© 2014 John Casimir O'Keefe

A Disposable Generation

Recently we had an issue with our coffee maker; it refused to make coffee – and generally speaking, for a coffee maker, that’s not a good thing. So, I did what all dutiful husbands would do to keep their wives from destroying the house, I contacted the company in hopes of sending it back to them for repairs. The company was quick to offer us a new one, sent to us at no charge. I thought, ‘ok, we will send back the old one, they will fix it and sell it online as refurbished.’ When I asked what to do with the broken one and I was told, “Toss it out – it’s broken.” Unfortunately, this is nothing new, we live in a disposable culture, a culture where tossing something away when it breaks is easier, and often cheaper, than it is to get it fixed. TV breaks, get a new one; fan breaks, get a new one; coffee maker breaks, get a new one. Disposable lighters, computers, cell phones, radios – you name it, it’s made to be tossed away, and not repaired – we have moved from a “repair culture, to a consumer culture.” If it is broken, toss it out.

It is easy to toss things that are broken out, right? Think about that, why spend the time, money and effort to fix what’s broken – just get a new one. Besides, we can get a new one in a few hours, while having it repaired will take a few days. Getting the new one is so much easier and cheaper, and you get a shiny new coffee maker, so life is good. The problem with this “buy new culture” is that we see the solution to all our problems as simply tossing out what we think is broken and buying new. It has become so much a part of our culture that we even do it with our marriages, our families and our kids. Yeah, if we think our kid is broken, we are quick to toss them out and get a new one.

Did you know that 7% of all homeless are unaccompanied minors (those under the age of 18 years old living without adult supervision)? 7%. That number is huge. Think about 7% in relationship to the fact that it is estimated some 610,000 people are homeless on any given night of the week, which would mean that some 42,700 of them are unaccompanied minors (some studies estimate the number of homeless and runaway unaccompanied youth at 1.7 million).[1] I shared the following stats with a Pastor friend of mine who ministers a church in the Downtown area of a large city: it is estimated that 40-60% of those youth were physically abused at home, 20-40% were sexually abused at home. Over two-thirds of unaccompanied homeless youth report that at least one of their parent’s abuses drugs or alcohol. About 20-40% of them have been thrown out of their homes because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or pregnant.[2] His reply to me was, and this turned my stomach, ‘Well, they probably have it easier than living at home.’ Really? Easier? That maybe the case, but it goes to our disposable consumer culture.

If you truly think about the dangers for minors living on the streets, you will see that the combination of early emotional and psychological problems that can result from sexual abuse, living in such a high-risk environment, can results in an increased risk for sexual victimization, and often does.[3] It has been estimated that 70% of street minors are victims of commercial sexual exploitation while living on the street.[4] It is frightening to think that some 162,000 homeless youth are estimated to be pimped out.[5]

Have we come to a point in our society where we see no issue with disposable youth? Children living on the streets trying to figure out how best to survive; children doing what they must to survive and so many of us turn a blind eye to their plight.

When you are tucking your children into their warm beds tonight, think of those who are wrestling with cardboard and newspaper to stay warm


[1] http://www.nrcdv.org/rhydvtoolkit/each-field/homeless-youth/define.html

[2] http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/homeless-and-runaway-youth.aspx

[3] Estes, R. & Weiner, N. (2001). “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. University of Pennsylvania.

[4] Tyler, K. A., Hoyt, D. R., & Whitbeck, L. B. (2000). The effects of early sexual abuse on later sexual victimization among female homeless and runaway youth. Violence and Victims, 16, 441-455

[5] Estes, R. & Weiner, N. (2001). “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada, and
Mexico.”  University of Pennsylvania.

One Comment

  1. Posted 2014/05/13 at 1:47 pm | #

    There’s always more to the story. Of course, it’s horrible to know what you revealed to your audience, yet it’s not enough to come to a conclusion.

    I bet those kids will think differently about their homeless lives 10 years from when the stats were populated. Some kids have many people who are behind them but are so defiant that they can’t “see it.”

    Many times those kids (I could include myself in that population) expect people around them to be perfect and to rescue them. That’s not exactly how the world works. It took me losing my adoptive father to realize what I thought wasn’t the whole truth of the matter. It gave me the ability to honor his memory and own my own hardships.

    I do agree that we need to minister to people of all walks of life.

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