school, not employed. In trouble with the law, unparented and unwanted, using drugs, drinking, sleeping in alleyways, selling themselves. It seems an overwhelming problem. There are so many of them. They are so unpleasant to deal with, dangerous even. Yet, they are children.
Our parish once made a try: teaming up with a small Catholic Worker group, they formed a foundation, bought a house. The intent was to offer shelter to boys and girls, a safe place to live and rejoin society. The house was staffed and made ready. The invitation went out on the street. And no one came.
Not one taker for meals and a free place to live. The teens were not interested in a place with rules, with adult supervision. (Eventually, the house morphed into a home for single mothers, recently released from rehab, who wanted to regain custody of their very young children. It has been very successful with this demographic. It’s been in operation for 16 years now, and still going strong.)
But still, the original problem remains. What do we do with those hostile older children, those lost and wandering on the streets? Is there any solution to this problem? How can they be reached? Any thoughts?